Over the years, an occasional comment in letters from adolescent candidates for confirmation has dealt with evolution. Much to my surprise a young budding scientist may candidly admit an inability to accept “the church’s opposition to evolution” … as if the Catholic Church today were really opposed to that persuasive theory.
Given the wonders of the age in which we live, the aspect of our faith dealing with material creation has achieved greater importance than ever. Faith and science are major questions of interest for our world. The question should always be in the curriculum, and catechists should be prepared to address the topic wisely and well. Blessed Pope John Paul II thought that the theory made sense.
Scientific research and discoveries in virtually every facet of matter have yielded remarkable knowledge about the workings of the world within us as well as beyond us. The response to human probing of the material mysteries of the universe, whether the outer reaches of the cosmos or the minutest molecules of matter, is simply one of awe. People walk on the moon and decode the DNA of human life. Like Job of yore, we are in the end reduced to the silence of amazement and awe.
Natural sciences proceed by experiment from which theories are developed, which in turn lead to further exploration in order to confirm and expand the theories. Only what is verifiable can be held as scientifically certain. Contemporary folks make the mistake of assuming that what cannot be proven through experimentation should not be held as true. Science asks “What is it?” and “How is it?”
The question of meaning, however, remains in an entirely different arena of reality. To explore what it all means, therefore, places us within the realm of motive and purpose. It is faith which asks a different question, namely “Why is it?”
As Catholic Christians blessed by the teachings of the Scriptures as lived and taught by the church, we freely choose to believe that there is a God behind everything we see and experience. We believe …
- That God is good,
- That God has freely chosen to create a world which is benign, not capricious or hostile,
- That God is the ultimate source of everything which exists, ourselves included, and
- That the astonishing order of the entire natural universe, infinitesimal as well as cosmic, leads us to freely conclude to the existence of a personal Supreme Being behind all existing reality, whom we call God and Father … directing creation providentially and guiding its development.
We believe that God has given human beings a spark of intellect and a free will so that we could be partners in developing the world around us. Because we put things in order and sometimes make them better, we are in some small way images of God.
If scientific research should conclude that the material universe has existed for more than 13 billion years, rather than the more modest dating of a creation to the equivalent of Oct. 7, 3761 B.C. as the Scriptures might literally suggest, people of faith are not at all disturbed.
The events described in the opening chapters of Genesis are not intended to be historical or scientific explanations of our material universe. Rather, the stories speak of the fact that everything comes from God as gift, blessing and task. They describe the world around us by catechetical instruction, not scientific treatise. The poetic stories of Genesis, after all, are intended to proclaim the fact of creation not to offer any historical documentary of the process.
Natural disasters cause terrible damage and sometimes destroy entire communities. Forces of nature crash and collide, producing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and deadly storms such as Katrina and Sandy.
The God who continues to sustain the forces of nature around us does not intervene to prevent damage when they clash. Those natural tragedies can become occasions, however, for enormous generosity to people in Haiti or New Orleans, and opportunities for fresh beginnings. God is powerful enough to bring good out of such disasters.
Moral evils, such as the horrors of the Nazi Sho’ah, the savagery of suicide bombings in the Near East or the interreligous killings of Eastern Europe, also strain human hearts and minds seeking answers to how a good God could allow such unspeakable evil….
The fact is that God respects our freedom, perhaps reluctantly at times, even when we make terrible choices. Our God continues to try to bring unexpected benefits, even out of our worst decisions and choices.
As beneficiaries and partners of the God of creation, we live with a life-long responsibility to protect the wellbeing of the world in which God has placed us. Our God is green, and so are we.