The National Catholic Review
In a message to the Pontifical Academy of Science in October 1996, Pope John Paul II said, New knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. That is to say, this theory is not a guess, but the established framework for understanding the origin of species from the data of the geological record and biological research. All the same, many Americans take a much cooler view of Darwinism, because they think it contradicts the accounts in the Book of Genesis of God’s creation of the world. A CBS poll last November found that 65 percent of the respondents favored teaching evolution and creationism side by side in public-school science classes. Moreover, 37 percent of those questioned thought schools should teach only creationism. It is a fair inference that many who hold these opinions are evangelical Protestants who are the parents of school-age children. Over the past three decades, various strategies have been devised to expel evolution from public schools or to introduce at least an acknowledgment of the Genesis vision of divine creation. Most of these plans have been struck down by the courts, but the struggle has not ended, as two recent cases show.

The school board in Cobb County, Ga., thought it had found what it called a reasonable and even-handed approach to teaching evolution when it attached stickers to the textbooks used in middle school and high school biology classes. These stickers read: This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

In January of this year, Judge Clarence Cooper of the U.S. District Court in Atlanta ruled these stickers unacceptable and ordered them to be removed immediately on the grounds that they conveyed an impermissible message of endorsement of religion. The point seemed to be that chilliness toward evolution could be construed as a covert vote for God.

The board of the Dover Area School District in south-central Pennsylvania ran into trouble three months ago, when it asked teachers of science classes to read to their students a statement noting that there are gaps in Darwinism and pointing out that there is a rival explanation of nature’s complexity, known as intelligent design. In an argument very like St. Thomas Aquinas’s fifth proof for the existence of God, defenders of intelligent design, whose number includes some scientists, do not deny an evolutionary process but perceive behind it the action of an intelligent cause. They point out that along with all the random elements and catastrophic events in nature there are many evidences of internal finality even in tiny instances. The mosquito’s proboscis, for example, is wonderfully adapted for enabling the insect to secure its lunch by biting people. But the teachers in Dover rejected the board’s request, and courts probably would too.

There is little chance of reconciling the extreme positions in the quarrel about teaching evolution, but public schools, like all schools, should make it clear to their students that Genesis and Darwinism are not alternates, but complementary. They are talking about different things in different ways. Genesis uses the figurative language of creation myths to teach one supreme truth: The universe and all it contains was created and is kept existing and developing by the absolute and incomprehensible God. The Bible does not intend to explain how present complex forms descended from earlier and simpler ones nor how long this process has taken. Evolution, on the other hand, describes the ways in which this unfolding took place. Science does not and cannot answer the question of why there happens to be any universe at all.

Surveys have shown that many teachers of high school science say nothing about evolution in order to avoid controversy. This is a mistake; evolution should be taught. However, either in textbooks or in a special unit students should also be introduced to the varieties of methods by which knowledge is acquirednot only by science but also by natural philosophy, theology, mathematics and aesthetic intuition.

Finally, as has been said in this space before, public education should provide a forum in which the question of who made the world can be raised. This could be done by making classrooms available during the regular school hours for voluntary released-time religion courses taught by qualified representatives of various faiths. To be sure, this would require the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse its 1948 McCollum decision banning released time on public school premises. But the court has changed its mind before and could do so again. If it did, there would be room in every reasonably adequate public school for Genesis and Darwin to get along.

Comments

Charles F. Keller | 4/27/2005 - 1:12pm
In your April 4-11 editorial, "Genesis and Darwinism" you make the points that Pope John Paul II accepts evolution as "more than a hypothesis." and that "Genesis and Darwinism are not alternates but complementary" where "Genesis uses the figurative language of creation myths to teach one simple truth". But you do not touch on the larger implications for our Catholic Faith if we take such statements seriously, namely that evolution shows there is no room in the record for a classic Adam and Eve, and, thus no basis for our traditional interpretation of Original Sin and its effects on humanity. If the Church is to be credible in the 21st century, it badly needs discussion of what all this means. I am aware of no such official move to consider evolution's implications. Your editorial correctly notes that Fundamentalist Protestantism confronts these issues by incorrectly rejecting the science, but the Catholic Church is much more subtle (and perhaps devious). Instead of meeting the scientific problems head-on and seeking to integrate them into theology, it simply ignores them. --

Thomas Schneck | 4/3/2005 - 4:49pm
Intelligent design is not necessarily a "rival explanation" of nature's complexity as explained by Darwin, although it is sometimes viewed in that light. Rather, intelligent design incorporates evolution as a subset of cosmology. Darwin himself seems to have recognized intelligent design.

By excluding aspects of science that are becoming more and more apparent, many school boards are limiting science education with blinders. Discoveries such as the big bang and finely tuned physical constants of nature which, if only slightly different, would preclude not only our existence but also the existence of the whole universe are facts of physics and astronomy. These facts should be taught, along with Darwin, and once students think about them, they surely point to something that might be called "intelligent design", but please don't call it by that label!

Terence Rafferty | 3/31/2005 - 7:30pm
The April 4th editorial on teaching evolution in the public schools suggests that public school teachers should merely explain that "Genesis uses the figurative language of creation myths to teach one supreme truth...."

I have a hunch that wouldn't go over well with the evangelical/fundamentalist crowd. For this group, the bible is to be taken literally, word for word. There are no "creation myths."

Now my question: when will the mainstream Christian churches stand up, challenge, and correct the evangelicals/fundamentalists on their misguided notions of Christian theology?

I am quite vexed that the institutional American Catholic church appears to have aligned itself with these fundamentalist extremists.

Marilyn M. Kramer | 4/1/2005 - 11:11am
The April 4 editorial "Genesis and Darwinism" points out that those who oppose the teaching of evolution fear evolution because there is no way to reconcile evolution with the literal reading of the story of Adam and Eve as the first humans. Yet, strangely, they do not have any problem with Jesus' teaching parables with their figurative language and possibility of a deeper revelation to be understood at some point in the future.
Thomas L. Sheridan, S.J. | 3/30/2005 - 2:31pm
What a pity that in their desire to protect what they see as Biblical truth, fundamentalists read the Bible as if it were written in our own times and thereby fail to grasp its deeper meaning. For example, does the first chapter of Genesis teach how long it took God to make the world? No, but what it does teach is (a) there is only one God; (b) everything that exists owes its existence to that one God (and that includes the sun and the moon; they are not gods as their neighbors thought, no, just big lights in the sky); and (c) everything that God makes is good, (c) especially human beings, who enjoy a special place in God’s creation. Oh yes, and by the way, keep holy the day of rest.
Dominic Maruca, S.J. | 2/16/2007 - 1:45pm
On the subject of creation and evolution (editorial, “Genesis and Darwinism,” 4/4), it may lighten the discussion if we recall the experience of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. As a youngster at Sunday school he became upset when his teacher launched a tirade against a certain Darwin person. It dawned on young Williams that this person was his great-uncle, Charles. When he returned home he asked his mother why the teacher was so upset with Great-Uncle Charles. His mother explained: “Well, dear, the Bible says that God created the world in six days. Great-Uncle Charles thinks it took a little longer.” Either way, it’s a beautiful mystery.

Charles F. Keller | 4/27/2005 - 1:12pm
In your April 4-11 editorial, "Genesis and Darwinism" you make the points that Pope John Paul II accepts evolution as "more than a hypothesis." and that "Genesis and Darwinism are not alternates but complementary" where "Genesis uses the figurative language of creation myths to teach one simple truth". But you do not touch on the larger implications for our Catholic Faith if we take such statements seriously, namely that evolution shows there is no room in the record for a classic Adam and Eve, and, thus no basis for our traditional interpretation of Original Sin and its effects on humanity. If the Church is to be credible in the 21st century, it badly needs discussion of what all this means. I am aware of no such official move to consider evolution's implications. Your editorial correctly notes that Fundamentalist Protestantism confronts these issues by incorrectly rejecting the science, but the Catholic Church is much more subtle (and perhaps devious). Instead of meeting the scientific problems head-on and seeking to integrate them into theology, it simply ignores them. --

Thomas Schneck | 4/3/2005 - 4:49pm
Intelligent design is not necessarily a "rival explanation" of nature's complexity as explained by Darwin, although it is sometimes viewed in that light. Rather, intelligent design incorporates evolution as a subset of cosmology. Darwin himself seems to have recognized intelligent design.

By excluding aspects of science that are becoming more and more apparent, many school boards are limiting science education with blinders. Discoveries such as the big bang and finely tuned physical constants of nature which, if only slightly different, would preclude not only our existence but also the existence of the whole universe are facts of physics and astronomy. These facts should be taught, along with Darwin, and once students think about them, they surely point to something that might be called "intelligent design", but please don't call it by that label!

Terence Rafferty | 3/31/2005 - 7:30pm
The April 4th editorial on teaching evolution in the public schools suggests that public school teachers should merely explain that "Genesis uses the figurative language of creation myths to teach one supreme truth...."

I have a hunch that wouldn't go over well with the evangelical/fundamentalist crowd. For this group, the bible is to be taken literally, word for word. There are no "creation myths."

Now my question: when will the mainstream Christian churches stand up, challenge, and correct the evangelicals/fundamentalists on their misguided notions of Christian theology?

I am quite vexed that the institutional American Catholic church appears to have aligned itself with these fundamentalist extremists.

Marilyn M. Kramer | 4/1/2005 - 11:11am
The April 4 editorial "Genesis and Darwinism" points out that those who oppose the teaching of evolution fear evolution because there is no way to reconcile evolution with the literal reading of the story of Adam and Eve as the first humans. Yet, strangely, they do not have any problem with Jesus' teaching parables with their figurative language and possibility of a deeper revelation to be understood at some point in the future.
Thomas L. Sheridan, S.J. | 3/30/2005 - 2:31pm
What a pity that in their desire to protect what they see as Biblical truth, fundamentalists read the Bible as if it were written in our own times and thereby fail to grasp its deeper meaning. For example, does the first chapter of Genesis teach how long it took God to make the world? No, but what it does teach is (a) there is only one God; (b) everything that exists owes its existence to that one God (and that includes the sun and the moon; they are not gods as their neighbors thought, no, just big lights in the sky); and (c) everything that God makes is good, (c) especially human beings, who enjoy a special place in God’s creation. Oh yes, and by the way, keep holy the day of rest.

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