A God Big Enough for Evolution

I stumbled across this video on my beloved io9 the other day, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

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I was raised in the Bible Belt. I attended a private, Evangelical school until I went to college. I came away from that school with lots of good things. My love of literature was fostered and encouraged there, as was my belief in an objective moral truth. Unfortunately, the theory of evolution was never presented to us, certainly not as a viable alternative to creationism, and not even in acknowledgment that evolution is the dominant scientific theory today. It was whispered about sometimes, but always as if it were some crackpot theory dreamed up by evil liberals to  make children doubt that God created them and instead instill in them the blasphemous idea that they were descended from apes.

In the last few years, I’ve come to see this as a serious problem. It’s not uncommon for children in the South to be taught creationism and evolution side-by-side. I have some reservations about that, mostly stemming from the current mainstream-Evangelical habit of portraying the seven days of creation as, well, Biblical truth instead of a way of explaining creation that could be understood by our forefathers. But all in all, I think that children in the South are fairly well served by learning both theories. Creationism is a necessary part of curricula in the South because belief in it is so prevalent, and if children there are taught evolution without creationism, they will essentially be culturally illiterate. But I agree with Bill Nye to the extent that children ought to be taught evolution.

My experience of not learning evolution is not an isolated event for Southern children. I know many, many people who went to private schools in the South and did not learn evolution. Nor did we learn the history of the earth. I can’t remember learning about dinosaurs, although I don’t think that my school held the idea that dinosaurs are an elaborate hoax, the way many of my friends’ schools did. I still remember hearing arguments in college that dinosaur fossils were placed on earth by God to confuse unbelievers, and to test the faith of believers. It sounded like bollocks then, and it sounds even worse now.

Bill Nye is right that when you remove the theory of evolution, the world becomes fantastically complicated. Insane theories like God planting dinosaur bones become necessary to explain away bald facts. God becomes petty, small, an all-powerful trickster who made a ridiculously complicated world just to mess with people.

When I began to look into Catholicism with an open mind, instead of trying to point out all the flaws and heresies, I was, at first, terrified. I was terrified because of things like Catholic acceptance of evolution. If evolution were true, it would rock the foundations of my very small world. What else would come next? I was afraid to lose all the “truths” I had never questioned, afraid essentially that if those truths began to slide out from under my feet, all truth would follow, and I would be left in an abyss of relativism with no firm ground to stand on. It’s a frightening thing, questioning one’s long-held beliefs.

But as I continued to examine Catholicism, something amazing began to happen. Instead of losing the ground beneath my feet, I began to see my world grow larger. Infinitely larger. Before there had been no room in my world for evolution, dinosaurs, the Big Bang theory, and even things like life on other planets, because those things threatened the existence of God as I understood him. Now, I began to see that God was big enough for all of it…bigger, indeed, than all of it. Anything humans thought of or reasoned out could not threaten him, because he made us good, wounded, but essentially good. And one of his greatest gifts to us is our intellect. Instead of the eternal war between faith and reason that I had become so accustomed to, Catholicism presented a beautiful harmony between the two. Faith supported by reason….reason guided by faith.

A few years ago, when I was pregnant with Liam, our family drove to California to visit some of our best friends. One night, they put on Stephen Hawking’s Into the Universe. We were watching the third episode, “The Story of Everything.” I was entranced by it. It was so beautiful, the way they illustrated the beginning of the universe, that I found myself thinking, “God is amazing.” Just a few years before, I would have been upset and unnerved by the documentary. I would have felt the need to defend creationism and try to debunk evolution. I would have felt the need to defend God.

But Catholicism has helped me to see that God doesn’t need to be defended from rational scientific theories. He gave us our reason, and the ability to figure out things like the origins of the universe. He is no more threatened by the theory of evolution than he is by my 3-year-old’s theory that God is the sun. In fact, the complexity of the Big Bang theory, the beauty and wonder of it, only reinforces my belief that there is a divine creator. How else could something so incredible happen?

As far as I’m concerned, creationism and evolution are in no way mutually exclusive, and I think children are done a great disservice when they are not taught about evolution. We shouldn’t be afraid that the theory of evolution will replace a child’s belief in God. On the contrary, it only enhances the mystery and wonder of creation, and the creator.

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