“Doesn’t science, like evolution and the Big Bang, conflict with Genesis and Adam and Eve?” This question was posed to me at a Science and Faith discussion session for young people, held by the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Hispanic Ministry in April.
Catholic Christian thinkers have long said that Genesis is not a literal description of the creation of the universe.
St. Augustine, the great African bishop who lived more than 1,500 years ago, asked how there could be literal “mornings” and “evenings” on the first three days of creation when Genesis says God made the sun on the fourth day.
St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Italian thinker who lived almost 1,000 years ago, asked how Genesis could literally call the moon one of the “two great lights” in the sky, when astronomers knew, even in Aquinas’ time, that stars are much larger than the moon.
Both great saints concluded that Genesis is a spiritual or somewhat poetic description of creation. Both concluded, citing Scripture that speaks of God creating all things together (like Ps 33:9), that God probably created the universe and everything in it, including time itself, all at once.
In Augustine’s time and Thomas’ too, scientists thought that the universe had no creation, contrary to Genesis. Scientists thought the universe had always existed, eternal and unchanging. They also thought that life was spontaneously generated from matter, so that small living things like mice or frogs were always springing forth from the mud. Small creatures might then evolve into larger creatures. Thus, different groups of human beings might have arisen separately, contrary to Genesis, having no more in common than do cats and dogs.
But starting in the 17th century, various scientific discoveries involving matter and motion, light, heat and gravity led scientists toward the idea that the universe had not always existed, but instead had a beginning.
In the 1920s a Catholic priest, the Belgian physicist Father Georges LeMaître, developed from Einstein’s theory of gravity what we now call “The Big Bang Theory:” that everything in the universe, including time itself, emerged all at once from a tiny dense state on “a day without a yesterday,” evolving over time to be the universe of today.
Likewise, scientific discoveries involving living things and their reproduction led scientists toward the idea that life always comes from life (from parents) and nothing just springs from mud.
Science today cannot explain how life first formed (someday it might). But discoveries have nevertheless led scientists to conclude that more complex life has evolved from less complex. That includes human beings, at least insofar as our bodies are concerned, but science also indicates that all human beings share a common origin; we are all of one family.
Yet if we humans did evolve from less complex life, then language, art, music and mathematics all indicate that at some point human life became more than mere bodies. Scientifically speaking, our bodies are evolved finite bags of mostly water hosting complex chemistry.
How do such bags conceive of and explore, for example, an infinite concept from mathematics like π (‘pi’) — something beyond physical measurement? Humans clearly can explore the infinite mathematically, thus we must be more than just our finite bodies.
No, science does not conflict with Genesis — no more than mornings and evenings conflict with no sun. Catholic tradition does not read Genesis literally, while science today supports important ideas from Genesis like the universe having a beginning, and all people being of one family. Chris
Graney, a parishioner of St. Louis Bertrand Church, is on the staff of the Vatican Observatory, www.vaticanobservatory.org.