Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge

Faith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge

The Catholic Church has been more open to the theory of evolution than many other Christian denominations. In the past century they’ve been extremely cautious about making definitive statements about the science of evolution, perhaps largely due to the blowback from their errors in dealing with Galileo centuries ago. However, the Catholic Church has clearly spelled out some theological parameters that influence how we think about evolution. Among them, God is the creator of all things, God created from nothing (creation ex nihilo), Adam and Eve really existed, we all descend from them rather than from a larger group of people, Adam and Eve sinned, and the Fall (original sin) is “inherited” by everyone. Many Catholic theologians and thinkers have tried to reconcile evolution with their faith, usually by jettisoning Adam and Eve and original sin, and sometimes even rejecting inerrancy and the teaching magisterium of the church.

Faith, Science, and Reason is one of the rare Catholic sources that tries to reconcile evolution while remaining faithful to all that the Church teaches. Readers will have to be the judge as to how successfully it accomplishes this task. The book is intended to be used as an upper level high school text, but I suspect that many college students and adults investigating the topic as I have done will find this one of the most helpful books available. Also, there is not yet an answer key for the questions at the end of each chapter. While an answer key might eventually be available, this is a nuisance that might dissuade teachers who want to use it as a classroom text. Those using it with teens should probably wait until junior or senior year since the reader should have a foundational grounding in both faith and biological science before reading it. According to the publisher, some teachers purchase the text to use as a resource book rather than as a text for the entire class. This seems a sensible option at this time.

The book itself is beautiful. It is hardbound with high quality paper and gorgeous, full-color illustrations throughout. Despite its large “footprint” (slightly larger than 8.5” x 11”), the print text to be read takes up only two-thirds of each page width with illustrations and sidebars consuming the other third. The font is relatively large, so the amount of actual reading is very manageable.

The book is divided into three sections with a number of chapters in each section. The first section, “A Friendly Reunion: The Relationship between Natural Science and Supernatural Faith,” lays the groundwork. The first two chapters address the relationship between faith and science, establishing their intersection and the fact that they cannot contradict one another. The author, Dr. Christopher Baglow challenges the atheist reductionist view of scientific atheism (or scientism) that claims that only what science can discover and study can be true. Atheists sometimes claim that science operates in one realm of “truth” while religion operates in a totally separate realm. Baglow shows that, on the contrary, science and religion intersect because the “Christian faith considers facts as having value and meaning” (p. 29). In the second chapter, Baglow also addresses the other “extreme,” the “scientific creationist” who insists on a literal translation of the first chapter of Genesis despite evidence to the contrary such as the contradictory creation account in chapter two.

Chapter three explores the relationship between modern science and the biblical accounts of creation from the perspective of a Catholic approach to sacred Scripture. Chapter four corrects the mistaken impression many people have that the church has always been in conflict with science. Baglow presents the truth of history which proves that the church and many of its representatives have instead served as the patrons, proponents, and innovative leaders in scientific investigation and discovery. Chapter five stresses the importance of metaphysics for understanding the unity between science and faith.

Part Two of the book, “God and Science: The Credibility of the Creator,” encompasses chapters six through eight. Here Baglow deals with proofs for the existence of God. While many of us have encountered these arguments presented in a logical form, rarely do we find them presented with stories and illustrations as we find here. I like the way he presents the concept of beauty as an argument for God through the story of the Russian atheist Sergei Bulgakov who eventually became a great philosopher and theologian.

The final chapter in the second section explores Darwin and his theory, including what Baglow describes as “misunderstandings and misinterpretations” of evolution by both believers and atheists. This chapter starts to become problematic in my opinion. Baglow presents a very brief summary of the evidence for evolution including the fossil record, comparative anatomy (e.g., homologous structures), biogeography (geographical distribution of life forms over time), and genetics. With barely more than a listing of each point, he presents these as evidence. I would have appreciated further discussion of this evidence as well as counterevidence such as the Cambrian explosion which undermines the idea that the fossil record supports evolution. It seems to me that Baglow too easily accepts the “idols of evolution” as fact.

He dismisses the problem of life arising from non-life—something for which evolutionists have no evidence or even a possible mechanism—by saying, “Even extremely small chances that are effectively zero can work out through Divine Providence. God…can predetermine that a ‘vanishingly small’ possibility such as life emerging naturally from non-living matter will happen—not through a miracle, but through the natural potential he gave to his creation to bring about life” (p 187). This sort of reasoning appears from time to time. While Baglow stresses that evolution is a natural process that doesn’t require divine intervention, at the same time he explains away problems with what has to be divine intervention to overcome mathematical impossibility.

The third part of the book, “In His Image: Human Personhood and Modern Science,” tackles the thorniest issues about the creation of man, the nature of man, and the theological problems that arise regarding Adam and Eve and original sin if they evolved. He deals briefly with hominids and evolutionary descent, but it seems to me that he is missing some of the most current genetic evidence showing that man is not descended directly from hominids.

In chapter 11, he proposes a possible explanation that incorporates both evolution and church teaching. However, I think this is where Baglow is on the shakiest ground. He says things such as, “In the case of Adam and Eve, a tiny evolutionary change could have made a major difference in mental capability and enabled them to receive souls from God” (p. 256). First of all, it’s hard to conceive of any “tiny evolutionary change” that could have raised man to the point where he becomes a rationale, self-reflective creature with language capability, and then, whatever that change was, it would have had to happen to both Adam and Eve simultaneously. Baglow does grant that his proposal is only speculative and should not be mistaken for church teaching. Given that caution, it does provide food for thought that might lead someone to a better explanation.

I have to credit Dr. Baglow for his courage in writing this book. Clearly he has given a great deal of thought and research to the issues involved. I applaud his faithfulness to church teaching given his penchant to accept evolution as a fairly well proven theory. While, in the end I remain unconvinced that biological evolution is a satisfactory explanation for the existence of life, I found this to be the most balanced and helpful Catholic resource I have found on the subject.

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Faith, Science, and Reason Theology on the Cutting Edge

Faith, Science, and Reason Theology on the Cutting Edge
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Instant Key

  • Grade Level: grade 12
  • Suitable For: independent study
  • Religious Perspective: Catholic
  • Special Audience: adults

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