More Science Stuff

A reader writes:

Quick question — a spin off from Mr. Sungesis (sp?) blog postings. We homeschool and are in a Christian homeschooling co-op with a lot of creationists, they have given us a lot of material that casts a lot of doubt on evolutionary theory but the literal interpretation of Genesis still doesn’t fit right. I know the Church’s teaching about this (I actually survived with my faith intact after graduating from Catholic U. in the early eighties), I’ve read summaries of JP II on EWTN website, read Behe, Dembriski, First Things, . . .So believe it or not I’m actually more confused than ever!! Is the universe 15 billion years old or a lot less? I think more the former but my questions are: your recommendation for me AND (moreso) the kids on what to read/teach. I know of Nothing that gets into this in a good, solid way for kids from a Catholic perspective — even if it says we don’t know everything (Duh!) My second question is a theological/philosophical one I never thought of until I read our friend’s critiques on evolution — If God did utilize evolutionary changes to get us where we’re at what happens to the inspired teaching of Genesis that man’s sin caused death to enter the natural world? It’s not enough to just say it caused our death, Kreeft says that original sin started even nature’s demise. Thank you for even reading this too long e-mail.

My background is in theology more than science, so I’m not the guy to go into the details on science. From the biblical theological angle on Genesis, my quickest suggestion would be to get a copy of my book Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did which deals, among many other things, with the supposed “conflict” between science and religion in the book of Genesis (Special deal: email me and order the book and I’ll send you a signed copy cheaper than you’d get from Amazon!). My basic take: there’s no conflict because the author of Genesis is asking “Who?” and “Why?” questions and science is asking “How? When? What?” questions. As I understand it, the universe is about 12-15 billion years old and the earth is about 4-5 billion years old.

As Catholics, we have long believed that grace perfects nature. That already goes a great distance toward opening a big hole for some sort of theistic evolutionary model to account for the formation of all non-human life. Beyond this, though, there’s very little in revelation and we’re left to the varying models proposed by the sciences. While these models all offer some explanatory value there is also the problem that they don’t explain everything and there are some rather huge gaps in our knowledge and in the plausbility of the theories. Behe and Philip Johnson have done some nice work in this area. What they haven’t done is put anything in place of the theories they deconstruct. Not being a scientist, I don’t either. Personally, I don’t think we will ever really have a clear understanding of human origins. Genesis tells us the “Who?” and “Why?” answers to those questions, but doesn’t bother itself about the scientific whys and wherefores.

As to the appearance of death in the world, I’m not sure of which of Dr. Kreeft’s writings you mean, but we’ve spoken in the past about this and he has no particular problem with a theistic evolutionary model. It is true that nature suffers from the fall, but it’s not at all necessary to think this is limited to the fall of homo sapiens. Genesis in fact hints that there was evil present in the world before the fall of man. I see no particular reason to think that Satan had to wait around for us before he started fouling up creation. All Scripture is concerned with is the cause of human death, not the death of oysters. It is human death alone that concerns the writers of Scripture when they say that “death entered the world through sin.”

Recommended reading: C.S. Lewis’ Problem of Pain.