“Don’t be afraid of evolution.” – Dr. Stacy Trasancos.
Much to the chagrin of science and religion, we live in an age that thinks these two disciplines are contradictory. If science is right, religion is not, and if religion is right, science must be wrong.
Nowhere is this view more evident than in the theory of evolution. For some, the theory provides a framework for understanding life without appealing to God. For others, it is a blasphemous attempt to deny both God and the biblical story of creation.
The following article will discuss what evolution is (and is not) and what Catholicism has to say about the theory. I will conclude by arguing that evolution (accepting the theory as true) may in fact be proof of the existence of God.
What is evolution?
In 1859, the English biologist Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”. Darwin would argue that the traits and adaptations that differentiate species from each other can also explain how species evolved over time and gradually diverged. Darwin further argued that heredity is the mechanism that perpetuates variation and that these variations allow species to adapt and survive in the natural world.
Therefore, evolution can be defined as “any change in the frequency of alleles [a gene] within a population from one generation to the next. (National Center for Science Education). Evolution proposes that organisms change physically over time to adapt and thrive in their environment. These altered traits are then passed on to the organism’s descendants.
One of the main ramifications of the theory is to infer common ancestry. Accepting evolution means that every organism in existence can be traced back to a single source, usually a single-celled organism.
While the theory of evolution is often assumed to be uniformly accepted by science, it has its detractors and limitations. First, the theory is primarily inferential. Evolution cannot be subjected to the scientific method. More importantly, at least from the point of view of religion and theology, evolution does not explain the origin of life. Ultimately, evolution explains the mutations and adaptations of existing organisms, not how those organisms arose in the first place.
So what does the Catholic religion have to say about evolution?
The Catholic position on evolution
Before beginning this section, it is useful to categorize evolution into three forms: cosmological, biological, and human.
Regarding cosmological evolution, the Church teaches that God created the universe out of nothing. (Vatican 1. Canons on God the Creator of all things, canon 5). Although the Church does not take a position on biological evolution, it does support the belief that the human body evolved. However, the Catholic Church is adamant that the soul is created especially by God. (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36).
John Henry Newman illustrated the Church’s position when he wrote, “I see nothing in the theory of evolution inconsistent with an Almighty Creator and Protector. (John Henry Newman Letters and Journals. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973).
Can evolution prove the existence of God?
As we said above, evolution does not claim to account for the origin of life. As such, the theory does not militate against most arguments for the existence of God. The question, however, is whether the theory of evolution can be taken as evidence for the existence of God?
While evolution is usually viewed from the perspective of science, I want to consider the theory philosophically.
At its core, evolution is about change. From the point of view of philosophy, things pass from potentiality to action. In the context of biology, cells cause tissues and tissues cause organs (a collection of cells is what a tissue is, and the tissue constitutes the organs). In the context of philosophy, the cell is potentially an organ. The fact that the cell is not always an organ means that it is led to change. Whenever something changes, it is caused by something else (organs are caused by cells).
Nothing can cause its own change since something cannot have a quality of both potency and action at the same time (the cell cannot be both a cell and an organ simultaneously and in the same way) . Therefore, whenever a cell changes, that change must have been caused by something other than the cell, and that thing must already be in action (organs can only form from existing cells) .
Logically, this progression (organs from tissues, tissues from cells) cannot continue ad infinitum. Infinite regress would mean no initial cause of a cell and, therefore, no subsequent possibility of life, let alone evolution. The solution requires a cause of these changes or adaptations which itself does not change.
Finally, it should be mentioned that cells contain information in the form of DNA. The information dictates the type and function of the cell. Biologist Stephen Meyer compared the information in a cell to the code needed for a computer program (Kirk Durston, Ph.D., biophysics, University of Guelph and Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell, Harper One. 2009) .
It seems to me that, like a computer needs a programmer, a cell needs a source for its information. Since information is a product of reasoning, and reasoning is a product of an intellect, there must be an intellect which is the primary cause of evolution.
Inference from these premises suggests that evolution requires an immutable (and therefore eternal) cause that possesses an intellect. An intellect that exists eternally and is capable of causality are traits that can be attributed to God.
We live in a time when many take a dialectical view of one or the other of science and religion. Nowhere is this philosophy more evident than in evolution. For many, evolution provides a framework for understanding life on earth without having to make religious claims. For others, it’s an outdated theory that ignores the complexity of life or is simply an effort to circumvent God’s need.
Catholicism, however, categorically rejects any conflict between science and religion. As the Catechism says, “Although faith is above reason, there can never be a real gap between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has granted the light of reason to the human spirit, God cannot deny Himself, and truth can never contradict truth” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 159).
In this article, I proposed a philosophical synthesis between evolution and need for God. Even accepting evolution as a mechanism of speciation, there remains a need for both a root cause to create the conditions necessary for evolution as well as a need for a source of information required for change. which, according to evolution, is the cause of the origin of species. .