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Creation is one thing, creationism another

More and more Christians are facing up to the issue of whether a belief in evolution is compatible with Christian faith. This is reflected in the number of books now available on the subject, and this is a good one, by a Roman Catholic theologian at the University of St Thomas (St Paul, Minnesota, USA). It is Creationism And The Conflict Over Evolution by Tatha Wiley (Cascade Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-55635-291-1).

It is fair to say that, in general, Catholic biblical scholars have often shown a more balanced and robust approach to matters of faith and science than have many Protestant and Evangelical ones. Happily, we are seeing more of the latter catching up with their Catholic fellows.

There is only a conflict between science and theology, Tatha Wiley argues, if we take Genesis 1 to be a historical and scientific account, as ‘creationists’ wrongly insist on doing. Creation must be separated from creationism. One can accept the former without having to embrace the latter.

Science is limited in the kind of questions it can address. It deals with hard, observable facts and phenomena. Theology, by contrast, deals with a different set of questions. The Bible is concerned with theological rather than scientific realities, and the acceptance of it as the Word of God is fully compatible with a willingness to let science take us where it will, including to an acceptance of evolution.

This is no light bedtime read. You will need to engage with the author’s arguments and do some serious thinking. But you will find it well worthwhile.

[I read the book in Kindle format, so the numbers are Location, not Page, numbers]

Is our impulse to find the two complementary: creation and evolution? Or is it to find them contradictory: creation or evolution?  (56)

Unless one reads Genesis 1 as an alternative to evolutionary theory, evolutionary theory is not a threat to faith but an unparalleled insight into the sheer magnificence of the universe.  (115)

As literary expression, Genesis 1 is best understood in terms of the genres of poetry and symbolic narrative. Literary critics call this kind of story myth. The way they understand that word, however, is different than the way it is used in common discourse. In ordinary language, myth means a commonly held but mistaken belief. But literary critics use myth to denote literary expressions—either poetic or narrative—that deal symbolically with fundamental questions.  (277)

Genesis 1 and evolutionary theory are completely different. They should not be compared, nor do they represent two alternatives from which we must chose. Evolutionary theory is a technical account of the development of diversity and complexity in the physical world based on the evidence gathered in scientific research. Genesis 1 is a poetic and symbolic narrative, devoted to praise of God as Creator, written to encourage those in despair over the loss of their land, their temple, and their freedom. They are not choices but two very different apprehensions of reality.  (538)

Augustine’s “divine illumination epistemology” brings God into relation with science, not as an alternative explanation to what scientists propose about the world but at the root of their understanding of the world. God illumines the human mind, making the world and divine truths intelligible. All knowledge is from God. In knowing what is, human beings come to know what God already knows.  (786)

The knowledge of natural causes that scientists develop is different from the knowledge of the radical dependence of the universe on God as its ultimate source, as affirmed in the doctrine of creation. Evolution cannot be a threat to creation when they concern two very different aspects of reality; nor can it be a threat to God when God is the origin of the universe as it concretely exists.  (870)

The scientific community shares a universal consensus that the evidence for evolution is “overwhelming.”  (933)

Fossil layers reveal the emergence of new species and transitional organisms between the old and new species.  (1093)

The theological concept of creation is different than the idea of special creation used by fundamentalists. It is an answer to questions that complement—not duplicate—the questions raised by the natural sciences.  (1141)

It is proper to the work of scientists…to name genetic variation and natural selection as mechanisms of evolution. But scientists go beyond the framework of their scientific discipline and method in making such claims as that there is no purpose to the universe, that human beings have no special role or meaning within it, or that God has no relation to an evolving universe.  (1513)

Intelligent Design (ID) adherents portray their program as scientific. But in the judgment of evolutionary scientists, ID is a new version of an old “God of the gaps” argument in which one evokes the divine to explain phenomena not currently understood. The problem with any form of the “God of the gaps” argument is simple. When scientists do figure out the natural cause of whatever has been attributed to divine intervention, the need for God is eliminated.  (1744)

What happens to Christ if Adam and Eve are not historical? This is the question that drives fundamentalist anxiety.  (2071)

In the analysis of the biblical text in modern biblical scholarship, the garden, the couple, and the first sin exist within the world of narrative, not in the world of history.  (2089)

Our growing understanding, including the on-going, cumulative quest of science, is itself an instance of an evolving universe. Understanding, not certitude, is the means for contributing to the good of the universe. It is the way in which we collaborate with God in the divinely ordained, on-going realization of the universe.  (2188)

If this subject interests you, take a look at these other reviews:

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