Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Catholicism & Evolution

Father John J. Lombardi 

"But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear" Mt. 13:16

Whatever you learned about evolution in grade school, did you ever think it might be illogical, dishonest and unscientific?

Two funny evolutionary stories before the serious stuff: My friend, Bernie, a devout (holy, not stale!) Catholic, once asked a scientist-friend, a Where-did-the-universe-come-from type question: "If a bomb goes off in a junkyard, can it make a Mercedes Benz?" The Catholic scientist replied, "No. But maybe if you explode enough bombs…" The question can also apply to evolution.

Another holy and funny Catholic, Martin "Skip" Barry, once quipped: "If we evolved from apes, how come the apes didn't evolve like us?"

Enough of the comedians; now for the clarifiers. One scientist, Christian convert, and now-famous advocate of biblical creation, Phillip Johnson, thinks evolution is illogical, dishonest and unscientific. He's a religious radical at a once-radical school-University of California at Berkley. (See his famous book, Darwin on Trial, which began the whole process; see also his new one, The Wedge of Truth.)

Perhaps you have wondered about evolution-which proposes that man and animals have developed and perfected themselves over time from simple creatures into complex ones. This occurs by "natural selection" (nature altering itself), and by a "survival of the fittest" (only the versatile live). Creationists believe God originally began the evolutionary process and then sat back to allow things to unfold. Atheistic evolutionists deny God altogether in such a complex process. Although evolution has never been empirically demonstrated (i.e., via direct experience or observation, which are key components of the scientific endeavor), it is widely accepted as scientific fact. (Pardonez moi: Have you ever seen a monkey turn into a human?).

But some are questioning it with rigorous reason and intellectual respect. They are proposing an alternative-"Intelligent Design," which states that the beautiful and infinite complexity of a human being could not evolve by chance or natural causes, but can only come from an Intelligent Designer-God. What to make of all this?

One of the key points Mr. Johnson questions is evolutionary mechanism. This concept might be understood as an unseen diving board, which actively projects a dry person (the simple creature or a bacteria cell) into a pool of evolving life, making it wet. It is now a complex creature, i.e. an animal or human. But the evolutionary diving board-the mechanism-has never been found or seen working. Thus, the mechanism of evolution is accepted without any scientific evidence, without any simple creatures being observed becoming complex ones.

Mr. Johnson is a shrewd quester of truth and questioner of so-called evolutionary truth. In the following comments, this religious radical helps us (Touchstone, June 2002):

Phillip Johnson: Darwin was unsure about the origins of life, but he also made the initial speculation about life evolving in a warm little pond. The whole Darwinist method was immediately extended to include the origin of life. Darwinism is the methodology of philosophical materialism. Maybe physicalism would be a better term, given that Darwin didn't develop every last inch of the philosophy…It was immensely interesting to discover that it's all circular reasoning, deception, and pseudo-science. I had suspected that, but I saw that it was really true. It is a pseudo-science that simply works for confirming examples of materialistic philosophical system that's held up by a priori grids.

Interviewer: You have said there is no natural explanation for the rise of genetic information. How important is that question in the debate?

Johnson: The Wedge of Truth is all about those issues. The scientific key is, "No natural processes create genetic information." As soon as we get that out, there's only one way the debate can go because Darwinists aren't going to come up with a mechanism. They'll start out talking about the peppered moth, and…and other nonsense, which is just covering up ignorance. Genetic information is the issue, but it isn't the final issue. After you make that breakthrough, then you see other ways in which the theory is questionable. Darwinists will say, "Oh, well, maybe the mechanism has some problems, but the 'fact of evolution' - common ancestry - is not in question. We distinguish the fact of evolution from the mechanism of evolution."

But that's the bogus distinction because the "fact" - common ancestry - incorporates the mechanism. It's just a matter of "now you see it, now you don't." They are saying the mechanism by which a father and mother give birth to children is the same mechanism by which our "bacterial ancestors" gave birth to human beings.

Biologists affiliated with the Intelligent Design movement nail down the distinction by showing that DNA mutations do not create evolution in any significant sense. Instead, they make birth defects, so the whole thing is false from the get-go. There is no way you can establish that a bacterium is the parent of a complex animal. There is no mechanism to make the change, no historical or fossil evidence that such a change ever occurred, and there's no way to duplicate the process in a lab."


  1. The early Fathers of the Church believed the literal accounts of the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis (chapters 1 & 2)-that God directly made them from nothing, without needing or using evolution. Catholics can believe the same, along with a long tradition of the Church. Yet, Catholics and Christians are permitted to believe in the possibility of evolution (with the provisions noted below).
  2. Pope John Paul has said it is probably better, in light of contemporary scientific advances, to speak of "theories of evolution" rather than one, single explanation. New York Times reporter John Wilford seemed to affirm this when he wrote about new quandaries presented by the finding of a jawbone allegedly 7 million years old, which "Suggest[s] an evolutionary complexity and diversity in human origins that seem[s] to defy description by the simplified family trees of the past." (New York Times, July 10, 2002).

    Catholics are free to believe in a theistic evolution, if:
    1. God is seen as directly creating and infusing the soul of Adam and Eve;
    2. Adam & Eve are seen as historical, individual human beings-and not as a "symbol" or group of peoples, which is "polygenism," ("many origins"), which was condemned by Pope Pius XII in 1950; and
    3. the evolutionary scheme does not deny Original Sin.
  1. We should be thankful to, and support, scientists like Phillip Johnson for both giving us the courage and intellectual ammo to question evolution and for providing alternatives to it-Intelligent Design.

"Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light." (Fr. Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky)

Think about it

A recent article in the New York Times, was sub-headlined with these words: "When it comes to teaching kids about sex, a little ambiguity makes a lot of sense….Mixed messages don't always confuse people." The writer goes on to condone fornication (sex outside marriage). Today, ambiguity is in; clarity is out. For Christians who believe in commandments (not suggestions), clarity is compassion. The clearness of moral and spiritual truths are not harmful or oppressive. Yes, they are challenging because God knows we can get endlessly confused and confounded, especially in today's relativism. Jesus Christ was clear on adultery (Jn. 8:11), materialism (Lk. 14:33) and radical purification of sinful practices (5:24), precisely because He loved us. Biblically, the two descriptors-clarity and compassion-go together. When you're clear on the issues of sexual co-habitation or materialistic pursuits, you are compassionate (Rm 12: 2).

Quotes of the Week

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of education derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "Press On" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." (Anonymous)

"We have seen the children of the first Intifada become suicide bombers…You only have to wait and see these children of today, what kind of horror they will bring to the world." (New York Times Magazine, June 30, 2002)

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi