October 26, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: God created the universe

John F. FinkCatholics believe that God created the universe. However, we do not reject scientific facts as many people suppose we do.

Recent books by prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris argue that science and belief in God as Creator are incompatible.

But Catholics insist that there cannot be incompatibility between scientific and religious truth because God is the Author of both.

It is true that Catholic Church officials were once wrong when they condemned the teachings of Galileo that the Earth revolves about the sun, but his theory of heliocentrism was unprovable at the time. The Church has learned from that mistake.

The Catholic Church teaches that God created the universe, but Catholics do not believe in what has come to be known as creationism. We don’t believe that the universe necessarily came into existence in the precise way that the Book of Genesis described the creation. Since at least the time of St. Augustine in the fifth century, the accounts of creation in Genesis have been seen as largely symbolic.

The Bible is not a scientific textbook. If the congregation of cardinals that condemned Galileo in the 17th century had been more aware of that, the split between science and religion might not have occurred.

Some atheists who put all their faith in science want to give the impression that most scientists are atheists. That simply isn’t true.

As far as I know, there is no study that shows that there is a greater percentage of atheists among scientists than there is in other professions. Atheists remain a small minority among scientists just as they do in other fields.

Throughout history, our greatest scientists have tended to be believers, many of them devout believers. Sometimes that belief comes from recognition that there is tremendous order in the universe, an order that could not have occurred accidentally.

Do Catholics believe in evolution?

Blessed John Paul II wrote in 1986, “The theory of natural evolution, understood in a sense that does not exclude divine causality, is not in principle opposed to the truth about the creation of the visible world, as presented in the Book of Genesis.”

He was even more emphatic in 1996, in a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, when he said that “the theory of evolution has a great deal of scientific basis.”

Back in 1925, when G. K. Chesterton wrote his masterpiece The Everlasting Man to refute some of the claims of H. G. Wells, he began with a discussion of evolution and its limitations. He noted, “It is really far more logical to start by saying ‘In the beginning God created heaven and Earth’ even if you only mean ‘In the beginning, some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.’ ”

Author Frank J. Sheed, in his book Theology and Sanity, pointed out that Genesis “tells us of the fact but not the process. There was an assembling of elements of the material universe, but was it instantaneous or spread over a considerable space and time? Was it complete in one act or by stages?”

The Catholic Church doesn’t pretend to know the answer to that scientific question. †

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