Evolution: Science, Religion, Opinions and Me

'Man is but a Worm' cartoon, caricaturing Darwin's theory, from the Punch almanac for 1882. (1981)

The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research has learned that more than half of all Americans think evolution is real.

Seems that 2016 was the tipping point. That’s when my country, on average, decided to step into the late 19th century.

Or stopped listening to Bible-thumpers.

Or started learning about science.

At any rate:

“…Since 1985, national samples of US adults have been asked to agree or disagree with the statement ‘Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.’ During the last decade, the percentage of US adults agreeing with this statement increased from 40% to 54%—a majority….”
(“Public acceptance of evolution in the United States, 1985-2020,” Jon D. Miller et al., Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan; Public Understanding of Science (August 2021))

The study’s results are filtering into non-academic news and op-eds. With the inevitable political spin:

“…The shift in attitudes towards evolution is particularly surprising given that the teaching of evolution was a major aspect of the culture wars of the late from the 1980s through the 2000s, particularly during the Bush Era in which the evangelical right was ascendant….”
(“Science quietly wins one of the right’s longstanding culture wars,” Matthew Rozsa, Salon (August 24, 2021))

Politics and Perceptions

'I'd force peace right down their bloodthirsty throats.' Deacon Mushrat in Walk Kelly's Pogo. (1952)About the political angle, the study says conservatives are less likely than liberals to accept evolution.

But politics is only one demographic factor. I’ll get back to that.

My experience suggests that no political camp has cornered the market in nitwits and ignorance, or sages and wisdom.

So I’m not convinced that liberal politics is humanity’s only hope in the face of doom, gloom and the religious right.

And I sure don’t yearn for yesteryear, when America’s self-appointed pillars of rectitude railed against commies, Catholics, and pretty much anything learned since the Black Death. And that’s another topic.1

“…Truth will be Truth….”

Jon D. Miller et al.'s graph: Public acceptance and rejection of evolution in the United States, 1985–2020. (August 2021)
(From Jon D. Miller et al., used w/o permission.)
(Americans and evolution: 1985-2020)

I think opinion polls matter, but I also think Bishop Sheen was right:

“Right is right if nobody is right, and wrong is wrong if everybody is wrong.”
(“Life is Worth Living,” Program 19, Fulton J. Sheen (ca. 1951-1957))

And I’m quite sure that if 99.9% of Americans believed the Rocky Mountains are in Florida, then the Sunshine State would still be notably mountain-free.

It’s like Ben Franklin and Pope Leo XIII said. Truth — is truth.

“…truth cannot contradict truth….”
(“Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893))

“…Truth will be Truth tho’ it sometimes prove mortifying and distasteful.”
(Benjamin Franklin (1725))

The U. of Michigan study wasn’t about whether or not folks believed the Rockies were in Florida. It addressed belief in evolution. Acceptance, at any rate.

Wiley Miller's 'Non Sequitur' Sunday comic, featuring 'Church and Science Compromise Committee' lack of evolution consensus. (posted August 22, 2021)A fair fraction of my fellow-Americans see unyielding rejection of evolution as a vital tenet of Christian belief.

Or did, anyway, judging from the shelf space devoted to anti-evolution tracts in “Christian” bookstores of my youth.

So why am I, a Christian, not having conniptions about what we’ve learned2 since Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species?”

Basically, I’m a Christian who prefers accepting God’s creation “as is.” And I’m not an evangelical/fundamentalist. Not even close.

As for how I’d have responded to “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals” — I’d have been on the “accept” part of the graph.

Origins

Earth seen from the Rosetta spacecraft. From  ESA (MPS for OSIRIS Team), MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (November 23, 2009) used w/o permission.

Given how much we’ve learned in the 162 years since Darwin’s “Origin of Species” hit the fan, I don’t see a point in rejecting evolutionary theory.

But I don’t see problems with the Genesis creation accounts — plural — either.

The Genesis 1:1-2:3 account tells me that God said, created, looked and blessed: but not exactly how the Almighty did all that. Beyond ‘God said, created, looked, and blessed.’

The first creation narrative ends with God resting, making the seventh day holy. Then the second creation narrative starts:

“This is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens—…
“…but a stream was welling up out of the earth and watering all the surface of the ground—
“then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
(Genesis 2:4, G67)

Next thing God does in Genesis 2 is plant a garden in Eden “in the east,” a vague reference that’s encouraged fervent and — my opinion — occasionally goofy speculation.

“Eden” may come from a Sumerian word meaning “fertile plain.” The geographic references are most likely Mesopotamian, and that’s yet another topic.3

At any rate, God made trees grow “out of the ground” in Genesis 2:9, then gives the man a job: taking care of that garden. And then God —

“…formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.”
(Genesis 1:19)

Appreciating Sacred Scripture

The 'Flammarion Woodcut, from his 'L'Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire.' (1888)
(From Camille Flammarion, “L’Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire;” via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

The two Genesis creation accounts don’t, apparently, agree with each other. Take the order in which God creates parts of this universe, for example.

The first one has God creating plants; the sun, moon and stars.

Then animals.

And finally us.

In the second one, man comes first, then the other animals.

If I expected the Bible to follow literalist preferences, or the principles of post-Enlightenment Western natural philosophy, then maybe I’d decide that it’s too jumbled to make sense.

Instead, I see the Genesis accounts as another indication that the Bible wasn’t written by Americans. Or even by folks who thought like Americans.

None of which keeps me from appreciating Sacred Scripture, which is just as well: since understanding the Bible is an important part of being Catholic.

Taking the Bible Seriously

'The Descent of the Modernists,' E. J. Pace. (1922)(From E. J. Pace, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Going to atheism in nine easy steps: according to E. J. Price. (1922))

Within the last month or so, my social media feeds included someone’s assertion that Catholics aren’t allowed to read the Bible.

Another netizen — don’t know if the word’s still in common use — responded before I did, and more briefly than I would have. But making the point I’ll discuss.

I take the Bible seriously, but don’t have America’s old-school faith in ‘Biblical infallibility.’

Since I’m a Catholic, reading and studying Sacred Scripture isn’t an option.

It’s an obligation.

That’s literally Catholicism 101. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 101-133, actually.

And since I’m a Catholic, I must believe that “The inspired books teach the truth….” (Catechism, 107)

But “…the Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book’. Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, ‘not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living.’…” (Catechism, 108)

Being Catholic

New York Public Library's Gutenberg Bible, purchased by James Lenox in 1847.It’s been a few years since I talked about Tradition with a capitol “T,” the Bible and the Magisterium; so here’s an oversimplified sketch.

Basically, our Tradition — capitol “T,” which isn’t trying to live like it’s 1945 — is the oral preaching of the Apostles, passed along for going on two millennia; and Sacred Scriptures, the Bible.

The Magisterium — remember, I said this was an oversimplification — is the Church’s teaching function, that tells us what the Bible and our Tradition mean. (Catechism, 75-95, 101-133, 2033)

As for how I see the Bible, the USCCB’s Understanding the Bible page gives a pretty good overview, including this:

“…Know what the Bible is – and what it isn’t. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with the people he has called to himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation….”
(“Understanding the Bible,” Mary Elizabeth Sperry, USCCB)

Recapping, I’m a Catholic, so I must read and study the bible; and I must accept the deposit of faith we’ve been passing along for two millennia4 — even if that means being out of step with my native culture.

There’s more I could, and maybe should, say about the Bible and being Catholic; but I’ve also got more to say about evolution, science, religion and using my brain.

So Sacred Scripture and my faith will wait until later. Much later, I suspect, since I’ve got two or three other ‘priority’ topics already in the queue.

Ideology, Evolution and Demographics

Branford Clarke's cartoon, from page 21 of Alma White's 'Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty;' Zarephath, New Jersey. (1926)
(From Branford Clarke, Alma White; via Wikimedia Commons; used w/o permission.)
(“Guardians of Liberty” defending their country from people like me. (1926))

I’d be considerably more concerned about America becoming a less “Christian” nation, if my homeland’s notion of “Christian” hadn’t been quite so entangled with the notion that Catholics aren’t Christian.

And if ‘being Christian,’ and a conviction that evolution is ‘unbiblical,’ hadn’t been so thoroughly immersed our politics.5

Ideological partisanship
(2007 and 2019)
% accept evolution
1988
% accept
evolution
2019
Conservative Republican 25 34
Moderate Republican 40 49
Conservative independent 37 41
Liberal independent 65 78
Moderate Democrat 35 53
Liberal Democrat 73 83
(source: “Public acceptance of evolution in the United States, 1985-2020,” Table 2
Jon D. Miller et al., ISR, University of Michigan; Public Understanding of Science (August 2021)

Political slant isn’t the only factor these days. There’s age, for example.

Age % accept evolution
1988
% accept evolution
2019
18-24 54 68
25-34 50 65
55-64 36 45
65 and above 37 45
(source: “Public acceptance of evolution in the United States, 1985-2020,” Table 1
Jon D. Miller et al., ISR, University of Michigan; Public Understanding of Science (August 2021)

If I thought there was a strong link between accepting evolution and the age/politics demographics, then I’d see myself as an age 18-24 liberal Democrat.

Which would be silly. Since I’m not.

Conservative? Liberal? Libertarian?

An online opinion poll result that said I'm a libertarian. Not entirely inaccurate, but not accurate either. (2017)I’ll be 70 next month. I’m not a liberal Democrat, or a conservative Republican. And I’m certainly not a moderate anything.

Assorted online ‘what’s your political stance’ polls told me I’m a liberal, conservative, and libertarian.

The labels make sense, sort of, since each poll engaged with one part of my views.

I’ve been told I’m conservative, and I wouldn’t argue the point: since I’m not even close to being on the same page as today’s establishment.

On the other hand, I shy away from calling myself conservative.

Partly because I grew up in the Sixties. I talked about pigeonholes, politics, songs and patriotism last month. (July 3, 2021)

Moving along.

Romanism, Evolution and Other ‘Threats’

H.E. Fowler's 'Papal Octopus,' featured in Jeremiah J. Crowley's (1913) 'The Pope: Chief of White Slavers High Priest of Intrigue,' p. 430. (1913)Religion and accepting evolution is another slice from America’s demographic pie analyzed by the U. of Michigan study.

They found connections.

Along, I suspect, with a hint at why many ‘good Christian’ Americans are so stalwartly opposed to “Romanism.”

“…evolution is routinely taught in Catholic parochial schools in the United States, and mainstream Protestant denominations similarly accept evolution (Martin, 2010). While not all antievolutionism originates in Fundamentalism and its inerrantism about the Bible, it largely reflects a conservative form of Protestantism with relatively inflexible and inerrantist religious views (Scott, 2009), which we have been calling fundamentalism….”
(“Public acceptance of evolution in the United States, 1985-2020,” Jon D. Miller et al. (August 2021))

Excerpt from Mamma's Girls, Chick Publications, ©2012 by Jack T. Chick LLC; used w/o permission.Not that “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” is effective political rhetoric these days.

On the other hand, I still run across discussions of the ‘whore of Babylon/queen of whores;’ along with alternate histories.6

And that’s yet again another topic.

And I’m wandering off-topic.

Where was I?

Public acceptance of evolution.

Truth, a pope and Ben Franklin.

Genesis and Darwin.

Politics, demographics, “Romanism” and alternate histories.

Right.

So far, I’ve said that I accept evolution because I’m a Catholic; not a fundamentalist. But there’s more to it than that.

Seeking Knowledge, Appreciating God’s Work

USGS/Graham and Newman's geological time spiral: 'A path to the past.' (2008)Since I’m a Catholic, accepting what the Church says makes sense.

That includes beliefs that affect how I see God, this universe and science.

I believe that God is creating a good, orderly, and knowable world. (Genesis 1:31; Psalms 115:3; Catechism, 268, 279, 295)

I think this universe follows knowable physical laws. (Catechism, 32, 299, 301-305; “Gaudium et spes,” 15; Bl. Pope Paul VI (December 7, 1965))

We’re born with a thirst for knowledge. Studying God’s creation can tell us a little about God. (Catechism, 282-289, 299, 301)

And each time we learn something new about this universe, it’s an opportunity to appreciate God’s work. (Catechism, 283, 341)

Seeking knowledge, studying this universe and developing new tools, are part of being human. (Catechism, 2292-2295)

I don’t see a problem with that.

There’s more, much more, I could say about evolution, God and making sense. But I’ll leave most of that for another time.

Accepting a Vast and Ancient Universe

Hubble image of the Westerlund 2 star cluster. (February 2017)I’ll wrap this up with a few quotes.

“…You are addressing the highly complex subject of the evolution of the concept of nature. I will not go into the scientific complexity…. I only want to underline that God and Christ are walking with us and are also present in nature, as the Apostle Paul stated in his discourse at the Areopagus: ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). … He created beings and he let them develop according to the internal laws with which He endowed each one, that they might develop, and reach their fullness….”
(“Inauguration of the bust in honour of Pope Benedict XVI,” Pope Francis, Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (October 27, 2014) [emphasis mine])

“…The place of human beings in the history of this evolving universe, as it has been charted by modern sciences, can only be seen in its complete reality in the light of faith, as a personal history of the engagement of the triune God with creaturely persons….”
(“Human Persons, image of God, Communion and Stewardship, Human Persons Created in the Image of Go,” International Theological Commission, Congregations, Roman Curia (2004))

“…Even more fascinating is the fact that, since the signals from its farthest reaches are transmitted by light which moves at a finite speed, you can ‘see’ back into the remotest past epochs and describe the processes which are going on today….”
(“Message to participants in a study session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences,” Pope St. John Paul II (November 29, 1996)

God and Perceived Discrepancies

Geologic time scale, from Wikibooks: 'High School Earth Science/Relative Ages of Rocks'Finally, an extended version of Pope Leo XIII’s “truth cannot contradict truth.”

He was talking about recent archaeological discoveries. But I think the principle apples to any knowledge that doesn’t fit our preconceived notions.

“…God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures — and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. … Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth….”
(“Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893) [emphasis mine])

That’s all I’ve got for this week, apart from the usual links:


1 Science, politics and yesteryear:

2 Dealing with reality, or not:

3 Ancient lore:

4 An overly-sketchy set of links:

5 Reasons for not missing the ‘good old days:’

6 Assorted weirdness:

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
This entry was posted in being, Catholic, discursive detours, science news and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Thanks for taking time to comment!