Evolution Theory and Faith


Recently, the Holy Father made a statement concerning evolution, and seemed to accept the theory. Please comment on that and how should we understand the creation account of Genesis and evolution?

In an address to a recent meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Holy Father did comment on the subject of evolution and recognized the progress of science in explaining the origins of life and the process of creation. However, the pope also underscored the compatibility of scientific evidence with the truths of faith, and of science with theology: "Consideration of the method used in diverse orders of knowledge allows for the concordance of two points of view which seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure with ever greater precision the multiple manifestations of life while theology extracts the final meaning according to the Creator's designs." Before focusing on the specific issue of evolution, let us first approach the Genesis account of creation and the truths of faith we find revealed in it.

We must remember that Genesis was not meant to be a scientific explanation of how creation occurred. The first three chapters of Genesis which address creation, the fall of man, and the promise of salvation do not pretend to be a text of physics or biology which provides a scientific understanding of mankind and the world. Rather, the Genesis account of creation is a work of theology which focuses on the who, why and what of creation. Writing centuries before the birth of our Lord, the inspired sacred authors under the guidance of the Holy Spirit wove a story to capture truths of God and His creation. Since Abraham lived approximately 1850 BC, the stories of Genesis were probably preserved orally for centuries before ever being produced in written form.

To appreciate the beauty and significance of the Genesis account, we must examine the pagan cultures surrounding the Jewish people. They lived among these various cultures, each of whom had their own religion and likewise their own creation stories. For instance, the Babylonians had a story called the Enuma Elish. Here the deities Apsu (male) and Tiamat (female) begot another god named Ea, who in turn had a son named Marduke. Ea slayed Apsu, and Marduke then slayed Tiamat. From the carcass of Tiamat, Marduke fashioned the world. Marduke also slayed Kingu, Tiamat's counselor, and with his blood, fashioned mankind.

The Egyptian cult of the Sun based at the city of Heliopolis described how Atum-Re (or Ra), the sun god, was produced from Nun, the waters of chaos. Atum-Re then fertilized himself committing an act of divine masturbation and ejaculated Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture), giving them his vital force or Ka. Shu and Tefnut in turn produced Geb (earth) and Nut (sky), and other gods. This same story told of how humans were produced from the tears flowing from the eyes of Atum-Re.

Other Egyptian religious cults had other creation stories. The cult at Memphis told of how the god Ptah had conceived in his heart and had spoken with his tongue produced all living beings. The cult of Elephantine described the god Khnum as a potter fashioning all living beings on a potter's wheel from clay. Granted, some elements from these stories are similar to ones found in Genesis, yet the difference between these stories and Genesis is vast.

Take a good look at the first Genesis account of creation, 1:1-2:4. Here we find an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, eternal and infinite God. He creates freely according to His divine wisdom and is motivated by genuine love.

God creates all things from nothing (ex nihilo), creating even that from which creation is made. However, He is distinct from His creation. The Hebrew text uses the word bara' for "create," and this word is used only for an action of God on the world. The object created is always something that is new, wonderful and astonishing. The creative word of God is not only personal, responsible and efficacious, but also it is life-giving.

In Genesis, God creates in a very orderly fashion, following a seven-day plan. The number seven was considered a perfect number for the Jews. Although the word day normally means a 24 hour period of time, it can also be used for a season, a particular time or event (e.g. "judgment day" ), or a period of time. We must remember that God is infinite and thereby is not bound by time. Consequently, in Genesis, day and the seven-day sequence refer more to a designed, purposeful span of time over which God creates.

Although not a scientific account, the unfolding of creation follows a divine plan that makes logical sense from a human perspective. Most importantly, at the end of each day, God looks at creation and recognizes it as very good. This point about the goodness of creation is emphasized repeatedly to refute any notion that the material world is evil, corrupt, or depraved, as some cultures or cults thought.

Moreover, Genesis climaxes with the creation of man and woman: "God created man in His image; in the divine image He created them; male and female He created them" (1:27). This beautiful verse highlights that only man and woman reflect God's image and likeness. Moreover, both man and woman, although different, equally reflect the image and likeness of God. From this belief, we believe that God has created and given to each of us a unique and immortal soul.

Immediately, we can see the differences between Genesis and the creation accounts of surrounding cultures. Genesis has no generation of a god or gods; in Genesis, God is eternal. In the other accounts, creation is the product of divine sexual activity, power struggles, murder, accident and whim; in Genesis, God creates through His eternal Reason — His Word — and His creativity has order, design, uniqueness and purpose. Unlike the other creation stories, Genesis emphasizes a loving God who freely created all things good, and made mankind in His image and likeness, endowing them with a unique, immortal soul. The God of Genesis is not part of creation; rather, God transcends creation, but is present to, upholds, and sustains creation which is "good" in His eyes. Finally, we must not forget that all creation — the whole story of the Old Testament — is moving toward Christ and derives its true meaning from Christ through whom all things were created and who reconciled all things in His person (cf. Colossians 1:15-21).

Given this understanding of Genesis, next week we will address the issues of science and their compatibility with these truths of faith.




Saunders, Rev. William. "Evolution Theory and Faith." Arlington Catholic Herald.

This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.


Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

Copyright © 2003 Arlington Catholic Herald

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