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Reconciling Evolution and Religion

by Elizabeth Owers | University of Notre Dame

F Posted in: Sports and Culture, Voices P Posted on: May 29, 2012
headshot elizabeth owers Elizabeth Owers

Recently Richard Leakey, a prominent paleoanthropologist, predicted that the debate over evolution will soon be over. He believes that within the next few years, the already plentiful scientific evidence will have reached a conclusion that even cynics cannot ignore: life on Earth came to be through the evolution of organisms.

While many view evolution as standing in opposition to religion, I believe that the two can coexist. Neither strict creationism nor atheistic evolutionism can provide a complete explanation for the world we know today, but it is possible to come to a conclusion that satisfies both scientific evidence and religious faith.

As a science major, I’m inclined to agree with Leakey’s assertion. My biology class completed a unit on evolution this semester, and even the relatively limited scope of material we covered shows that it is most likely the correct theory. The fossil record alone provides virtually incontrovertible evidence, and there are developmental and genetic links between species that could only make sense if we are all descended from a common ancestor. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if my children study creationism the same way we study geocentrism — as a once-prevalent theory that has been disproved by scientific developments.

Yet since the time of Darwin, it has been almost impossible to discuss evolution without addressing the role of religion. Often, it seems as though the two are mutually exclusive. Theoretically, evolution explains how the universe came to be without the need for a creator. This belief, of course, is antithetical to most major religions, which state that there is a God who created us. How, then, is it possible to accept both evolution and religion?

My solution, and that of many others, is to view evolution as a mechanism by which God works in creation. The changes that allowed life to progress from a single-celled organism in a poisonous ocean to the multitude of species we see today were incredibly precise; it is hard to imagine that they occurred without the influence of a higher power. The human body itself is amazingly complex, and while the mechanisms that allow it to function arose through a series of genetic mutations, I take this complexity as proof that there must be a God. Further, it must be a God who cares deeply about his creation if he has allowed it to develop to such an extent. As new scientific discoveries provide further proof for evolution, I believe they also provide further proof for the majesty of the Creator.

Of course, science and religion do not completely overlap. Religion cannot explain why an alkene reacts with an acid, and science cannot prove the existence of the soul. Yet evolution is one area in which, when viewed in the proper light, science and religion are complementary, each serving to reinforce the principles of the other. As Pope John Paul II said, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” I hope that as science advances, evolution doesn’t introduce doubt or turn people away from their faith, but rather strengthens their belief in a powerful God.

Elizabeth Owers Elizabeth Owers Elizabeth Owers is a Voices Contributor from New Orleans, Louisiana. A sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, she is majoring in pre-medical studies with a minor in Catholic social tradition.

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