Catholicism, evolution and young earth creationism

By Thomas V. Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Nov 10, 2014

Pope Francis’s recent remarks that evolution and Catholicism are compatible caused great deal of excitement in the secular media. While this compatibility will come as no surprise to educated Catholics, it is not the same as saying that Catholics cannot be creationists. However, in an article posted today on Catholic Household, Kevin Edwards makes a strong case for “Why Catholics Should Prefer Evolution to Young Earth Creationism.” Aside from science and common sense, Edwards draws on St. Augustine’s book on the interpretation of Genesis, from which he quotes some fascinating passages.

Edwards’s article is thought-provoking enough to be worth reading in full, but his points can be summed up as follows:

  1. “If young earth creationism is true, then there is little to ask about the world.” Many fields of scientific inquiry would have to be abandoned, including earth science, geology, astronomy, and cosmology. Physics and biology would be seriously undermined.
  2. Young earth creationism implies that God deliberately set out to deceive us, since all relevant scientific disciplines tell us that the earth is very old. “If the world is deliberately constructed by God as a sham, then what confidence can we have in any 'facts' we can determine about the physical world? …What confidence can we place in God if one of the main purposes of creation is deliberate deception?”
  3. On the other hand, if evolution is true, it should put us in awe of God’s power. It means that God was able to create everything as He wished, simply by setting up the starting conditions from which the whole universe would develop. “Catholic biologist Kenneth Miller has likened this to a billiards player. If we saw someone go around the table making shot after shot, never missing, we would be impressed. How much more impressed would we be by a player who sinks every ball with a single shot?”
  4. “There is no compelling reason to read Genesis literally, but there is a compelling reason not to read it literally.” For example, when we are told that God said “Let there be light,” a literal interpretation would mean that God spoke actual words, which, as St. Augustine points out, would presuppose the existence of sound, air, language and a sense of hearing with which to perceive it. Augustine also remarks that it makes no literal sense to say that days and nights existed for three days before the sun was created.
  5. Even if the earth were young, that would not prove the existence of God, and there is no reason to believe that an atheist would convert after being convinced of a young earth. On the other hand, the idea that “faith mandates a young earth” does turn away reasonable nonbelievers. Again, Augustine warns Christians not to make Christianity look stupid by speaking ignorantly about the natural world:

"Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. … If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?"

Thomas V. Mirus is an administrative assistant and writer at CatholicCulture.org. A jazz pianist with a music degree, he often takes the lead in our commentary on the arts. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Nov. 11, 2014 6:13 PM ET USA

    Before going on with the ensuing debate, please read Father Spitzer's book "New Proofs for the Existence of God". It's not at all what the title suggests but rather sets out a lot of scientific information in a very lay readable style addressing all of these concerns. After that...have at it. The earth is 13.7 billion years old. That's it. One can hope for something different but this does not mean our faith is invalid or truth has somehow changed. Take courage, do not be afraid!

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Nov. 10, 2014 11:19 PM ET USA

    The major problem with a "slow" evolutionary "creation" versus a "fast" more focused one is not so much the method as it is morality,& that is how could the Creator God being perfectly just employ catastrophe, sickness, death & the ensuing suffering in a "pre-sin" physical configuration? The physical universe before the fall of Man was untainted & basically innocent. For God to use such mechanisms in the creative process would have rendered Him unjust, an unacceptable violation of His character.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 10, 2014 5:47 PM ET USA

    Different Augustine quote defending the literal interpretation of Jonah and the whale against concerns about pagan derision: "Either all the divine miracles are to be disbelieved, or else there is no reason why this should not be believed. We should not believe in Christ Himself, and that He rose on the third day, if the faith of Christians feared the laughter of the pagans." If Creation and the Second Coming are miraculous, science would be a flawed tool to study origins and eschatology.