September 10, 2010

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

For all we know, Charles Darwin was God’s tool

Cynthia DewesA literal reading of the Bible is a frustrating, if fascinating, way to view its pages. Literalists believe that God created everything in six actual days (by human reckoning), and that the Earth can’t be much more than 6,000 years old.

They also believe that God created a man and a woman exactly as they are today, with no knuckle-draggers in their ancestry. They believe that animals are just as they have been from the start, that birds appeared fully feathered, and that all the plants and flowers came into their glory in an instant. Snakes and lizards have always just been snakes and lizards.

Thus, literalists are led to believe that evolutionary theory is atheistic. If evolutionary changes really occurred, then literal biblical reading is impossible. Such an idea depends upon human knowledge and experimentation. So literalists think, if everything can be explained away by science, there is no room for God as Creator.

Catholics, including the late Pope John Paul II who spoke publicly about it, believe in what is called “theistic evolution.” That is, God is the Creator of all things, including the evolutionary process. God is the Prime Mover or Intelligent Designer behind everything and everybody on Earth.

There is a constitutionally mandated division between Church and state in our country, meaning that religion may not be taught in public schools. Therefore, biblical literalists, realizing that the U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled that “creationism” is not a scientific but a religious idea, have changed their tactics. Instead of “creationism,” they now call it “intelligent design” and bend over backward to avoid claiming that these terms mean the same thing or even something similar.

Every so often, the conflict between those who believe in creationism and those who believe in evolutionary theory becomes a huge issue. In his book Monkey Girl, author Edward Humes describes just such a confrontation.

The book’s lengthy subtitle is Evolution, Education, Religion and the Battle for America’s Soul, which form the substance of Humes’ interesting story. The main event concerns a public battle in Dover, Penn., schools a few years ago.

The school board there, stacked with a majority of members who were creationists, proposed teaching “intelligent design” along with state-mandated evolutionary theory in high school biology classes. They did this by ordering a message to be read at the start of every school year, stating that evolutionary theory displayed “gaps” which a study of intelligent design would fill.

Opponents, including concerned parents and all the high school science teachers, tried to stop the creationists’ effort, but were continually outvoted and made to appear as atheists or tools of the ACLU. Eventually, they sued the school board to stop it from changing the curriculum, and a trial ensued which garnered national attention.

Although powerful creationist groups such as the Discovery Institute contributed to the defense, they were outgunned by the pro-evolutionists. Not only was there overwhelming scientific evidence to contradict a literal interpretation of creation, but also another, even more important, argument. It was the same argument used in Pope John Paul II’s message.

To declare that creation had to occur literally simply limits God. It says that God had to create this way because that is the way we understand it. And if the only way to understand God’s revelation through the Bible is the literal way, then we have narrowed the power of God.

No way. God’s imagination extends way beyond ours.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

Local site Links: