This week's question comes from Larry East of Idaho Falls, Idaho. He writes, "I was pleasantly surprised to learn the Roman Catholic Church has recently issued statements supporting the theory of evolution [in a message the Pope delivered to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on October 23rd]. . . . I have two questions: Is there any conflict between the theory of evolution and the Bible? And with the endorsement of the Roman Catholic Church do you think there will any significant effect on the push to teach "creationalism" in our public schools?"
In the Pope's address he stated that "evolution is more than just a theory," and that evolution essentially explains the evolution of our physical world but does not address the spiritual. The Pope also said that the faithful must remain firm on these points: Creation itself is the work of God; and Humans have another dimension beyond the physical.
So, is there any conflict between the Bible and evolution? The answer is clearly yes and no. For many years the Church has been in conflict with the world of science. This came about from the notion that the Bible is infallible and inerrant in all matters of faith and fact. Thus, when the Bible says the cosmos was created in six days, then that is that-there is no room for evolution. And when the Bible implies the earth has four corners and is thus flat (Isaiah 11.12; Revelation 7.1), then that's what it means-the earth is flat. There can be no argument because the Bible is without error or fallibility. Further, because of society's notion that humanity is superior to the rest of creation, there is an abhorrence to the supposition that homo sapiens might be somehow related to the rest of the earth's creatures (especially the other primates). Thus, for many, there is a deep seated conflict between what the Bible says and what evolution teaches. The final historical argument against evolution is that the scientific theory does not advocate God as the creator, but rather seeks to explain creation in terms of chance, natural forces, and natural selection. Evolution does not enter God into the equation.
However, there has been a movement in the Church to reinterpret the Bible in light of its understanding of those who wrote the scriptures. Judeo/Christian scripture was written before 100 CE (Common Era) in a society that was unaware of scientific method. The stories written by these writers were presented to teach truths (as opposed to facts). Their primary concerns were to teach the readers about God, about God's relationship with creation, and about humanity's relationship with itself, creation, and God. There was so little concern about how God actually created the heavens and the earth that the two creation stories (Genesis 1.1-2.4a and Genesis 2.4b-25) are significantly contradictory. With this awareness, many in the Church have come to realize the Bible isn't a book of science (or math or geography or history), but is instead a book of faith and spiritual truths. Thus, the primary truth of the biblical creation stories is that God created the heavens and the earth-the stories don't say how, they just say God was/is responsible for all of creation. For those who read scripture in this light, there is no conflict between evolution and the Bible.
But will the Pope's pronouncement have any significant effect on those bent on including Creationism in our schools? The reality is these remarks will not likely put an end to their push. The majority of those trying to instill these changes in our school systems are members of the Religious Right, most of whom are solidly Protestant. For these the Pope's pronouncement will have little effect, except to add to their arsenal of claims against the Roman Church's lack of "evangelicalism."
By in large, the words of the Pope will have little effect on the Church. Those who view
scripture as infallible will dismiss his words as misbegotten. And most of those who view
scripture as a book of faith and spiritual truths have already made up their minds about evolution
and God's part in it. But both tend to agree that God's hand was in it-one way or another.