What The Church Really Teaches About Evolution? Plus – How To Explain It To Your Know-It All Teenager! 

by Apologetics, Controversial Subjects, Faith & Science, September

One of the most contentious issues throughout history has been the question of whether life resulted from design or nothing more than physical processes. Are we the product of a mind or an accident of nature? This question took on supreme importance to me in college after reading the book The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design by atheist Richard Dawkins. He argued that life originated from blind evolutionary processes that did not have us in mind. I was raised Catholic, but his claim convinced me that Christianity was likely a psychological crutch embraced by those with a limited understanding of science. 

God, Prove You Exist

This jarring revelation led me to tell God that I was not sure if He existed, but if He did, He needed to prove His existence to me. I explained to Him that I was a student of science, so I could not embrace Christianity based solely on feelings and wishful thinking. God answered my petition by leading me over the next several decades to top-level scientists who exposed how atheistic versions of evolutionary theory conflict with the latest scientific evidence. They also demonstrated that clear evidence of design exists throughout nature. Their assistance not only helped restore my faith, but it inspired me to dedicate my life to uncovering and communicating the evidence for design in creation. 

I had the privilege of contributing chapters on the evidence for design from physics and life’s origin to the book God’s Grandeur: The Catholic Case for Intelligent Design. Other chapters were written by leading Catholic scientists, philosophers, and theologians who further lay out the case that life is not an unintended accident of evolutionary processes. Instead, it is the creation of a supreme mind. The authors also detail why this conclusion is affirmed by Catholic doctrine. I am indebted to biologist Ann Gauger for spearheading the production of this book and for helping me to more fully apprehend how nature displays God’s grandeur. The content that follows includes short summaries of different chapters. The introductory chapter of God’s Grandeur is available here

What does the Church teach about evolution? What is the relationship between science and faith? 

The Church has consistently taught that God has revealed Himself through two sources. The first is direct revelation as recorded in the scriptures and passed down through church tradition. The second is through the study of nature (CCC 282). The Apostle Paul stated in his letter to the Romans the following:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse… (Romans 1:18-20 RSVCE)

A proper understanding of science will always be consistent with a proper understanding of Catholic doctrine. 

When did the debate about design in biology begin? 

The debate about design in biology originated with ancient Greek philosophers who lived 500 years before Christ. One group known as atomists believed that every form of life was solely the product of natural processes, chance, and time. Another group, which include Plato and Aristotle, believed that living creatures were designed by a mind or minds. The Apostle Paul’s statement about nature demonstrates that he opposed the atomists and affirmed those who believed that the evidence for design in life is self-evident. He would have seen the debate about design today as a continuation of the debate that raged in his own time. 

What has the Church historically taught about design in biology?

The fathers and doctors of the church also commonly argued that design can be clearly detected in biology. To support this conclusion, some compared the purposeful arrangement of parts in human creations to the order observed in life. They also opposed the teaching of the atomists and Christian heretics who claimed that living creatures originated through a process or agent that acted independently of God. 

What is the Church’s view on evolution?

The term evolution simply means change over time. It includes the organizing of matter that originated at the Big Bang into stars, galaxies, and planets over billions of years. It also refers to how organisms change over time to better adapt to their environments. The Church teaches that God created the universe and all it contains partly through direct creative acts and partly through natural processes that caused the universe and our world to develop according to his will. By whatever means God used, He ensured that everything occurred as He planned. The Apostle John wrote about Jesus that “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (RSVCE)

What is Darwinian evolution?

Darwin’s theory of evolution centers on populations of a species such as sheep that consist of individuals with traits that vary—different sheep possess different amounts of wool. Some versions of a trait are more beneficial in certain environments—sheep with more wool will more likely survive in cold climates. Over time, the versions of a trait that are better suited for the environment will become more common—if the temperature permanently drops, the average amount of wool will increase in several generations. Such small-scale changes are purported to accumulate over long periods of time resulting in large-scale transformations—a fish evolving into a frog. The modern version of Darwinian evolution is termed NeoDarwinism or the Modern Synthesis. It incorporates genetics, but the basic logic is still the same. 

What is the Church’s view on Darwinian evolution?

Opinions on Darwinian evolution in the Church differ, but on some issues the Church’s teaching is clear. Most importantly, humans were created by God in his image with a non-material soul as an act of His will. Some Catholic scientists have stated that the appearance of humans was not guaranteed; we are an unintended accident of evolution. This claim directly conflicts with Catholic teaching (CCC 343). Pope Benedict XIV condemned it by stating: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

Where does the scientific evidence lead? What are the limits of Darwinian evolution? 

Some leading biologists have concluded that Darwinian evolution can at most slightly alter existing traits. It has no significant creative power, so it cannot transform one species into something fundamentally different. The beak of a finch can become larger or smaller, but a finch always remains a finch. In addition, the fossil record—record preserved in rocks of species that lived throughout earth’s history—consistently demonstrates that new types of animals, plants, and other organisms appeared suddenly and then did not significantly change. This evidence strongly suggests that God often either directedly created new species or dramatically altered existing species in creative acts.

Does biology demonstrate evidence for design?

The evidence for design in life is now indisputable thanks to advances in biological research. Even the simplest possible cell contains advanced technology for energy production, information processing, error correction, manufacturing, and repair. The human brain displays complexity, ingenuity, and energy efficiency that greatly exceed even our most advanced computers. Countless other examples could be presented that demonstrate how denying the evidence for design in biology requires, as the Apostle Paul said, actively suppressing the truth. 

Why do many scientists deny the evidence for design in biology?

Scientific training in most educational institutions does not simply teach facts and procedures, but it catechizes (i.e., religiously trains) students in the faith of scientific materialism. This philosophy asserts that everything is the product of natural processes. It also assumes that either God does not exist, or He has never influenced our world. Students are conditioned to suppress any evidence for design in life they encounter and to uncritically accept evolutionary stories for the origin of all creatures even when those stories make no sense. Any scientist who publicly questions the evolutionary narrative or tells the truth about the evidence for design in biology can face extreme persecution. 

One of the authors of God’s Grandeur is biologist Gunter Bechly who spent his career studying fossils. He started as an atheist who mocked anyone who questioned evolution. His beliefs radically changed after he studied the evidence and arguments presented by other authors of God’s Grandeur and their colleagues. The evidence convinced Bechly that life was not a product of undirected evolutionary processes, but it was designed. Unfortunately, as soon as he shared his views publicly, he was pressured to leave his position at a German museum. Many other scientists who have spoken the truth about the science have faced smear campaigns and attempts to sabotage their careers. Today, nearly all scientists who question scientific materialism keep their views private. 

How should evolutionary theory be taught to teenagers? 

Explain the difference between evolutionary theory as genuine science and a secular creation narrative. 

Students should be taught the difference between those parts of evolutionary theory that are based on real science and those that correspond to the creation narrative of scientific materialism. Teach them to understand how the claim that Darwinian evolution can explain the wondrous design in life is almost entirely based on speculation and circular reasoning. 

Train students to recognize the evidence for design in biology. 

Modern science education conditions the mind to suppress the evidence for design in nature. Parents and teachers need to inoculate students against this mental conditioning by training them how to recognize design. In presentations, I show participants a series of images and then ask which were designed and which were the products of natural processes and chance. Example images include Stonehenge, a crystal that looks like a cross, the image from Mars that vaguely looks like a human face, and Mount Rushmore. I then ask participants to explain what criteria they used to identify design. Finally, I show participants an animation of a complex molecular machine in cells and then ask them whether it looks designed based the criteria they described. Participants consistently recognize that the evidence for design in biology is self-evident. 

Describe the design-based revolution in biology. 

A revolution has recently begun in biology partly resulting from engineers more closely working with biologists to understand life. The influence of engineers has resulted in biologists increasingly using design-based language, tools, and assumptions. They have also identified many designs used in human engineering that appear in living systems. Teach students about this revolution and inspire them to also study biology from the perspective of an engineer. I summarized the evidence driving this revolution in a lecture that can be viewed here

Additional resources can be found here

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