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What You Absolutely Need to Understand About Evolution

The other day I eagerly hopped out of bed, accepted the cup of dark coffee from my dear husband, and headed to our yard to clean out the flower beds. We have just moved from a twenty-acre property with a lodge in the Adirondacks of New York to a little lake community in East Texas. I have unpacked all the boxes and arranged the interior of our new home just so, all items neatly in their place. The yard work was the long-anticipated finale to a cross-country relocation. We have dreamed of the day we could survey our new home from the porch and sigh with relief that the work was done. So, coffee consumed, Mr. T mowed grass, and I snipped the dead stuff.

By evening we were relaxing with satisfaction in our teak rockers, sipping drinks of another variety, and admiring our handiwork. I was thinking: a passerby would not conclude that our yard is the product of random chance. Mr. T and I used our God-given powers of intellect and will to decide how we wanted our place to look, and we worked our muscles sore to make it happen.

In contrast, there is a plot of wooded land right behind our home with white pines as tall as the ones in the Adirondacks, something I insisted on because I need to live where there are trees. However, I am certain no one will walk by that piece of land—assorted branches from post oaks and pines scattered in the bushes where they have fallen, pine needles and sweet-gum balls covering the ground, musty decomposition wafting through, and lines of wood shooting to the sky, some wide, some skinny, some angled, some covered in ivy—and call it designed. The wooded lot would be called random, a product of chance, evolved to its present state by the forces of nature, beautiful in its own way but definitely not designed in the same way as the patches and rows of lilies, crepe myrtles, climbing roses, and azaleas that bejewel our yard.

Nature is creation

Nevertheless, a Christian who prays the Creed will easily understand that when we say we believe in “God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth,” we mean everything. You don’t have to be a Thomistic scholar to know that nature is part of creation. Even a kindergartener can grasp that God made the trees, the flowers, the dirt, the sun, the bugs, the animals, and us people. The difference in our designed landscape and the unkempt woodland is the intervention of human hands.

That’s why I was thinking. I am a chemist by training, and as a Catholic I frequently write about evolution, which garners a critical response from people who want to set me straight about the “Darwinian crisis.” This opposition perplexes me, because I think of evolution as fundamentally nothing more than atoms and molecules, organized into physical systems, doing their thing. I’ve seen molecules self-organize, and I find it mind-blowing to think that even the tiniest organism is a profound orchestration of matter and energy. I don’t see how anyone can look at a periodic table and doubt there is a designer.

In the dialogue among Christians, though, I notice a false dichotomy. Evolution is spoken of as the unproven belief that all living matter was created by the unguided process of natural selection and random mutations. Likewise, the origin of life from inanimate matter, such as from chemical precursors in primordial soup, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, or out in the panspermic cosmos, is deemed implausible because such theories assume that life happened by chance, devoid of any participating intelligence.

Therefore, Christians (some, not all) think that evolution and chemical abiogenesis must be proven untrue to prove the opposite, that God had an intervening hand in creation. The choice for a Christian, so it is purported, is either nature or creation.

But it’s not like that, is it? Nature is creation. The Christian God is not some deity who was just minding his business one day, tripped over this mess we call nature, and decided to arrange things to his liking. Our God is not a gardener pruning his azaleas. No, he is God almighty, creator of heaven and earth down to every last electron and quark, holding everything that exists in existence. He is existence itself. This assumption that we must choose between nature (unguided, random, chance) and creation (designed) is the result of myopia when people anthropomorphize God. It is, well, to miss the forest for the trees. The solution, however, is easy.

Pray the Creed, and mean it

If we can profess that Jesus Christ, our Lord, was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, was buried, descended to the dead, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead, then we have nothing to fear in any scientific theory about how matter and energy evolve over time. If God can resurrect the body and grant life everlasting, then he surely can design the material of the universe to become all it is meant to be. To believe anything less of him is heresy.

Hence, that evening on the porch I came to the same conclusion I always do, expressed a bit differently with the yard work on my mind. The number-one thing to get straight about evolution and chance is to simply pray the Creed and mean it. If you are confident that God created the climbing roses as well as the molding debris, the carbon dioxide as well as the tree trunk, the person as well as all the diversity of flora and fauna, the elements as well as the angels, then it never, ever should concern a Christian if scientists propose how biological diversity might have evolved.

Jesus said that the truth will set you free (John 8:32), and that’s exactly what I’m talking about. The truth is that there is no absolute randomness or chance in a universe created and held in existence by God. And presto! The false dichotomy is gone. By focusing on disproving evolution, Christians stir up a crisis of their own making. We should be evangelizing through science, showing others how the ubiquitous order and beauty in creation enriches faith and points beyond the physical realm.

After all, the creativity and rationality that inspires Mr. T and me to move things around and fix up our home—and inspires all our neighbors to form a community, citizens to form nations, and, yes, scientists to form theories—was granted because we are made in God’s image and likeness, co-creators. The flower beds may be my design whereas the woodland is not, but all creation, both natural and supernatural, is the handiwork of God.

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