Lesson 91- Intro to Evolution
Well today I am going to approach that scary word, evolution, that, since the mid-eighteen hundreds, has been the major stumbling block between religion and science. It has probably been one of the major causes why, as the educational level of our children has risen, their faith has declined. After having been raised on Bible stories concerning Genesis and Adam and Eve, they are shocked to learn that there may be a conflict between there childhood understanding of how everything began and the scientific theories that they are learning in the classroom. Notice that I said “there may be a conflict” because, as the Church teaches, there can never be a conflict between Truth and Divine Revelation. “Truth is one” and if there appears to be a conflict then either the scientific theory is wrong or incomplete or our understanding of Divine Revelation is wrong or incomplete. Jesus, before His ascension into heaven, said that there were many other things that He had to tell us but that we were not ready to hear them. Therefore, He would send the Holy Spirit of Truth who would teach us all things. In other words, there was more to come and that we should not get bogged down with our original understanding but, rather, should be open to an unfolding process in which new insights, new understandings, and new revelations would be forthcoming. Thus, when conflicts arose between contending theories of reality or revelation, the Church’s position was “wait and see” and would delay its final judgment until all the evidence was in and was conclusive.
Therefore, before getting into a discussion of the theory of evolution, let me spend some time talking about this issue of an unfolding revelation. From the very beginning of the Church, truth was seen as an unfolding process and that is why it was necessary to have a “teaching church” that, through the Magisterium, would be able to lead the faithful through the maze of competing theories as human knowledge and understanding grew. It is also why Jesus gave the Apostle’s in general, and St. Peter in particular, the “Keys to the Kingdom of God” and told them that “whatever they bound on earth, would be bound in heaven and whatever they loosed on earth, would be loosed in heaven.” Think about this statement. It is saying that the leaders of the Church, whom we call the Magisterium, had the power to make changes that would be honored in heaven. The implication is that, as time passed, our understanding of the Truth would deepen and change and that it would be necessary for the human mind to reevaluate and reinterpret the original deposit of faith in the light of new evidence and understanding.
Thus, the Church has never been a static organization. Rather it has always been a dynamic, growing and evolving one that has survived through two thousand years of history because it has followed the laws of organic growth. And what are the laws of organic growth? They are the laws of nature that say that every organism must be able to respond and adapt to the challenges to its existence or else it will decline or become extinct.
There are Christians who are always trying to return to the original form of the Church thinking that if they could duplicate the Church as it existed at the time of the Apostles that they could recapture some original purity that existed in the past.
Although it is a worthy sentiment, it just isn’t true. The Church, from its infancy, was always embroiled in conflicts between contending theories and factions and had to resolve these issues through councils of the elders. The first one that we know of is the Council of Jerusalem, which took place around the year 50 A.D., less than 30 years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. It involved the issue of how the Gentiles should be admitted into the Church and the major opponents were two great Apostle: St. James, an original Apostle who knew Jesus and St. Paul, often called the “Apostle to the Gentiles”, who, although he never met Jesus during His life, had a mystical encounter with him on the Road to Damascus.
St. Paul, a former persecutor of the Church, was actively involved in bringing non-Jewish converts into the Church and was faced with the problem of whether these new converts had to follow the Jewish rituals and laws. We must remember that Jesus and His Apostle were Jews and thus, in the beginning, the Christian Church was an extension of Judaism and had not yet created a separate identity.
Paul’s problem was that some of the rituals and laws were very hard and distasteful. For example, the ritual of circumcision when performed on a male child is a non-event since the child doesn’t remember it, but it can be a very painful experience for a grown man. Paul went to this meeting in Jerusalem to argue that this was a deterrent to converts and that it was no longer necessary. In addition, there were numerous dietary laws and ritualistic washings that a sincere Jew had to follow and no one knew this better than St. Paul. Before his own conversion, he had been, by his own admission, a strict Pharisee who scrupulously obeyed them all. That is why later he writes that he has been set free of the law by his faith in Jesus Christ. The law that he is speaking of is not the Ten Commandments but rather all these other laws that dealt with the minute happenings in everyday life. Thus, Paul was the first liberal in the Church who was demanding that changes be made for the sake of the spread of the Gospel.
His opponent was St. James, an original conservative, who argued that the Church had to preserve “things as they are.” Later, in the Epistle of St. James, we can almost detect this conflict between the liberal St. Paul and the conservative, St. James, over the issue of faith. Paul had said that he was saved by faith and had discounted the value of works, by which he meant all the ritualistic acts required by the Jewish religion. James, in his epistle, complains that there are some who say you are saved by faith and not works. James response is “faith without works is dead…Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith through my works.”
Later, Martin Luther will use Paul’s statement about “faith and works” to support his position and he will even insert the word “alone” after the word faith. Furthermore, realizing that the Epistle of St. James is a direct contradiction of his theory, Luther called it the “Epistle of Straw” and removed it from his publication of the Bible. Later, it was put back into the Protestant Bibles because it was obvious that it was a bad precedent and, if it were allowed, every one would remove those portions of the Bible with which they disagreed.
But let me return to the Council of Jerusalem. The dispute between St. Paul and St. James was finally settle by St. Peter, the original moderate, who sought a compromise by stating that although the ritual of circumcision could be abolished, they should continue to follow the dietary laws, such as, refusing to eat meat sacrifice to idols. Later, Peter will change this when God, showing him all the edible things of creation, tells him that, for a Christian, none of these things are unclean.
What, you might ask, has this to do with the theory of evolution? To answer this question we first have to have some understanding of what the word evolution means. A very simple definition for evolution is a slow, gradual change over a period of time in which a thing grows without losing its original nature. Thus, we evolve from childhood to adulthood. We look different but we are still the same person.
Put an “r” in front of evolution and it becomes “revolution”, which can be viewed either as a fast, disorderly change, such as the French Revolution, or as a cyclical change in which, like a revolving door, it keeps repeating the same cyclical motion. When it is seen as a fast, disorderly change, the revolution, like a biological mutation, radically changes from it original identity. When it is seen as cyclical change, revolution, like a repeating circle, doesn’t really change at all. Thus, organic growth, which is what all living things experience, is really a form of evolutionary change, and, we could say that this is the natural way that all things grow. The Church, as I have previously mentioned, has survived two thousand years, because it has mastered the secret of organic growth. It knows how to change without changing its basic identity. In a sense, it is the same and different at the same time.
A number of years ago, I was hired as a substitute for a teacher who had become ill at Northeast Public Evening High School. The class consisted of adults and high school students who, for one reason or another, wanted or needed to take the course. Within the context of the course, the theory of evolution came up and a young man, about nineteen years of age, who was a Jehovah Witness confronted me after class. He did not accept the theory of evolution and he objected to the fact that I was dealing with it in class. I told him that it was a theory and, as such, it could be either accepted or rejected by those who heard it. However, since it was so much a part of modern education, he should at least be aware of it. Thus, I asked him to just keep an open mind concerning it.
The class proceeded and the young man did well. On the last evening, as I was saying goodbye to my students, he came up to me and reminded me that I had advised him to keep an open mind about the theory of evolution. He then asked if I had an open mind. What could I say except that I tried to be open-minded. Then he said, “Then you won’t mind meeting with me in the coming weeks to discuss it.” I was trapped. Unintentionally, I had allowed myself to be maneuvered into a position where I was committed to an unlimited number of sessions with a Jehovah Witness. But, I had no choice. I had to “practice what I preached.”
The following week we met at the Main Library and, from the start, it was obvious that this young man did not have enough background to challenge me on this topic. He realized it himself and admitted it to me. Then he asked if it would be alright it he brought another Jehovah Witness with him, who had more background in this area. What could I say but “yes!”
The meetings changed to my house and for the next three months every Saturday morning the young man and his friend showed up. His friend was a Jewish convert to the Jehovah Witnesses who said that he had a Master’s Degree in Engineering and spoke five different languages, among which were Hebrew, Greek, and Chinese.
Now I was the one who was outmatched and I was filled with dread and anxiety as each session approached. I actually prayed every Friday that either he or I would get sick so that the meetings couldn’t take place. Week after week, he bombarded me with things for which I had no answer. My wife was so intimidated by the meetings that she would stay in an upstairs bedroom until they were over. When I asked him how long these session were going to last, he estimated about two years. Inwardly I groaned as I contemplated these two Jehovah Witnesses bombarding me week after week for two years.
After about two months, I was distraught and upset by my own inability to answer him as he would say “In the original Hebrew or in the original Greek the Bible says…” What did I know about the original Hebrew or the original Greek? I had hardly read the non-original English. Finally, I decided that I couldn’t take this mental torture much longer as they chipped away at all the beliefs that I held dearly. Therefore, I decided that I had to get some background on the topics that he was raising. Within the next few weeks, I read five books on various topic involving the Christian religion until finally I had gained some competency in answering the issues that he raised. Then near the end of the third month, I finally broke through.
We were just sitting down for our normal session. My wife, as usual, had fled upstairs not being able to handle the tension involved in hearing one’s sacred beliefs attacked. My adversary sat in a chair across from me with a large Bible opened on his lap while his young companion sat on the couch near me. I began asking why the Witnesses didn’t believe in blood transfusions and even risked their own death or the death of their children by refusing them. He told me about the prohibition against blood in the Old Testament and that one had to be faithful to everything that the Bible taught. I then reminded him that there were things in the Bible that had changed. He looked upset and began to deny this. I then reminded him that the Bible was a revelation through which God gradually revealed to the Jews who He was and what He expected. He looked confused. For example, the name of God changes in different sections of the Bible and when it does, so does their understanding of who He is. In the beginning, they thought that God, in the name of justice, demanded “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” However, in the New Testament, Jesus says that we “should love our enemies and do good to those who harm us.” In the beginning of the Old Testament, God comes across as a vengeanceful person. However, later in the Old and throughout the New Testament, we begin to sense that He is full of mercy and in the New Testament we learn that He is Love itself and that His goal is not to punish us but to save us. In the Old Testament the Jews were given detailed instruction on how they were to sacrifice various animals to God and yet, later, they are told that God really doesn’t want these sacrifices. Instead he wants social justice and care for one’s neighbor. Then in the New Testament, we learn through the example of Jesus that what He desires is “self sacrifice” out of love for others. Also, in the beginning Jewish theology believed that if you were good, you would have good luck and if you were bad, you would have bad luck. Thus, they concluded that whenever anyone was experiencing bad luck, it was a sign that he had sin. This premise was challenged in the Book of Job when Job, after a series of catastrophes, is accused by his neighbors of sinning. Job vehemently denies this and, at the end of the book, we discover that he is correct and that his personal tragedies are not related to his sinfulness. In a sense, Job is a Just Man who suffers unwillingly. In the New Testament, Jesus becomes the Just Man who suffers willingly, thereby indicating that suffering, instead of being a punishment from God for sins, may be a necessary part of our development towards the “fullness of life” and actually have a redemptive value. Thus, Jesus says, “If you want life and want it fully, pick up your Cross and follow Me.” My point is that the Bible is a revelation and like every revelation it leads to a growing and clearer understanding of the thing that is being revealed. However, like any revelation, it is dependent upon the background and level of understanding of the listener and as this level becomes more sophisticated so does the nature and quality of the revelation.
Anyway, I suggested to this man that the Bible itself was an evolutionary document since through slow, gradual changes it brought our understanding of God and His expectation for us from one based on law, punishment, and damnation to one based on spirit, love and salvation.
He became very upset and denied that anything ever changed in the Bible. What it said in the beginning was just as true, valid, and necessary as what it said at the end. And that is why the Witnesses refused blood transfusions because of its prohibition against blood.
To illustrate my point, I asked him to find the spot in the Acts of the Apostles that speaks of the Council of Jerusalem that I previously mentioned. He did and together we read the section where St. Peter concludes that although circumcision would not be required for new male converts, the rules against eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols would continue.
Then I asked him to find a spot, which I think was in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he tells his readers that when they go into the butcher shop don’t ask the butcher where he got the meat. Just buy it and don’t worry because whether it was sacrificed to idols or not didn’t matter. However, if another Christian is with you and he asks about the origin of the meat and it is learned that it came from a temple where it was part of a sacrifice to an idol, then don’t buy it. Not because it would harm you if you ate it but because it would offend and scandalize your friend. Obviously, this was a change from what they had decided at the Council of Jerusalem.
He said it wasn’t and I said it was. So we returned to the Act of the Apostles and reread the decision of the Council. Then we reread what St. Paul wrote later. A confused look came over his face and he sat there silently for a few minutes with an open Bible on his lap. Then he closed the Bible and he and his young companion got up and he said, “Well, I see that I’m never going to convince you. So, we are leaving.” I asked if he was coming back. He said “No!” and then, as Jesus instructed one should do when confronted with someone who would not listen, he began to brush the dust from the soles of his shoes.
One side of me wanted to take advantage of his confusion by insisting that our talks were not over and that he was obliged to continue our discussions. Another side of me knew the pain that he was going through as he was confronted with something that contradicted his belief system because just a few weeks before I was dealing with the same pain. My better half won and I said that he was welcomed to return but that the decision was up to him. He never came back.
The problem was that he had reached an antithesis that he was unable to synthesize. In other words, because of his inability to digest a new perspective, he was locked into the old one and was unable to move to a higher and deeper level of understanding. He had become a circle that kept repeating the same answer and formulae over and over again even though it no longer corresponded to reality. And, by doing so, he had left the path of linear development.
By now it might be dawning on some of you that the Hegelian Dialectic and evolution are the same thing. The Thesis is “the thing as it is”; the Antithesis is a challenge to “the thing as it could or should be”; and the Synthesis is the resolution of the conflict that results when the “truth contained in the Thesis” is integrated with the “truth contained in the Antithesis” and, thereby, becomes the purified truth in the Synthesis. Put in evolutionary terms, the Thesis is “the creature as it exists”; the Antithesis is the Natural Selector that is “a change or challenge in the environment” that threatens its survival; the Synthesis is the Survival of the Fittest resulting from the “adaptation that the creature makes” in order to survive.
Thus, both evolution, which means a slow, gradual development, and the Hegelian Dialectic are the natural laws of development that reflect the mind of God. If the path to salvation and the “fullness of life” is linear rather than circular then salvation is a developmental path that takes place over a period of time rather than an accomplished fact and therefore it would follow these natural laws of development.
This is a Catholic perspective rather than a Protestant one and the reason why Catholic look perplexed when they are asked by their Protestant brothers “if they are saved.” The Protestant perspective is that once you are saved, you can’t lose it because Jesus saves you from the “punishment for your sins.” The Catholic perspective is that your salvation depends upon your cooperation with the graces that God gives you to live a good life. Thus, Jesus saves you from the “doing of your sins.” It the old argument between St. Paul and St. James and between Martin Luther and the Church as to whether you are saved by “faith” or by “faith and works”. The Protestant says he is saved by his “faith” and the Catholic says he is saved by his “faith and works” and without the “works” faith is an empty concept. The Protestant is “saved” and the Catholic is “being saved.”
Of course, the Catholic position is more consistent with the Bible. The Old Testament says that if the evil man should give up his evil ways, he will be saved and if the good man should leave the path of goodness, he will be lost. In the New Testament, Jesus says, “Not everyone who calls me Lord will be saved but only those who do the will of My Father.” And, in the Book of Revelations, Jesus at the Last Judgment condemns those who, although they called Him Lord, did not feed Him when He was hungry, clothe Him when He was naked, or visit Him when He was imprisoned. My point is that if salvation is linear and developmental rather than circular and complete, then salvation is an evolutionary process because the laws of evolution are the “laws of development”
Thus in a developmental universe that is moving from potential to actual existence everything is following these laws. Therefore Hegel, whose dialectic shows how the process works, says that both “thought and being” follow the laws of the dialectic. The mind develops through a process of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis and so does the development of material things. For example, the mind moves towards “higher truth” when its Thesis or theory on any topic is challenged by an Antithesis that points out some flaw or inconsistency in the theory. A struggle takes place between the conservative forces of the Thesis and the Liberal forces of the Antithesis and is finally resolved by a Synthesis that finds a compatible way of incorporating the Antithesis into the Theses. The same thing happens with material things. For example, how did the automobile or any of our modern conveniences develop to there present state. The automobile, which was originally called a “horseless carriage”, was a spin-off from an internal combustion engine that was used to pump water out of mines. Someone realized that the circular motion of the engine could be used to turn the wheels of a carriage. When it first appeared, the inventor thought that he had created the ultimate in transportation. This was the Thesis. Then his customers started to point out some of the deficiencies and these became the Antitheses. For example, they pointed out that passenger were blinded and covered with the dust churned up by the wheels and the inventors put on a windshield. Then they pointed out that, when it rained, you couldn’t see the road and windshield wipers were invented. Then to the fact, that they still got wet and sometimes broke their wrists when they had to crank the engine to get it started and the electric starter was invented. Thus, through a dialectical process, the automobile moved from a “horseless carriage” to a BMW.
Remember that a dialectic occurs when two things interact to create a third. Once we understand the dialectical nature of God and the universe that He created everything is seen from a different perspective. The Bible becoming an unfolding revelation rather than a unchanging one “set in stone.” The Church is a growing organism responding to new conditions and new challenges but always protecting and maintaining its essential identity. It is a Church of “binding and loosening” as the Holy Spirit guides it down the path of Truth through a dialectical process.
Without this Spirit and the Magisterium to guide us we would find ourselves either , like the ultra-conservative, resisting all changes, or like the ultra-liberals, accepting every crackpot theory that comes down the road. Through the Church and its Magisterium, which has at its disposal an army of experts who after long study and investigation are able to sort through the truths, half-truths and errors contained in new theories, we have a Divine plan instituted by Christ to allow us to grow and develop without losing our essential identity. And nowhere is this more true than with Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Ever since Darwin first published his “Origin of Species” in 1859 in which he proposed that the various species of living beings were the result of Natural Selection rather than specific creation by God, Christians have been trying to figure out how they should respond to this challenge to their own understanding of the creation.
As a result, there are three strategies that they took. First, they just ignore the conflict and compartmentalize their mind so that they had one theory for the religious side and another one for the scientific side. Second, they reject the scientific theory of evolution and exerted most of their energy is trying to disprove it. Third, they tried to find ways to integrate and synthesize the new evidence with the old understanding.
Those who took the first strategy acted like there was no problem or that if they ignored it, it would go away. Those that took second strategies churned out sermons, books, and seminars, insisting on a literal interpretation of the Bible’s account of creation. For example, I attended a two-day seminar on evolution that was sponsored by Calvary Chapel. The speaker was very impressive and had an impressive Powerpoint computer presentation that challenged the evolutionists by pointing out some of the inconsistencies and flaws in their theory. Throughout the presentation, he repeatedly paused to state, “And remember, the creation is only six thousand years old.” By the end of the presentation, he had the audience chanting “And remember, the creation is only six thousand years old.” And how did he come to this conclusion? It was based on a calculation of the “begots” mentioned in the Old Testaments. You know…”Abraham begot Isaac…and Isaac begot Jacob… and Jacob begot… etc… By calculating the number of generations mentioned, those who are committed to a literal interpretation of everything in the Bible, concluded that the creation took place six thousand years ago.
I was truly impressed by the part of his presentation that picked at the flaws in the theory of evolution because there are some significant flaws. And, if he had let it go at that, it would have been a significant argument against the theory of evolution. But by insisting that the universe was only six thousand years old, he opened up his own argument to some powerful objections. For example, it is an established fact that the stars in space are millions of light years away from the earth. What that means is that the light emitted by them has been traveling for millions of years as the speed of light, which is 186.000 miles per second. Thus, the light we see coming from the stars began million of years ago and the star itself may no longer exist. In other words, we are looking at the past. Now, if some of these stars are millions of light years away from us, how could the universe be only 6000 years old? It is arguments like this that get the Christian point of view thrown out of the discussion. However, this is basically a fundamentalist Protestant argument.
The third strategy is that of the Catholic Church. Since Darwin first published his theory the Church has taken a “wait and see” approach and has instructed its army of experts to turn their talents towards investigating and understanding the implications of the theory for our Christian beliefs. However, the Church always plays her card “close to the vest.” That is she doesn’t show what is in her hand until the last card is played.
Thus scholars, like Fr. Tielhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest who was also a paleontologist who dug up fossils were set to work investigating the theory. Fr. Chardin was instructed by his superiors that although he could discuss his finding with other scholars in the Church, he was not to publish them for the general population. This, of course, is greatly criticized by the pundits of secular society because it is interpreted as censorship. However, the Church in her Wisdom, knows that when findings are disclosed prematurely they are often proven to be wrong and that the general public often never hears the correction. In the meantime, their faith is being undermined by half-truths or errors. Also, they rarely have the background to objectively evaluate the truth or error in what they hear. Therefore, the Church asks her scholars to put their own pride and desire to publish on the “backburner” for the general good of the Church. However, it also urges them to continue to discuss and dialogue among themselves so that they might report back to the Magisterium their complete findings. It is at this point, that the official Church will start to reveal the Catholic position on the issue. And what is the Catholic position on evolution? Well, that will have to wait until next time because I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom.