Why Jews and Roman Catholics aren’t upset over evolution | VailDaily.com

Why Jews and Roman Catholics aren’t upset over evolution

Rev. Jack Van Ens

Conservative Christians, usually led by the Southern Baptist Convention and other rabid Christian fundamentalist churches, continue to attack evolution. Both in Kansas and Georgia, those upset over evolution are adamant that public school students must share their apprehension.The best-selling biology textbook used in our nation’s high schools is “Biology.” A Brown University professor, Ken Miller, wrote it. He regularly attends Mass. Miller reads the two creation narratives at the beginning of Genesis and spots nothing that undercuts his Roman Catholic faith. He recognizes in the biology text he wrote that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution neither denies God’s existence nor contradicts His creative wonder as portrayed in the opening to Genesis.Up-in-arms Christians who think evolution is of the Devil want to plaster stickers on Miller’s textbook that warn students: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”These critics twist the meaning of “theory” to buttress their case against evolution. When a person has his head in the clouds, we may dismiss his silly wisps of nonsense as “too theoretical.” We mean that this person spins wacky ideas that have no anchor to what’s factual and real. “Merely a theory,” we say dismissively.Science uses “theory” in an entirely different way. Students taking geometry must memorize theorems, a cognate to the word “theory.” Theorems are neither guesses nor outlandish surmises. They serve as bedrock facts. When critics of evolution dismiss it as “merely a theory,” they refuse to admit that scientific theory is of an entirely different order. Scientists repeatedly test hypotheses in laboratories. They use these tests to substantiate the facts upon which their experiments show to be true.What’s curious is that neither Roman Catholics nor Jews get riled about evolution. They read pretty much the same Genesis as conservative Christians who reject evolution. Why don’t Roman Catholics get angry over Darwin? Besides, most Roman Catholics hold a high view of the Bible as God’s Word. They interpret it conservatively.One reason is that Roman Catholics respect biblical scholars like Pope John Paul II who does not read Genesis in order to discover a scientific explanation for human origins. Pope John Paul II in 1996 wrote a very clear letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He endorsed the scientific theory of evolution, stating that the idea is compatible with Christian faith. For the Pope, evolution also complements the non-negotiable Christian conviction that creation is God’s work.In his Oct. 23, 1996, message to the Pontifical Academy of Science, the Pope said he believed in a physical evolution of humanity and other species through natural selection and heredity adaptation. My solution to educating Southern Baptists who slap warning stickers on biology textbooks is to suggest they send their children to Roman Catholic parochial schools. What piques my interest even more is that I have never read any rabbi’s consternation over evolution. The Jews have studied the Genesis creation sagas much longer than any Christian community. It is part of their sacred Torah.Perhaps Christian fundamentalists who think evolution denies God’s creative power should sit at the feet of rabbinical scholars. They might learn to unlearn what their literal interpretations of the Bible make them believe.We know that the poet who penned the first creation story in Genesis 1 was familiar with the ancient Babylonian stories of how the world began. The Babylonian stories told of two forces, Marduk and Tiamat, one good and the other bad. Creation, believed the Babylonian storytellers, is laced with creativity and chaos. Neither really holds the upper hand.The biblical poet took this story and edited it, like you might take a short story that is not that short and reduce it to a crisp re-telling. What the Bible teaches is that God’s creativity towers over chaos. Creation is good, the biblical writer has God gladly announcing over and over again. The two creation narratives in the first two chapters of Genesis do not tell readers how the world began. Rather, the Bible’s punch line is that God began the world. The emphasis is not about human origins but upon a God who rules over chaos.This conviction that God’s creative power wins over chaos cannot be proved. Christians accept it as hopeful fact by faith. “By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear” (Hebrews 11:3).Jewish rabbis know that imaginative stories give an inkling of God’s creative power. Hassidic rabbis in Eastern Europe tell of God whose heart aches over creation’s rupture. When man and woman were booted out of the Garden of Eden, never to return to perfection again, God whispered a secret to them. He did not share with them a secret of how they or the world began. Why, can we begin to even imagine it? The mystery of how life began is God’s alone to know.What God whispered to man and woman, bent over by sin, was the secret of how to begin again. This hopeful message in Genesis is tonic for those wearied by chaos. Let Southern Baptists and Christian fundamentalists print this on their stickers.The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado

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