Intro: I wrote this during my FIRST SEMESTER at Notre Dame for my first theology class. This professor was fantastic. He was the BEST storyteller, so logical, so respectful, but also really helped grow my faith. He was terrifying to talk to 1 on 1 though.
Ashley Knipp, Professor DeFrancis, Theology 1001-15
Creation According to the Church: Not About “How” but “Who”
You will not be excommunicated if you consider the big bang theory to be true, no matter what your youth minister says. The Church has no reason to reject the scientific theory of evolution. The Bible’s account of creation and the theory of evolution may even complement one another. This becomes clear in a three-step thought process born from interpretations of the Bible, the Catechism, and the Babylonian tale, Enuma Elish. One, accept that the purpose of the Church is not to report scientific facts. Two, realize that the Church’s purpose is to spread the message of God’s hesed. Three, note that the theory of evolution says nothing about God, but uses scientific facts to attempt to explain how He created everything. Despite the popular notion that the Church condemns scientists studying evolution, the Church and the scientific theory of evolution work together to appreciate the greatness of God.
The Bible is not a book of facts. The Catholic Church presents the Bible as one of the holiest, most important gifts ever to grace humanity, a gift to be respected and taken very seriously. Some people think that means we should interpret it scientifically, but not even the Bible takes itself scientifically. The Bible begins with two contradictory accounts of creation written by “P” (the Priestly source) and “J” (the Jahwist). Both are canonized, even though P says God created animals before man (Gen 1:24) and J says the reverse (Gen 1:19). P was both a writer and redactor of the Bible. P wrote his version already knowing J’s, but decided not to replace J’s version, adding his own version to J’s instead. If the Church aims for scientific accuracy, such a blatant inconsistency would not have persisted for hundreds of years. Not to mention the fact that P’s story was likely written in response to the Babylonian tale Enuma Elish while P was in Babylonian Exile with the rest of the Jews. Both stories tell of light, the sky, dry land, and humans created in the same order. If P’s story is based on altering Enuma Elish, a piece of mythology, it cannot be considered a scientific report. So if not scientifically, we can interpret the Bible theologically. The Catechism teaches us that “one can distinguish between two senses of scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church” (CCC 115). However, searching every word for a deeper meaning or a symbol means nothing if you fail to grasp the main point.
So what is the point? The point of the creation story and of the Church is to inform God’s people about his steadfast, merciful love for the people He created – His hesed. Whether the serpent could talk or had legs does not matter, but what does matter, is the fact that God showed Adam and Eve mercy. God told Adam he would die if he ate the fruit. Then the two violate the single rule God gave, but instead of striking them dead on the spot, God punishes them with mortality and suffering, but allows them to live. (Gen 3:17-3:24) He does not take away the gifts bestowed on man – the light, the vegetation, the animals, their souls, their knowledge, and or anything else in existence. Even in their sin, God continues to love them and show mercy. Still, today, God forgives our sins and continues to provide for us, proving the endlessness of his hesed. The main focus of both creation stories and of Enuma Elish is not the creation of the world, but the God who creates it. In Enuma Elish, the Babylonian god, Marduk, fashions the world from another god after he “trod on the legs of Tiamat, with his unsparing mace he crushed her skull. When the arteries of her blood he had severed” (Enuma Elish, IV, 129-131) he used her body to create the world. Our God simply speaks and creates the world (Gen 1:1-2:4), proving his immense power and peacefulness. The Church teaches creation stories to enlighten His people on who to thank for this life and all its luxuries, not to scientifically explain how He created the world. Thus, the Church has no reason to reject the scientific theory of evolution because they answer two completely different questions. The Bible answers “who” and science answers “how.”
So if the two are completely different, how are they compatible? Their differences allow their compatibility. Science aims to understand how everything exists without defining whom or what began it all. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) said that the first creation story in the Bible and the scientific theory of evolution are “two complementary – rather than mutually exclusive – realities” (In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, Eerdmans, 1990, p. 50). Mutually exclusive means that you cannot have one without the other – no exceptions, but science studies the light, water, land, animals, and man all created by God. If the Bible does not have to be interpreted scientifically, could “let there be light” (Gen 1:3) be the big bang? The Bible only says that man was created “in [H]is own image” (Gen 1:27). Could his image have been presented in the first primate that would one day evolve into Homo sapiens? I believe the Bible’s accounts of creation encourage science. “[T]he same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind” (Dei Filius 4: DS 3017). When compared with Enuma Elish, Genesis looks like an invitation for scientific exploration. In the Babylonian tale, Marduk creates man from the blood of a rebel to be slaves so that the gods can rest (Enuma Elish, VI, 5-8). The very existence of man is to serve – not to consider the world a collection of different creations, but as his place of entrapment. No slave yearns to understand his cage; he only wants to escape. Actually, Marduk’s creation of man fails to suggest any sort of personal feeling or comprehension given to man at all. Genesis 1:1-2:4 depicts the world as beautiful and peaceful, something to be appreciated, something that God calls “good” several times and to be celebrated in rest on the seventh day (Gen1:1-2:4). In Genesis 2:4-3:24, God gives man free will and dominance (Gen 2:19-20). The Bible’s creation stories present the world as something to be appreciated, and man as a being able to feel and yearn to understand. The Catechism describes the unity of the Church and science best.
Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are” (CCC 159).
Evolution and creation are complementary, because the Church provides us with the “who” while science seeks to understand the “how.” One cannot reject the other, because they answer different questions.
Together, the Bible and science facilitate a holistic appreciation of God and existence. Contrary to public assumption, the Catholic Church does not reject the scientific theory of evolution because the theory of evolution does not reject God. Using both, one can worship Him, thank Him, and desire to learn about His designs and handiworks. The ability of the human mind to reason and yearn for answers is a gift from God, one that only provides more opportunities to appreciate and adore Him.