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September 22, 2008

And God Saw That It Was Good

As both a scientist and a Christian, I appreciated “Teaching Evolution,” by Paul Cottle (9/15). But there are several important theological aspects of the debate that he and other Christian apologists for evolution seem to ignore.

First, a basic tenet of evolution is that individual species (and life itself) came into being through purely natural processes without any supernatural intervention. If this is so, what foundation does God have for a relationship with humans—or any other living thing?

Second, if God is not the creator of humanity, then what is the basis for the coming of Christ to save humanity from sins that are the consequence of natural selection, as opposed to sins against the Creator’s law? And if God is not the creator of humanity, what is the basis for Christians (or any faith group) to give God praise, loyalty or obedience?

David A. Johnson

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Out of Chaos

Thanks to Paul Cottle for his efforts to work with both sides on the issue of evolution. The Catholic Church has spoken in favor of evolution, but it has not explained the theory adequately from the church’s position. It would be a help if the church explained evolution in a way that could be accepted by non-Catholics, non-Christians and even nonbelievers.

The church could explain that evolution does not account for how the material universe began. It addresses only speciation—the individuation of species of living organisms.

Order is found throughout the material universe at every level, from subatomic particles to galaxies, from inanimate objects to living creatures. It is an order that is biased toward belief, and it is anything but random and chaotic.

As a former atheist, I was astounded when I read the first chapter of Genesis, because the order of creation it describes so closely parallels what science has found. How could people 3,000 years ago have had such intuitive insight?

Daisy Swadesh

Farmington, N.M.

Strange Bedfellows

Re “Teaching Evolution,” by Paul Cottle (9/15): I teach adults and help train catechists through my parish’s adult initiation program. It is always a shock to the adults in the program to learn that the Catholic Church does not oppose the teaching of evolution. This is just one example of how, by dividing the country into “believers” and “nonbelievers” through an “us versus them” ideology, the evangelical movement has forced its beliefs onto the culture of “believers.”

The church in the United States is in great need of adult education in the faith, and Catholics need to reinvest in Catholic education—and not just for those who can afford it. Otherwise church teachings will continue to be eroded, not just by humanists, but by other Christians.

Harriet Villalpando

Elsa, Tex.

Artificial Creation

Paul Cottle makes a powerful and well-reasoned argument in “Teaching Evolution.” I have a firm belief in God and his mighty hand in my life, but I see no conflict between faith in God and evolution.

Similar debates raged hundreds of years ago, when Galileo proposed a heliocentric view of the world. Then also the religious establishment felt threatened, because the proposal seemed at odds with literal interpretations of some isolated parts of Scripture. I am very proud of the Catholic Church for having learned from that debate and for now taking the enlightened stance that there is no conflict between evolution, its own teachings and faith in general.

God gave us the ability to reason. So where is the conflict? It is just an artificial creation by insecure people.

Gerry Meisels

Tampa, Fla.

Source of Scandal

While I applaud Paul Cottle’s efforts on behalf of the teaching of evolutionary theory, I am sympathetic to many of those who oppose this practice. I am reminded of my first seminary Scripture class back in 1966, when my classmates and I were scandalized by the professor’s assertion that many of the biblical events we had come to understand as historical facts were actually “myths” and “metaphors.” While most of us made the necessary emotional adjustments as we progressed in our studies, some never did recover from the impact of modern biblical criticism.

While popes may wish to dismiss any problem with the acceptance of the broad brush strokes of Darwin’s theory, they cannot possibly speak for rank-and-file Catholics who hear the following when evolutionary theory is espoused: God did not create everything out of nothing, and human beings are not soul-filled creatures who descended from our first parents, but are just another species of the apes from which we evolved.

I believe that faith can be reconciled with natural selection, but most every believer with half a mind knows that many people—including scientists—have used Darwin’s theory as a justification for dismissing God as neither a designer nor a creator.

(Rev.) Jack Feehily

Moore, Okla.

On the Other Hand…

I support nearly all of what Paul Cottle writes in “Teaching Evolution.” As a fellow member of the Florida Standards Committee, I can verify the facts Cottle presents regarding the development of the new science standards. One matter of opinion on which we might disagree is the assertion that faith and science need not be antithetical. As a Catholic believer, Cottle supports that assertion, while as a “freethinker” I see a problem where children are concerned.

In much religious teaching (some might say indoctrination), children are taught to believe rather than question the doctrine handed to them. Unlike science, where an inquiring attitude or habit of mind is encouraged, most religious teaching fails to encourage in-quiry, and in some cases it is considered a sin to question the word of God or his helpers.

It is in this sense that I disagree with the assertion that faith and science need not be antithetical. One of the difficulties in discussions concerning religion is the wide variety of definitions of religion and God. Given Albert Einstein’s definition of God as the beauty of nature, including nature’s law, the assertion that science and religion need not be antithetical is far less of a problem. But few believers want such a limited, impersonal God.

I agree, however, that overall, Cottle’s position as outlined in “Teaching Evolution” is a pragmatic one that is more likely to be supported by most citizens than my own position.

Ron Good

Tallahassee, Fla.

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