How do you combine science and faith?

Hey Catholic Girls,
I have one little question which has been bothering me for a long time. I’m a catholic girl and I go to church quite often since I’m also an altar server there. But ever since we learned a lot about evolution in school, I have some struggles . I just can’t wrap my mind around creation and evolution. I believe in Christ and I also (as quirky as this always sounds) believe in the church, but I can’t deny the stuff I learned at school. My mother told me that for her the creation in Genesis is an allegory and has not to be taken literally.
What’s your take on that topic? I know the church has a model of “theistic evolution” but what’s your take on it? How do you combine these two elements that seem so contradictory?
Sincerely,
Tina
Dear Tina,
Evolution. Here’s one time when I don’t have to beat my head against the wall and come up with strategic ways to balance my conscience with teachings and cultural understandings.
It’s true the church takes a “theistic evolution” stance on Darwin’s theory. According to Blessed Pope John Paul II, “If the human body has its origin in living material which pre-exists it, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God”. In essence, evolution can explain why are bodies are the way they are but we have to look to God to understand our souls. In the same speech to the Pontificial Academy of Sciences Pope John Paul II goes on to say that “new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis,” however, “truth cannot contradict truth.” So long as there is an acknowledgment of God in the explanation of the creation of man and the universe then evolution and faith can go hand in hand. Also, I’ve heard in Sunday School and the faith sharing communities my parents hang around that the “big bang” theory is compatible with strict Catholic devoutness because the “bang” was God.
The Vatican today says that the six day creation model does not align with modern geology or other scientific thought, therefore it is unlikely that this model is true.  It is widely taught, just like your mom explained, that the story of Genesis is indeed allegorical. While, the creation of the world might not have gone down as written in Genesis  that doesn’t change the importance the story has in Catholic theology and doctrine. Allegorical yes but marriage, the sabbath, sin and the fallen state of the world (think hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters) are established.  Allegorical yes but still doctrine.  It is within this story, as Pope John Paul II points out, we learn “the truth about man,” that humanity is both male and female and that we have free agency (there’s more to it than that but that would be a whole other post).
If we look to the way human creation is explained in Genesis 2:7 it reads “God formed man from the clay of the earth and he breathed into his face the breath of life. And man became a living soul.” The non-literal approach to this text is that our formation out of clay may have taken millions of years until we were in God’s image. Even with that said some Catholics do believe in the six day creation model and the Vatican hasn’t said that we should or should not believe in a literal Genesis story.
As for science I think this is common knowledge but the Church hasn’t always been so down with it. Some 400 years ago during the Inquisition the Church had a little–shall we say incident? Galileo published materials asserting that the earth revolved around the sun (Pope Urban VII even asked him not to, personally) and that his findings did not contradict scripture. Galileo was excommunicated and imprisoned but today the Church has learned a thing or two about the intersection of science and religion. The director of the Vatican Secret Archives, Bishop Sergio Pagano, said in 2009 “The Galileo case teaches science not to presume to teach the Church on matters of faith and sacred Scripture and, at the same time, teaches the church to approach scientific problems with much humility and circumspection.” There are things science can explain and things Scripture can and we should be humble and thoughtful about everything in between.
Recently, in regards to the Mars landing the Director of the Vatican Observatory (which funnily enough was around before the Galileo ordeal) explained “we are not afraid of science, we are not afraid of new results, new discoveries. That’s the reason why the [pope] has an observatory. Whatever the truth might be, we are open to new results, once they are confirmed by the scientific community.”
And as my brother likes to point out The Vatican even says that there could be life on other planets and is open to the idea that God’s plan involves extraterrestrials too. A Vatican spokesperson said, “We cannot place limits on the creative freedom of God.”
As for my own opinion, I sincerely hope that we have a Heavenly Father who ordered the chaos and constructed a plan for us to return to him someday. I think science helps all of us understand the world, a world God created. Where it does get tricky for me is where we draw the line between nice allegorical tales and historical fact. The Vatican might be cool with us saying that Genesis is not to be taken literally but they would never say that about other parts of the Bible, particularly the New Testament. How does the Vatican make these kind of judgements? It is one of those things that I am not sure I will ever be able to fully reconcile. If I were you I would keep on altar serving (I was an altar server too!!), praying and reading everything you can on the topic, especially if it’s eating at you. There is nothing wrong with taking a literal Genesis approach, a theistic evolutionary approach or saying “I’ll leave this question for another day”. What the Church asks of us in regards to this matter is to be humble and thoughtful.
Readers, what is your take on Catholicism and Evolution? Is this one time the Vatican is spot on? How do you reconcile science and faith?
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3 thoughts on “How do you combine science and faith?

  1. I really applaud the church’s stances on scientific matters like evolution. As someone who gets into occasional arguments with creationists who take the Bible literally, I think it’s a good change for the church to simply attribute scientific events/happenings to God. As long as the religious folk can recognize that the scientific explanation (for a lot of things, not all of course) is what happens/happened, they can attribute it to whatever deity they like. It is counter-productive to advancement though when certain groups refuse to acknowledge rational thought and discovery.

  2. The theory of evolution applied to newpaper publishing: Lightning strips wood from a tree into a perfect sheet of paper which is blown by the wind up against a rock. Lightning stikes a pool of oil and splaters on the paper resulting in perfectly formed letters, numbers, and pictures. The wind then blows the paper against another rock where the other side of the paper is printed. The wind carefully folds the accumulated papers into a newspaper. All of this without anyone planning or designing anything; it is all a series of accidents. Failure to fully embrace this explanation makes you an anti-science believer in a long-since-proven-false myth. (Really??)

  3. Hello,
    I have been following your blog for a time now. And I thank you for helping other Catholics of learning and knowing their faith, that by knowing, they may learn to love it and share it also to others.

    I am passing to your blog the LUMEN CHRISTI Award. You can check my blog for the instructions…

    May you continue to be a light for others and help them know and love their Catholic faith! God bless and keep the fire of your faith burning in your hearts!

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