There’s something about the proliferation of plant and animal life in summertime that inspires one to ponder how we all got here. Is it acceptable for a Catholic to think about evolutionary theory? Of course it is, but the concept needs to be properly situated. The theory is only a matter of physical or biological science insofar as there are hypotheses to be tested based on observable data. The overarching idea that evolution, through genetic mutation and natural selection, produced the astounding, even unimaginable, diversity of all lifeforms is a metaphysical concept, a large storyline for the mind’s eye. Is it true? Well, the hard data to prove it got recycled long ago so we can never really be sure.
What the Church teaches about the beginning of mankind is like so many other aspects of Church teaching – at once a simple truth, and yet an eternally profound mystery. Because it is revealed in Holy Scripture, it is an article of faith that the first man was created by God and that man consists of two essential parts, a material body and a spiritual soul. “And the Lord God formed man out of the slime of the earth, and breathed in his face the breath of life and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7
Evolutionary theory can only address the hypothesis that the material body evolved from inorganic material (slime of the earth), and this is not in conflict with scripture. What science cannot comment on, nor can a Catholic deny, is that the soul of the first man was created immediately by God out of nothing.
Interestingly, the Church Fathers also saw that Eve’s creation from the body of Adam symbolises the essential assimilation of the woman to the man, and thus the Divine institution of marriage. There was disagreement whether Eve’s creation from the body of Adam was a literal or allegorical statement, and so it remains a mystery. However, this revelation also shows us that the entire human race is united.
How joyful it is to watch children run in the grass, splash in the water, and examine insect after leaf after flower with genuine curiosity and joy. Do you ever think of all that happened to lead up that instant in time? Do you cherish those moments? Sometimes I wonder if God is trying to tell us to focus less on materialistic evolution of the body, in many ways a futile endeavor, and more on the future of the human soul.
*Images courtesy of God, taken from camp Trasancos where Mom has left the indoor photography equipment packed away and stored in the attic.
**Dogma articulated from Dr. Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 95-98.