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Evolution, faith co-exist

Use God’s gift of reason to see theory’s strength

As a high school biology teacher with a master’s degree, I have been able to develop a better understanding of what evolution truly means and at the same time, grow as a Christian.

I have had students ask me about evolution and how I felt about the topic. I tell them that I believe in evolution – with “divine guidance.”

I believe that God started it all and that he is still watching over his creation. But I also believe that God gave us the gift of reason and that it’s not a crime to use our minds to explore and theorize the wonders of the universe and nature.

Let us first take the word “theory.” Evolution is still defined as a theory; however, the definition of a theory is perhaps more involved than most people think.

A theory is best defined as “an extremely well-substantiated explanation of some aspects of the natural world that incorporates facts, predictions and tested hypotheses.”

Furthermore, a theory is an explanation of a problem based upon observations and experiments, which gives the term more scientific meaning and significance.

Second, over time, theories can become laws or be discredited. For example, spontaneous generation (life from non-living things in the presence of air) was a very popular belief even in Aristotle’s day (384-322 B.C.). Aristotle thought fish came from muddy river bottoms and insects arose from dung.

It wasn’t until Francis Bacon (1561-1626) proposed the scientific method and stressed the importance of observation that spontaneous generation became a questionable theory. And in 1668, Francesco Redi used a screen-covered jar containing rotten meat to debunk a spontaneous generation idea that maggots came from rotten meat.

It was Louis Pasteur (in 1864) who proved that microbes do not come from broth by creating a flask that caught dust containing microbes, thus leaving the broth uncontaminated with microbes while allowing air to pass into the broth. After Pasteur’s research, the theory of spontaneous generation was discredited, thus ending centuries of misconception.

Third, what defines evolution, and what forms of evidence help support evolution and thus make it more credible and accepted in today’s world? When “Origin of Species” was first published by Charles Darwin, it set the stage to begin investigating genetics and the process of natural selection.

Evolution is associated with organisms that develop beneficial genetic mutations that could allow a species to adapt to its environment. If the species survives, then it can pass on those traits to its offspring, which may in turn develop into a new species.

Today, there is evidence to support evolution, such as fossils, vestigiality, radiometric dating, transitional life forms and kinship similarities. Similarities stretch across and influence all forms of life (i.e., anatomically and genetically).

No one can refute the similarities in bone structure between fish, dogs and humans, or the fact that species such as chimpanzees and humans have a genetic makeup that is 96 percent compatible. Such similarities point to a pattern that we all are related and could be traced to a single organism that developed billions of years ago.

Evolution can be slow and subtle; however, scientists are getting better at understanding evolution with more sophisticated tools. It doesn’t help that some people remain ignorant and stubborn and give false information about evolution.

For example, the idea that humans come from monkeys is not true; otherwise, there would not be monkeys on this planet. Rather, we evolved from a common hominid ancestor millions of years ago that also evolved the other primates. Plus, didn’t you start out as a single cell in a womb?

Extremists say the Earth is only 6,000 years old, not 4.6 billion years old; plus, that Noah’s flood, 4,000 years ago, carved the 1.7 million-year-old Grand Canyon, killed what dinosaurs he couldn’t fit on his boat and somehow industrialized the diversity of humans from Noah’s surviving family (Creation Museum, Petersburg, Ky.).

Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) helped to calculate that the 4.6 billion-year-old Earth was created on Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. at 9 a.m. by literally referencing the Bible. Really?

God gave us an intelligent and reasoning mind so we may better understand evolution, create moral lessons through stories, and not to have ambiguity or fear about how we evolved.

David Butler is a high school biology teacher and a Catholic youth group teacher/leader. If you are interested in submitting a column (750 words or less), send it to Terri Richardson, The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802; fax 461-8893 or email Include your name, religious organization and phone number. For more information, call 461-8304.