When we read in Genesis the story of creation, we may imagine that God was a magician with a magic wand able to do all things. But it is not so. He created beings and allowed them to develop according to internal laws He has given to each; they grow and they reach their fullness…. The evolution of nature is not opposed to the concept of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of evolving beings.
— Pope Francis, addressing the Papal Academy of Sciences, October 27
What came first? Creative Reason, the Creator Spirit who makes all things and gives them growth, or Unreason, which, lacking any meaning, strangely enough brings forth a mathematically ordered cosmos, as well as man and his reason. The latter, however, would then be nothing more than a chance result of evolution and thus, in the end, equally meaningless. As Christians, we say: I believe in God the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in the Creator Spirit. We believe that at the beginning of everything is the eternal Word, with Reason and not Unreason.
—Pope Benedict XVI, in Creation and Evolution, published 2006
Pope Francis really knows how to get attention. Just when you thought global media would not want to hear the words Vatican and Church after two weeks of covering the Synod of Bishops discussing family morals at the Holy See, the Holy Father grabs the headlines and stirs up the columns, blogs and tweets with a speech to the hardly hip Papal Academy of Sciences.
What’s even more remarkable is that Francis made news with remarks that were hardly news at all. Quoted above, his statement that “the evolution of nature is not opposed to the concept of Creation” by God has been the official Catholic position for nearly six and a half decades. Back in 1950, Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis (Of the Human Race) declared that there was no intrinsic conflict between evolution and the belief that God created the universe.
Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI even convened conferences on creation and evolution. The 2006 book quoted above was a compendium of papers and deliberations from the discussions that year. But today’s media are so taken by the idea or narrative of Francis as a reformist pope shaking up staid Catholicism that even when he merely repeats the established Church position on evolution, it is reported as a radical shift.
Is man just a creature of chance?
So are there no more issues dividing Catholicism and evolution science? Hang on. Things aren’t that hunky-dory.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spelled out the main difference between Christianity and atheist science. The Church maintains that God made the universe and infused His creation with “internal laws,” as Francis put it.
Those operative principles governing matter and discovered by science—from gravitation and particle physics to organic chemistry and biological drives—spurred the material events and actions which led to the emergence of stars, planets and other heavenly bodies, plus life and society, from the chaos at the beginning of the cosmos.
For Benedict XVI, the Creative Spirit acting with divine reason brought forth the ordered universe, rather than what he calls “Unreason” or the random forces which somehow gave rise to galaxies, planetary systems, and on Earth, an environment that engenders and sustains living creatures, including intelligent Homo sapiens.
Thus, the Pope Emeritus argued, evolution without God means that rational man is “nothing more than a chance result of evolution and thus, in the end, equally meaningless.”
He and others of like mind find it hard to accept that the world could be so ordered without a supernatural intelligence setting things up so neatly.
Plus: absent such benign divine reason directing and purposing creation, human life seems no more significant than any other random event, from the mutation of microbes to the collision of meteors and moons. If there is no God intending man for more than just a return to dust, then humanity is pointless.
Non-believers, of course, beg to differ. The late scientist Victor Stenger, author of the 2007 bestseller God: The Failed Hyphothesis, declared in his essay, “The Folly of Faith” (from the recently published compendium Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails): “At the current state of scientific development we can confidently say that no empirical or theoretical basis exists for assuming anything other than that we inhabit a universe made entirely of matter (and energy into which matter can be transformed, and vice versa).”
Why does one need a supernatural symphonist orchestrating cosmological and human events for them to evolve some kind of order which man can conceptualize and measure? And if the glories of civilization are indeed the product of chance, that doesn’t make the writings of Shakespeare, the masterpieces of Michaelangelo, and the compositions of Beethoven worthless. These and other gems of the human mind will edify countless people in coming ages—that’s meaning enough, with or without God.
The age of truly believing
Plainly, if Christians still need St. Thomas Aquinas’s First Mover reasoning, recast in our century as the Cosmic Architect argument, to believe in God and His loving action in the world, we may simply be pointing to random events and principles discovered by science and blithely attributing it all to some assumed Creator. Frankly, that doesn’t seem much different than a five-year-old thanking the tooth fairy for candy under the pillow, or isolated islanders thanking the rain spirits for monsoon showers.
No, if the faithful is to keep the faith in this modern age, we must feel the reality of God in our own lives, with our own sight, hearing, touch and heart. He must be visible and palpable in our individual lives and consciousness, rather than simply repeated by rote in the Creed at Sunday and overlaid upon the world around us as the assumed Grand Designer giving rise to all and sundry.
Plainly, empirical science increasingly challenges and even debunks facile mantras of belief plastered upon the universe, showing these true believers to be no better than ideologues imposing their world view on history and society. Yet the crumbling of the Heavenly Planner view of God may well lead Christians to seek Him in their own lives through a deep relationship with the Divine in prayer and charity.
Now that would be a truly heavenly plan.