Monthly Archives: September 2011

Evolution and What Catholics Should Teach Their Children about Adam and Eve

My name is Sarah Martinez, and I am a Catholic and an evolutionist.  Whew.  That felt good to say.

When I was 17, I found myself in a cultural anthropology college course.   And mostly, I hated it.  My professor was an insufferable woman with a bad dye job who routinely made over-the-shoulder swipes at Christianity, as she wrote about religious tolerance on the whiteboard;  who constructed a midterm so ridiculous, the entire class–the entire class— failed it.  (I spent the next quarter doing every ounce of extra credit listed on the syllabus,  and then wrote a paper summarizing the movie, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and managed to get an A on my transcripts for that class.)

So, I hated that class and to this day,  I will tell you that I prefer sociology out of pure spite.  But I wasn’t asleep through it.  I did learn things.  And what I learned was that evolution, a concept I had seen “debunked” through a handful of documentaries and essays in high school and understood was the very apex of anti-Christian science, made sense.  A lot of sense, actually.  There was physical evidence in bones, genetic evidence in our DNA.  I was fascinated and taken by the way animal physiology (humans included) adapted to its environment.

What I didn’t understand was how this fit in with the Bible, exactly.   Taking the story of Adam and Eve and The Fall at face value, I couldn’t figure out how the pieces fit together.  I was, in a word, confused.  This shift in thinking, along with many other things, pushed me towards the moment when I said to my mom, “I don’t know if I believe in God anymore.”   I still went to church and tried to be good, and said my prayers, but my heart wasn’t in it.   It was awful.  Catholics are taught that the most terrible torment the souls in hell suffer is distance from God.  I believe that 100 percent.

I eventually recovered, though it took moving out of state where there was a church with more regular sacraments, and more available clergy.  I “got rid” of the origin problem by deciding that I would just take God’s word for it,  stop wondering,  and assume that evolution fit in with creation somehow.  Besides, if God created me, did the little details regarding “how” matter?    I put it in the back of my mind, and would content myself to just shift uncomfortably when someone mentioned evolution, unsure whether to agree or not.    But permeating all the time was the shadow of doubt that asked if I could not believe this part of  Scripture, what parts could I believe?  I was feeling perhaps like Lord Byron when he said,  “There is something pagan in me that I cannot shake off.  In short, I deny nothing, but doubt everything.”  I wondered what my Catholic friends would think if they knew I was at the very least an evolutionist “sympathizer.”

Then I read this. 

One article, that had  all the same pieces I had, but had the thing I didn’t: a way to string them together.  With the words of theological BFFs,  St. Thomas of Aquinas and St. Augustine about how Adam and Eve and The Fall fit in with the empirical evidence set forth to support evolution, (long before Darwin, by the way) I finally had a clear, crisp picture of how the Creation of Man really happened.  I read it half a dozen times yesterday and was practically bouncing in my office chair.  It seems silly to attribute so much joy of intellect to a single internet article, but there you go. Read the entire thing.  (I will be checking the stats, people.)

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale.  One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin.  One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.

But with the joy, came a little bit of disappointment; in fact, a little anger.  Anger at every Catholic teacher I ever had who couldn’t be bothered to do the minimal amount of research to figure out why evolution is a genetic, scientific fact, and either never found, or ignored, the words of two of the most well-quoted Saints of our religion who supported it.  They let me fall into the trap of learning science without the corresponding religion, and religion without the corresponding science, and I became discouraged and befuddled because I learned from neither how to reconcile the two, when they can be so easily reconciled.  I almost lost my faith because of it.  The fact that had I heard the simple arguments laid out in this one article two years ago,  I may have been saved from that brief, though hellish lapse in belief.

To a lesser degree, I once felt similarly aggrieved while reading a Catholic publication.  The well-intended, and surely virtuous articles were poorly written and strewn with logical fallacy.  I have heard sermons where priests throw incorrect dates and information, and don’t worry a whole lot about it because… well, you tell me.  I have sat through homilies cringing, and hoping that there are no newcomers in the room;  the Catholics here will understand, the hopeful agnostic sitting across the aisle from me, waiting for proof that Christians have intellectual reasons behind their faith may not be so impressed.

The problem, I have felt for a long time is this:  Most Catholics in authority to instruct, do not take their role as teacher seriously.   For all their warnings of the world’s dangers, they do not seem to truly understand that lay people are barraged daily by a world that wants them to doubt;  that wants to kill God and smite religion. And that the world will use science, of which God Himself is the author,  and our rational minds, which He gave us to understand it, to do so. They still make modern science an enemy, just as modern science makes religion the enemy.  As if you cannot be both an evolutionist and also believe that an Almighty God created the means for the world to evolve.

I’m going to link to another Marc Barnes post again on Catholics using their talents to be the best, and where he quotes C.S. Lewis,

“‘Great works’ (of art) and “good works” (of charity) had better also be Good Work. Let choirs sing well or not at all…”

I’ll even link Marc a second time where he advises us to “Be Awesome.

Am I saying you have to be a good writer to write? No! Am I saying that God is only appreciative of well-written work? No! Am I saying that if you are writing for a Catholic publication you should realize that you are, in a very real sense, an ambassador for the Church, and that as such it your duty to excel in your craft, to make it the best that it can be so that the truth and beauty of Church’s teaching will be revealed through it, not hindered by it? Yes.

Here’s another great article on why it is necessary for Christians to believe in evolution.

Anyway,  when I have children,  I’ll read them Genesis, and they’ll have picture books with Adam and Eve in a paradise, and a little snake in a tree for the sake of illustration.   But then I’ll bring out a stack of works by Aquinas and Augustine and a modern science book, and explain what all of it really means.

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The Wealth of the Church

 Marc Barnes, author of my new favorite Catholic blog, Bad Catholic, explains, through a conversation with someone he knows, why beautiful cathedrals rise up out of the Church’s holy poverty.  The following text is my 2 cents. 

One time a non-Catholic friend and I visited a church where she saw a nonthreatening basket of donation envelopes on a table in the back of the chapel, pointed to them and said, “*That* is why I don’t go to church.”

Really?  Because if you put on your Critical Thinking Cap, you’ll see why that is a really stupid reason to not be Catholic, if that is indeed your only reason.

A Catholic Church functions on free will donations.  We don’t sell tickets to Mass, or have a membership fee.   We’re not even allowed to sell religious goods once they’ve been blessed.

People donate to the Church, firstly because they want to glorify God.   Consider what our churches house.  God Himself, the Creator of all beings,  Who died to save us from our sins, physically sits in our tabernacles.   Even if you do not share this belief, surely you have enough imagination that it isn’t a strain to understand why we, who do believe that, would want a beautiful place for Him to live.

That, and we want lights to read our missals by,  and food to ensure that our priests do not collapse from undernourishment during the homily.  We want them to have reliable cars to get them to mission parishes and sick calls, and for our nuns to have books with which they can teach catechism. Them things cost money, honey.

Nonprofit organizations are so called because they don’t make a profit and rely on donations.  PETA, The Salvation Army, The Red Cross, public television…  I wish I had writing skills to further expound on what I can only summarize as “Duh.”

Speaking of which, did you know that the NonProfit Times names Catholic Charities USA as #2 in the list of top 100 nonprofit organizations?   The Church has long supported and started charitable causes, in public and in private.   The clergy of my church have, in the past, paid rent and mortgages and various other bills for not only its members, but people who I have seen all but once– when they knocked on the door of the rectory to pick up the check.   I wonder why it is that when people need help, they look to a Catholic church, if not because the Church has a long history of generosity.  Lay Catholics are strongly encouraged to do volunteer work, and many practicing ones do.

Yes, there is a Precept of the Church that dictates that you must contribute to the support of the Church.   Most people tithe, but for those who cannot, “contributing to the support of the Church” can come in the form of volunteering your time,  or participating in things like choir, or altar serving. (I quit my job and donated half a year of my time to my church last year.  Can you rack up credit points for that sort of thing? My mom says no. [I kid, people.])

This is my favorite part of Marc’s article:

I: […] Your entire argument rests on the arrogant assumption that all the poor want is cash and food. Have you ever asked the Catholic poor whether he’d like the beauty of his church stripped for cash? Boy, you’d get smacked, because the majority of Catholics are poor, and know what’s important in life. Is it not enough that we are the largest charitable organization in the world?
Him: But you can’t deny the Pope lives in a mansion.
I: And you can’t deny that if he didn’t, the Catholic people would put him in one. We’re human, we like to reverence things.