There has been a debate between scientists and theologians about evolution. Many individuals believe that accepting the scientific theory of evolution, which is based on the notion of natural selection, is equal to holding atheistic views. They interpret the story of Adam and Eve literally and use it to show that human beings did not evolve from other species. The Catholic Church, however, does not deny the theory and instead regards it as a tool God uses to indirectly create new forms of living organisms.
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The evolution from the scientific perspective often resembles the findings of biologists. The first attempts to explain how living organisms change over time date back to an ancient era, the times of the Greek civilization. A philosopher named Anaximander proposed that human beings had evolved from fish (Archibald, 2017). Despite the fact that contemporary scientific evidence suggests Anaximander was correct, his claims did not have any scientific base. Only in the 19th century, an English biologist called Charles Darwin published a work that is now claimed as a scientifically-sound theory of evolution (Archibald, 2017). Darwin suggests that all biological organisms have evolved from more primitive species (Archibald, 2017). The basis for change and improvement is what Darwin calls the phenomenon of natural selection.
In summary, the theory of natural selection proposes that all species produce a higher number of offspring than what eventually survives. The offspring that are more persistent and adaptive to environmental factors produce more broods, passing on a more robust genetic material (Archibald, 2017). The result of this continuous iteration is the emergence of advanced and sophisticated species. According to Darwin’s theory, human beings, too, have evolved from more primitive biological organisms (Archibald, 2017). As stated earlier, human origins can be traced back to sea species. The theory of natural selection was also proposed by another British scientist named Alfred Russel Wallace (Archibald, 2017). He is, however, not as famous as Darwin in the contemporary scientific community.
The question of whether or not the Catholic Church accepts the scientific view of evolution cannot be answered simplistically. According to Catholicism, all living organisms and the universe were created by God (Chaberek, 2015). Different people have varying beliefs on how God participated in the creation process. Some people believe in special creation, which means that God directly caused organisms to emerge (Chaberek, 2015). The church, however, does not reject the idea that God created by indirect means. It claims that secondary participation portrays the virtue of God – it is more difficult to make primitive particles create an intelligent being than to create directly (Chaberek, 2015). In other words, God might have created a doctrine of evolution, according to which biological organisms change and new species appear. The Catholic Church does not give definite answers about whether or not it accepts Darwin’s theory. It only states that contemporary scientific findings of the origins of life and evolution do not contradict the teachings of Catholicism.
There is a clear answer, however, about the nature of human evolution. The church claims that, while the biological body may be subject to change and advancement over time, the soul remains without modification (Chaberek, 2015). The notion of special creation touches souls, meaning that God directly created souls without establishing sophisticated physical and biological processes that led to the appearance of Earth, stars, and trillions of other spatial objects and living organisms.
How They Work Together
In conjunction, the Catholic view of evolution and the scientific theory suggest that God created laws of nature that caused the emergence of contemporary species, such as human beings. The theory of evolution should not be viewed as an idea that contradicts religion (Chaberek 2015). Instead, it should be considered to be an instrument God used to create humans, animals, and other biological organisms (Chaberek, 2015). In this context, a question arises about how the story of Adam and Eve should be interpreted. According to the story, human beings are the descendants of Adam and Eve, who were exiled to Earth after they sinned (Greenblatt 2017). If humans were exiled, it is reasonable to suggest that Catholic teachings dismiss evolution’s role in the emergence of humans as species. The church, however, suggests that figurative language was used in the story. Therefore, interpretations should be made accordingly – perceiving the writing as an explicit description of how humans came to existence is fallacious. Also, one should not dismiss the story as fiction – the narrative describes how the human history begins with a fault committed by Adam and Eve.
In summary, evolutionary theory is sound and is generally accepted by both the Catholic Church and the scientific community. The church views evolution as a sign of God’s indirect participation in how living organisms were formed. The story of Adam and Eve should not be considered as contradictory to the theory of evolution. The reason is that the narrative points to why humans exist instead of explaining how human beings originated.
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- Archibald, J. David. 2017. Origins of Darwin’s Evolution: Solving the Species Puzzle Through Time and Place. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
- Chaberek, Michael. 2015. Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis. New York, NY: Angelico Press.
- Greenblatt, Stephen. 2017. The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.