When I was in the 7th grade, I had a very good teacher in my science class. Mr. George McGough was his name. In his classroom there were many ancient artifacts and posters of archaic man like Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon Man. He took the class to fields trips at the museum to study the evolution of human beings in a more interesting way.
I was fascinated by everything that Mr. McGough taught us. Yet at the same time, I was internally disturbed. I had grown up always thinking that God created the world and human beings, the first were named Adam and Eve. So how could it be possible that we evolved from apes and from simple living organisms millions of years ago? It just seemed like my science class was going against everything that I had been taught to believe in.
One day I found a Christian magazine that had articles refuting the theory of evolution. I read the magazine and thought that the arguments made sense. I decided to bring the magazine to Mr. McGough one morning before class began and gave it to him to read. I was thinking that I would “enlighten” my teacher on the truth. Mr. McGough took the magazine and thanked me. He didn’t try to tell me to believe or not to believe. He just accepted the magazine. I am not sure if he ever read it.
My interest in the theory of evolution began with my 7th grade science class and it continued for years afterward. In 8th grade, I even wrote an extensive “research paper” on the “Origin of Species” to enter into a district science competition, of which I received the first place prize.
When I entered the university, my major was biochemistry, so I became a full time science student. Although I am now a missionary priest, and everything I do is about God, I am very proud of and thankful for my science background. Studying science has helped me to think logically, to appreciate the laws that govern how life and nature work, and to look for facts and evidence in every situation that I encounter.
Some may be surprised why a priest would have a degree in science, but in fact it shouldn’t be surprising. In the history of the world, some of the greatest mathematicians, physicists, and scientists are Catholic. The Catholic Church is comprised of countless men and women past and present who are scholars in all kinds of fields. One can say that no matter what field of studies there are on earth, there are probably Catholics engaged in that area.
We can do this because there is nothing in our Catholic faith that prevents us from studying science, to use our reasoning to understand the universe. Human reasoning is a gift that God has granted to us so that we can understand the things around us in a fuller and deeper way. From there, we can also gain knowledge and insights about God as the Creator of the universe in which we live.
The theory of evolution has come about as a result of looking at the evidence available to us. Many famous scholars have studied this theory, and it has been put forth based on solid scientific evidence. Pope Benedict XVI used to comment, “There are many proofs in favor of evolution.” If we look at the evidence and see that it is convincing, why do we have to reject it? The Catholic Church does not reject the theory of evolution as false.
On the other hand, does accepting the theory of evolution mean that there is no God? Absolutely not. It’s true that things on earth evolve from one thing into another over long expanses of time. The evidence show us that. But as our Pope said in a meeting on evolution at the Vatican, "In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being.” How does the world come into being? There has to be a Creator, whom we call God. Pope Benedict also said, the Creator “is the cause of every being and all becoming.”
Therefore, by accepting evolution as the process of how human beings came to exist, we do not have to exclude God out of the picture. In fact, God is involved in the creation of the universe and the development of life and the world. So we don’t have to believe that everything in the world is just pure chance and chaos. Most importantly, we definitely don’t have to believe that we came about on earth just by accident. Yes, we came about by evolution. But evolution does not mean that God did not think about us, did not forsee our presence, did not want us, and did not love us. Evidence from science only tells us what is on the surface. However, our faith and experience tell us a much deeper and more meaningful truth. And that truth is: we came to be because God planned it for us.
Now you ask, OK, if we believe in evolution, then what do we do with the stories from the Book of Genesis that tell of God creating the universe and the world in six days and of the creation of Adam and Eve? As you know, not everything in the Bible is meant to be taken literally. The Catholic Church believes that the creation account from Genesis is an allegory. An allegory is an extended metaphor, especially a story in which fictional characters and actions are used to understand and express aspects of concepts relating to human existence. We read this story to understand how the world and human beings have come about as a result of God’s plan, love, and care. In fact, the creation story tells of a progression of events leading to different things coming about. If we think about it, this is quite symbolic of an evolutionary process that takes place in nature.
From the Book of Genesis, we also see how humans beings are favored and loved by God, but also how we have rejected God due to our weaknesses. From the story, we see the difference between what it means to live in the state of God’s grace and the state of sin. When we read the creation story and the story of Adam and Eve, we don’t have to take every word literally. It is the truths that the story tries to tell us that are most important.
As we can see, the Catholic Church is by no means rejecting evolution as an explanation for the development of life, specifically how human beings came about. However, we must understand evolution and nature properly. There is nothing about the things going on in nature that deny God’s existence. In fact, by looking at nature and using the scientific method, we come to learn more about God. Galileo once said that nature is like a book whose author is God Himself.
So, in short, just because we are Catholic, and that we believe in an almighty and loving Creator, it does not mean that we only act based on blind faith. In the 2000-year history of the Catholic Church, science and scholarship have always been an essential part of our tradition. The theory of evolution, when we examine it fairly and properly, helps us to see that science does not have to be in contradiction with our faith. On the other hand, science helps us to be stronger in our faith, to help us marvel at how great our God is. So next time when you hear that human beings come from apes, you don’t have to be upset. What is most important to us is that human beings, and all things in this universe for that matter, come from God.