Fools go where angels fear to tread
I am going to share reflections on a current issue affecting
both education and understanding the Bible. It is the issue of
“Fools go where angels fear to tread …” I am going to share reflections on a current issue affecting both education and understanding the Bible. It is the issue of “evolution” and “intelligent design.”
There are a number of clear positions that the Catholic Church has about these issues, and there are some murky issues as well.
The first and the clearest position is that “evolution” is a perfectly acceptable way of understanding the creation of the world by God. Most mainline Christian churches accept the fact that the first 10 chapters of the Book of Genesis are stories describing central beliefs in God as creator and as present to his creatures. But we understand that these realities are in story form.
For example, we understand that the two creation stories in the first chapters of Genesis are “stories,” they are not literal happenings; and they were written to say that there is but one God and not many gods, as the pagan neighbors of the Jewish people believed, and that this Creator God is to be worshiped on the Lord’s Day!
These stories also highlight that human beings are the highpoint of God’s creation, and that men and women are created equal. Stories are fine ways of teaching profound truths and, not only the Old Testament authors, but Jesus himself constantly used stories to teach truths about God.
Let me quote the late Pope John Paul II: “Today, knowledge leads me to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.” So evolution, as different from direct “creationism,” is a fully acceptable way of explaining how God made the universe.
Second, the concept of “intelligent design,” as a philosophical statement, is also fully in accord with Catholic teaching. Catholics have always held that there is an intelligent God behind the reality of our world, and that his purposes were accomplished in the creation of the world. Catholics do not believe that evolution could occur without an intelligent being as the cause of that creation. But this is a philosophical and a theological statement! It goes way beyond science and cannot be proved nor disproved by science! It is a statement of faith.
Catholics believe that nature points to an intelligent order, but that belief itself is an act of faith way beyond the ability of science to prove. So I accept “intelligent design” as a philosophical statement but not as a scientific statement.
Third, “intelligent design” is not a scientific concept and should not be taught as science. At the same time, I would hope that those who teach evolution would not attack the rational and philosophical approach that says that evolution itself needs to be explained. If a teacher says that evolution denies the possibility of a God who began that process and guided it, that teacher has left the realm of science and gone over to the realm of philosophy and is no longer teaching science and … is wrong! If another teacher teaches “intelligent design” as a scientific fact, that teacher is wrong and has begun to teach philosophy rather than science.
Finally, just as “evolution” does not need to deny the existence of a Creator, so also “intelligent design,” as a theological statement, does not need to deny evolution as being God’s way of creating the universe.
Rev. Dan Derry, pastor, St. Mary Church, Gilroy