Making Sense of Creation vs. Evolution
The topic of evolution is a difficult and complex issue. Within the framework of believing that God created the world and that the book of Genesis is not mythological, there is a great divide among Catholics regarding many particulars - the age of the earth, the possibility of limited forms of evolution, the role of science in interpreting the Bible, whether or not the six days of creation should be taken literally, etc. Ironically, faithful Catholics on both sides of these issues work diligently on their studies and arguments with the belief that their positions are essential for the continuation of the Catholic faith. It is not for me, with my limited understanding, to discern the correct positions on each of these issues on my own. On this page I will merely attempt to report, as fairly as I am able, on the positions and qualities of Catholic books that deal with evolution and related issues.
In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power: we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass. (St. Albert the Great circa 1200 AD)
The first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, (the Letter points out), in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people. If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations, (and this may be conceded) , it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents. (Humani Generis)
Copernicus himself saw his discovery as giving rise to even greater amazement at the Creator of the world and the power of human reason... (yet) many people took it as a means of setting reason against faith. The split between reason and faith was the expression of one of humanity’s great tragedies. It damaged not only religion, but culture. ...Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth. Today we need to work for a reconciliation between faith and reason. Seeking the truth and sharing it with others is an important service to society, a service which scholars in particular are called to render. Remember that reason is God’s gift, a mark of the likeness to God, which every man bears within himself. (Pope John Paul II, from a 1999 address to a Polish university in Copernicus' home town)
Faith and science: Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.' '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)
Darwinism and the theory of evolution are by no means equivalent conceptions. The theory of evolution was propounded before Charles Darwin's time, by Lamarck (1809) and Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire. Darwin, in 1859, gave it a new form by endeavouring to explain the origin of species by means of natural selection. According to this theory the breeding of new species depends on the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence. The Darwinian theory of selection is Darwinism–adhering to the narrower, and accurate, sense of the word. As a theory, it is scientifically inadequate, since it does not account for the origin of attributes fitted to the purpose, which must be referred back to the interior, original causes of evolution. Haeckel, with other materialists, has enlarged this selection theory of Darwin's into a philosophical world-idea, by attempting to account for the whole evolution of the cosmos by means of the chance survival of the fittest. This theory is Darwinism in the secondary, and wider, sense of the word. It is that atheistical form of the theory of evolution which was shown above–under (2)–to be untenable. The third signification of the term Darwinism arose from the application of the theory of selection to man, which is likewise impossible of acceptance. In the fourth place, Darwinism frequently stands, in popular usage, for the theory of evolution in general. This use of the word rests on an evident confusion of ideas, and must therefore be set aside. ("Catholics and Evolution" from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913)
It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into anything. (G.K. Chesterton in St. Thomas Aquinas)
Vol I pgs. 91-95; Vol. IV pgs. 32-33 and 42-44
I have always found Fr. Laux's series helpful, concise and surprisingly applicable almost a century after it was written. (A.V.H.) Here is some of what Fr. Laux has to say about evolution:
"Extreme evolutionists tell us that man was a new species sprung from some lower animal stock. They assume as their starting point one living cell. Out of this cell, they claim, all the myriad forms of plants, animals and men have gradually evolved (developed). This conjecture - for it is no more - does not do away with the Creator. The Creator is necessary to make possible the existence of the first living cell and of the germs required for such manifold developments. An examination of the very word 'evolution,' or development, makes this clear. Evolution means the act of unfolding or developing. Now, there was either something in the first cell that could be 'unfolded' and grow, or there was nothing there, and in this case evolution is impossible; for it remains eternally true that ex nihilo nihil fit, 'from nothing comes nothing.' You cannot develop a film, if there is nothing on the film to be developed or brought out.
Thus we see that the evolutionary theory does not exclude the Creator. Hence, if we assume that the evolution of created living cells took place under the directing hand of God, there is no objection against such an assumption. The Church has left the question open. Up to the present [text was written in 1928 - A.V.H.], however, no proofs have been forthcoming for such wholesale evolution. Scientists have made it seem more or less probable that evolution has taken place within the lower forms of animal life, such as mollusks and insects. It seems that new species of insects have been developed out of earlier ones. But not a shred of evidence has been produced to prove that higher orders of living beings havee been evolved from lower ones. The evolution of all the forms of life which we see in the world today, and therefore also of the human body, from one original cell, may be possible in theory, but it is actually highly improbable.
'Some theologians hold that the Bible does not preclude the theory of the descent of man from the beast. Yet this theory cannot be accepted save with certain reservations. It must be maintained that, in the final analysis, God really did form the body of man from the dust of the earth. He might have caused a species of animal gradually to develop into a more perfect species, until it was fitted to receive a rational, immortal soul. And then, into this body, formed by long evolution from the dust of the earth, He may have breathed a human soul; and when He did so, He created man or Adam.'" (The Chief Truths of the Faith, Fr. John Laux, 1928, reprinted by TAN Books)