Articles Culture, Science & Society

Can Catholics Believe in Evolution?

Author: Michael Hichborn
President: Lepanto Insititute
Reprinted with permission

My 14-year-old daughter is a member of a local homeschool co-op, and this year the co-op hired a biology teacher to teach it to the high school kids.  Everything about the class was fine until this week, when the parents all got an email indicating that this teacher would be going over the subject of evolution.  He indicated that he knew it was a controversial topic for many Catholics, but presented an article written for the Archdiocese of Regina by Dr. Brett Salkeld titled, “Can Catholics Believe in Evolution?

The article builds its case around several points which amount to little more than strawmen and false premises.  The intention of the author is to “debunk” the ideas that evolution is disproved by Scripture, that Genesis was ever intended to be taken literally, that science and reason are at odds, and ultimately concludes:

So yes, Catholics can believe in evolution.  More than that, given the state of the scientific evidence, the Church’s understanding of the relationship between faith and reason, and the counter-witness to the gospel that is given by taking a stand against evolution, they should believe in it.

The issues with evolution as a scientific theory are legion.  My daughter and I spoke at length about the impossibilities of atheistic evolution.  I explained to her that atheistic evolutionists assert that over billions of years, the earth settled and cooled, and a mixture of carbon atoms bonded together to form the first amino acids, which were struck with lightening,” producing the first proteins which somehow became more and more complicated until there were life forms.  I suggested to my daughter that, for the sake of argument for the moment, we would grant that all of this is true.  And then I asked her, what did the first form of life eat?  She looked at me quizzically for a moment and said, “other single celled organisms and plants?”  I reminded her that this is the very FIRST organism.  The thing is, all living things require other living things in order to come into existence and survive.  Even single celled algae, which convert sunlight into food through photosynthesis, require a very complex system of enzymes to do so and CO2 as a raw material which also comes from other living things. Each enzyme is a complex protein with a very specific sequence of amino acids which we are asked to believe arose spontaneously through “natural selection”. But natural selection cannot work on nonliving systems since there is no impetus for a nonliving system to “survive”. Regardless of what evolutionists want us to believe, the biological law that only life begets life still stands. Life from non-life has never been observed to occur in nature or even to be engineered by humans and yet an entire “scientific theory” depends on believing in such an event happening spontaneously and by chance.

We also discussed the irrationality of asserting that irreducibly complex systems could have simply developed over time.  As an example, I explained to her how lungs work.  Not only do our lungs take in air and expel air, but they possess an intricate network of blood vessels that allow an exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. If the blood vessels did not allow this exchange, respiration would be impossible.  If the muscles around the lungs, drawing in and expelling air, did not exist, respiration would be impossible.  If the nervous system in the respiratory muscles around the lungs did not exist, if the heart didn’t exist to pump the blood, and if the lung tissue wasn’t composed of the expandable tissue it is made of, if the lungs didn’t have an intricate humidifying system to keep it moist, if the body didn’t possess a mechanism for dislodging obstructions … if every single aspect of the lung didn’t exist at the time of the lung’s creation, then the entire creature would die.  There are no half-measures for the creation of a lung.  And here’s the kicker … if a fish had an offspring that developed a lung, that creature – living in the water – would drown and die. The creature would have to make a number of other simultaneous adaptions to have a both a functioning lung and to survive on land. And yet we are told it all happened in tiny steps over millions of years!

As I said, the reasons for disbelieving evolution are legion.  But what bothered me the most was the conclusion of the article, asserting that the Church’s understanding of the relationship between faith and reason mixed with the “counter-witness” created by standing against evolution, means that Catholics should believe in evolution.

One of the biggest mistakes made by both Bp. Barron and Dr. Salkeld was in their approach the question of faith and reason, making them co-equals.  The truth of the matter is that Faith informs reason. Furthermore, the saints teach us that Faith is a gift.  While reason will take us to a certain point, it cannot transgress into supernatural faith, which why it must be a gift.  And if Faith informs reason, then Faith is higher than reason.

Now, I will agree that the Bible is not a scientific text.  However, nothing in Scripture is opposed to right reason, but reason must submit to Faith.  When Our Blessed Lord lifted the unleavened bread and pronounced the words “This is my body,” He was not making a scientific declaration.  And scientists observing the Holy Eucharist under the accidents of bread and wine would conclude that nothing substantial has happened.  And yet, we believe that the Eucharist is FULLY the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that He is TRULY present in the Eucharist, just as the priest holding Him in his hands is present.  So, where science brings one to a certain point, it cannot transgress into the miraculous.  Ergo, science must be informed by Faith.
Certain things we read about in Genesis directly correlate with Our Lord’s life and death.  For instance, Genesis tells us that the universe was created out of nothing over the course of six days.  Our Lord’s first public miracle was to transform six earthen jars of water into wine.  There is a fascinating lesson here to be had.  Consider this: the very first miracle of the Old Testament is the creation of the universe in six days … and Our Lord’s first public miracle is the transformation of water into wine in six earthen jars.  The correlation is not merely accidental.  Many modern cosmologists assume that the universe must be billions upon billions of years old, and they use scientific measurements to come to this conclusion.  I have no argument with their measurements, but I do dispute their conclusions.  Suppose a scientist were to examine the wine at Cana.  In fact, in a moment of cosmic and Divine humor, Our Lord did, indeed, supply us with a scientist and expert to create a blind test, as if He knew that this very discussion would be had.  John 2 says:
“And when the chief steward had tasted the water made wine, and knew not whence it was, but the waiters knew who had drawn the water; the chief steward calleth the bridegroom, And saith to him: Every man at first setteth forth good wine, and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse. But thou hast kept the good wine until now.”
Our scientist … the chief steward … testifies that the wine created by Our Lord was “the good wine.”  This is to say, it wasn’t the cheap stuff that is bottled a few months after fermenting.  This wine took years to age.  In other words, Our Lord’s miracle, pertaining to SIX earthen jars, gave age to that which He created instantly.  This isn’t to say that, as an illusionist, He gave it the appearance of age, but that what He created in a moment, He created as aged.
Now, a scientist could scoff and say that it is impossible for something to have been created out of nothing, and he could scoff at the notion that a thing which had just been created had the appearance of age.  But this scientist would also scoff at the Divinity and miracles performed by Our Lord.  Sadly, this is the end fact of Charles Darwin’s life.  His belief in evolution led to the denial of Christianity altogether.
Now … that’s just one example of the connection between Our Lord and Genesis.  When you consider that the Church was born from the side of Christ after St. Longinus thrust a lance into His side while He was in the “sleep of death,” we recall that Adam was put into a deep sleep, and Our Lord formed Eve from one of his ribs and drew her out of his side.  The actual piercing of Our Lord’s side would have no meaning if Eve was not literally drawn from the side of Adam while he slept.  Consider that Adam was cursed thus:
“Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth.  In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth,”
In direct relation to this, Our Lord began His passion in the Garden of Olives as Adam’s creation and fall began in a garden, also. Adam was cursed “In the sweat of thy face” – and Our Lord sweat blood in the Garden of Olives; ” shalt thou eat bread” – Our Lord became the Bread of Life (incidentally, this is the first time bread is ever mentioned in all of creation, well before the threshing of wheat or the creation of ovens); Adam was cursed, “thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth” and At the Last Supper Our Blessed Lord tasted “bitter herbs;” Adam was cursed, “Thorns and thistles shall it (the earth) bring forth to thee” – Our Blessed Lord wore a crown of thorns upon His head.  When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, God denied them access to the Tree of Life. At Golgotha, Our Lord’s crucifix became the new Tree of Life, and His Body and Blood became its fruit; Through Adam, death entered the world. Through Our Lord’s death and resurrection, eternal life became possible for man.
And what is incredible is that the sign of the Cross is made evident in the very act of Creation itself.  On the first day, when He created light, He divided the light from the darkness, providing the vertical line of the Cross.  On the second day, He separated the earth from the Heavens, providing the horizontal line of the Cross.  This cross was at the very beginning of time but cannot exist in the chaotic cosmic approach of Richard Dawkins, Arthur Clarke, and Carl Sagan.  
One more thing which causes a direct enmity between evolution and Scripture is that Genesis clearly states that God created each thing according to its kind.  Plants, birds, fish, land creatures, etc were all created according to “their own kind.”  If one holds to an evolutionary process, then Genesis must necessarily be held to be false.
I’ve studied this topic in great depth for nearly 25 years, and I’ve looked very closely at the biological arguments, the geological arguments, and the astronomical arguments and I’ve come to 2 conclusions:  1) There is absolutely no biological evidence for an evolutionary process.  By this, I mean that there is no observed or experimental process which leads to the conclusion through predictable results that we can demonstrate cross-species evolution on a genetic level. 2) One cannot draw scientific conclusions about a miraculous event.  And what I mean is, if God created the Universe ex nihilo (which is de fide), then no scientific measurement or observation can conclude what it looked like when He did it, how He did it, or where things were when it happened.
I love science and have encouraged my kids to love science as well.  But my firm conclusion is that the evolutionary cosmology is unscientific (and therefore harmful to a true understanding of how scientific observation works) and is harmful to the faith. I share this with you, dear reader, because as I observe the encroachment of the Modernist heresy filling the very halls of the Church, I see the long shadow of Darwin’s hand at the source.  Darwin was influenced by Malthus, and in turn influenced Karl Marx, Frederich Nietzsche, Lenin, Stalin, Margaret Sanger, Mao, … and while they referred to Darwin as a basis for their wretched ideologies, individuals like Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Charles Curran, and Edward Schillebeeckx took Darwin as their inspiration for the “development” (evolution) of Doctrine.
And so, in response to Dr. Brett Salkeld, I say, No – while Catholics “can” believe in evolution (with reservations), they should NOT believe in evolution, both for the sakes of right reason and the very retention of their own faith.

Header image: Charles Darwin via Natural History Museum