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How do the theory of evolution and the doctrine of creation fit together?

Author: Santiago Collado
Published in: 50 Questions on Faith, 16

When we talk about evolutionary theory, we may actually be referring to different issues. And it is the same with the term creation. As always, how the two notions fit together will depend on what we mean by each of them.

Professor Francisco Ayala states in a 1994 book, La teoría de la Evolución (The Theory of Evolution), the following:

"The theory of evolution deals with three different matters. The first is the fact of evolution; that is, that living species change over time and are related to each other because they are descended from common ancestors. The second subject is the history of evolution, i.e. the particular relationships of relatedness between organisms (e.g. chimpanzee, man and orang-utan) and when the lineages leading to living species diverged from each other. The third subject concerns the causes of the evolution of organisms".

Of these three questions, the first can indeed be considered a fact. There is more than enough data to state as scientifically certain that all existing species have common ancestors, and that there has therefore been an evolution from primitive and less complex species to those we know today. We also know with certainty, from fossil remains, that many species have become extinct.

This last fact belongs to the second aspect of evolution pointed out by Ayala: that of the history of evolution. In this area of theory, the Degree of certainty that we possess is less than that which can be achieved by the mathematical sciences. The discoveries that are being made mean that what was already established changes quite frequently. Modern genetics has helped to confirm many of the results obtained in other ways.

Perhaps the most difficult and problematic aspect is the determination of the causes of evolution. What we are trying to explain is the origin of the increase in complexity and diversity in the world of living beings.

One of the theses that has dominated the academic and scientific world since almost the beginning of the 20th century states that the main cause of evolution is "natural selection" acting on a population that, although of the same species, presents a certain genetic variety. This variety is the result of changes in the genetic code of the individuals of the species. The modifications have a fortuitous or random character. There is now scientific certainty that variation plus natural selection, initially proposed by Darwin and Wallace, are the cause of change and adaptation to the environment in living beings. agreement The influence of this mechanism in explaining the increase in complexity and, consequently, in the evolution of species, is still under discussion, and there is not the same scientific Degree .

In the field of natural science, the theory of evolution aims to explain the causes of the transformations Materials that occur in nature. In this case, in the world of living beings.

For its part, the notion of "creation" moves in a very different context. Creation, in the field that interests us here, is understood as giving being from nothing. It is, therefore, a notion that falls within the methodical domain of philosophy; in particular, of metaphysics. The notion of creation does not attempt to respond to the various problems that we have seen posed by the theory of evolution. In the realm of physical reality, philosophy poses an even more radical problem: the existence of the natural world, of that world of which biology, physics or any other science tells us.

What has been said so far shows that there can be no opposition or incompatibility between what the biological sciences tell us and what is expressed by the notion of creation in metaphysics. As we have seen, the methodical scope of the two disciplines is very different. The natural sciences deal with transformations Materials of which we have some subject empirical experience. It can say nothing, therefore, of an act that transcends mere material transformation: bestowing being from nothing. The notion of creation can be discussed and argued, affirmed or denied, but it cannot be done from biology, since it exceeds its methodical scope.

Nor can metaphysical reflection, which deals with principles such as "being as created", explain to biologists what the mechanisms they investigate are and how they work. This would be to enter a methodical field for which metaphysics is clearly incompetent. Problems have arisen when, from one of the two disciplines, statements have been made that fall within the field of study of the other.

However, respect for the autonomy of each discipline does not mean that they are completely alien to each other. If this were the case, if philosophy had to be done in a manner completely independent of the natural sciences, it would become an irrelevant discipline or of little or no interest to the natural sciences. 16 How do the theory of evolution and the doctrine of creation fit together? interest. Advocating complete independence would avoid conflict between the two, but it would also be detrimental to both, albeit in different ways.

Not only are they compatible and there is no opposition between evolution and creation theory, but they can be seen as complementary.

It is the same complementarity that exists between philosophy and the sciences in general. Both types of rationality are based on the same human experience. History sample that they have influenced each other reciprocally and, more often than not, in a positive way. For example, some historians of science share the thesis that the idea that the world was created by a God who is "Logos" (reason, wisdom) was a decisive impetus for the emergence of modern science. In fact, the natural sciences, as we know them today, were born in the Christian West and at the hands of thinkers who were mostly Christian.

At this point, it is important to distinguish two things: the notion of creation, on the one hand, and the movement known as "creationism", on the other. Creationism originated in the United States, in a Protestant context and largely as a reaction to the theory of evolution. From its inception, it was perceived by many Christians as a threat to their faith. In reality, what evolutionary theory opposes is an understanding of creation that follows from a literal reading of Genesis. Such a literal interpretation denies that some species are derived from others by evolution and argues that they are created directly by God. Creationism has never been part of the Catholic faith. The notion of creation is part of the Catholic faith. This notion can be approached apart from faith, although the most important contributions to this notion have been made in the attempt to understand the content of Revelation.

Newton's mechanics gave rise to a philosophical mode of thought known as "mechanicism", subject . This is a philosophy that sets mechanics as the paradigm of rationality and is therefore reductionist in nature because it seeks to explain all of reality with the tools of mechanics. It is a philosophy that sets mechanics as the paradigm of rationality and, therefore, has a reductionist character because it attempts to explain all of reality with the tools of mechanics. In the same way, since the end of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century, a philosophical way of thinking has developed that is closely linked to the theory of evolution. It could be called "evolutionism". Here, too, what is advocated is that all reality can be explained by the laws proposed by the theory of evolution. Evolutionists (understanding evolutionism as a philosophical proposal and not as a purely scientific theory) usually emphasise chance and natural selection as the main mechanisms of biological evolution and of any other material dynamism. They also tend to reduce the spiritual to the same outline, i.e. the organic subject to evolutionary laws. The very development of current biology shows the difficulties in defending this approach.

Just as evolutionism (as a materialistic philosophy) is contrary to faith, so too are there pathologies of faith, such as "fideism", which have sometimes been an obstacle to science. The relationship between faith and reason has been problematic when science has wanted to say more than its method allows, or when a faith that is closed to reason has been defended. Sometimes this may have happened as a defensive reaction against philosophical reductionism encouraged by a particular science. On other occasions the cause has been a failure to take into account that the expression in human language of revealed faith is necessarily limited and that, furthermore, it is subject to the rules proper to the style in which the text is written. Styles can vary greatly according to the time and purpose for which they were written.

At summary, empirical science cannot affirm creation. But neither can it deny it.

On the other hand, the various sciences, by providing us with knowledge of the natural world with its processes, its organisation and its multiple relationships, invite us to think about the foundation or principles that sustain the unity that they maintain among themselves and with other spheres of reality that are not purely Materials. The sciences invite us to ask ourselves, among other things, whether the world that they enable us to know better and better can give an account of itself, whether it is self-sufficient. Questions such as these can lead us to glimpse that the notion of creation illuminates these questions that science raises in human beings, albeit from another level of rationality.

Finally, faith in a world that is created provides the assurance that there is a rationality that gives unity and meaning to the whole of reality: the rationality that comes from its Creator, from the "Logos". In this way, Nature constitutes a call to think about, to seek, the rationality that sustains it, to try to know it more and better, and not to give up in the face of the difficulties that all research entails.