The debate regarding the teaching of creationism as an alternative to evolution has recently been re-ignited in the British and American education systems. However, evolution is not the atheistic worldview that it is often thought to be, argues George Coyne SJ. In fact, reflecting on our role in an evolutionary universe can help us to deepen our faith.
Evolution as a scientific explanation of origins is often viewed as atheistic.
It is not.
Science, by its very methodology, is completely neutral with respect to religious considerations. But if one does believe in God, creator of the universe, can scientific knowledge be helpful in supporting and nurturing that belief?
I would like to discuss how a believing scientist like myself views, based on scientific knowledge, the nature of God and the nature of the human being. Such knowledge is basic to any discussion of faith, and I hope such knowledge complements that derived from philosophy and theology. Several criteria exist to determine the veracity of scientific theories, such as predictability, repeatability of experiments, simplicity or economy of explanation. There is, however, a growing awareness among scientists of another criterion: “unifying explanatory power” – not only are the observations at hand explained, but the attempt to understand is also in harmony with all else that we know, even with that which we know outside of the natural sciences.
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This view of the evolutionary universe and our place in it, derived from the sciences and of God’s role in the universe, derived from the reflections of a religious believer upon that same science, may help us in a further understanding of faith. We share in the creativity that God desired the universe to have. I have not spoken above of the spiritual nature of the human being because that cannot be an object of scientific research. But the reflections of a religious believer upon the nature of God and his relationship to the universe bring us to a recognition of our spirituality. Such reflections are themselves an exercise of that spirituality.
Ultimately, reflections upon our scientific knowledge of the universe bring us to a recognition of our role as co-creators, so to speak, in God’s continuous creation of the universe.
George Coyne, SJ, is associate pastor at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. He was formerly director of the Vatican Observatory.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2007 issue of Ignatian Imprints, the magazine of the Maryland Province Jesuits.