The theory of evolution may be right, wrong, or half and half, but one thing is clear. The creation accounts in Genesis and this theory do not contradict one another. Let me explain.
The physical and biological sciences and the science of God speak about the same subject matter: cosmology - the origins, structure, and momentum of all that is.
But it is the science of God which informs the biblical creation accounts, not the physical and biological sciences. Conversely, the physical and biological sciences provide the data on which the theory of evolution is based, not the science of God. The points of departure of the biblical accounts and the physical and biological sciences are different. The methods used in addressing cosmological questions are different. The results cannot be directly compared. The science of God is otherwise known as theology, which is, in the monotheistic faiths, a distillate of revelation. The physical and biological sciences advance on the basis of induction and deduction in which the God-hypothesis has no preordained place.
Must I say it again? The accounts in Genesis and the theory of evolution do not contradict one another. At least, they do not necessarily contradict one another. For a description of Genesis 1 as a cosmological treatise scientific in its own way, go here.
A number of things follow. The biblical accounts of creation may contain, properly understood, insights of great interest to someone who on other grounds may hold to the theory of evolution. Conversely, someone who holds, as I do, that the Bible’s take on cosmology is revelation of the highest imaginable kind may nevertheless appreciate the theory of evolution, and regard it as the best working hypothesis available in explanation of the physical and biological data.
Biblical cosmology provides a basis for holding that experience might be intelligible and meaningful in the first place. As Gödel’s theorem suggests, the physical and biological sciences cannot underpin their own claims to correspond to something real. There are great men and women of science – Stanley Jaki, John Polkinghorne, and Francis Collins come to mind – for whom belief in a God who created and ordered an intelligible world underpins their science in the sense of explaining why science is possible in the first place.
For a sustained look at Gödel’s theorem and its relevance to physics, go here.
I’m not a Catholic with a capital “C,” but I’ve expressed my appreciation for the teaching gifts of Papa Ratzinger before. Below the fold, I excerpt from a recent conversation he had with the priests of an Italian diocese. Ratzinger makes the point I make above better than I:
I notice that in Germany, but also in the United States, a pretty hot debate is going on which pits so-called creationism against evolutionism. Creation and evolution are presented as if they were alternatives which logically exclude one another. The one who believes in the Creator is not supposed to be able to think in evolutionary terms, and the one who affirms evolution is supposed to be a non-believer in God by definition. This contraposition is an absurdity, because, on the one hand, there are many lines of scientific evidence in favor of evolution, which appears to be a reality we cannot help but see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.
On the other hand, the theory of evolution does not respond to all questions. In particular, it does not respond to the great philosophical question: what is the origin of all things? And how does the whole take a direction whose point of arrival is humanity? It’s very important, I think, and I was trying to say this at Regensburg in my lecture, that reason needs to open itself up more, so that, yes, it sees the physical and biological data, but also that these data are not sufficient to explain all of reality.
An open-minded Pope, for God’s sake! How dare there be such a thing. Here is the Italian original on which my translation is based:
Vedo attualmente in Germania, ma anche negli Stati Uniti, un dibattito abbastanza accanito tra il cosiddetto creazionismo e l’evoluzionismo, presentati come fossero alternative che si escludono: chi crede nel Creatore non potrebbe pensare all’evoluzione e chi invece afferma l’evoluzione dovrebbe escludere Dio. Questa contrapposizione è un’assurdità, perché da una parte ci sono tante prove scientifiche in favore di un’evoluzione che appare come una realtà che dobbiamo vedere e che arricchisce la nostra conoscenza della vita e dell’essere come tale. Ma la dottrina dell’evoluzione non risponde a tutti i quesiti e non risponde soprattutto al grande quesito filosofico: da dove viene tutto? e come il tutto prende un cammino che arriva finalmente all’uomo? Mi sembra molto importante, questo volevo dire anche a Ratisbona nella mia lezione, che la ragione si apra di più, che veda sì questi dati, ma che veda anche che non sono sufficienti per spiegare tutta la realtà.
HAT TIP: James McGrath, whose blog is well worth the visit.