Questions about evolution and origins

I have come back to the faith for about a year now and while I am incredibly thankful, I still seem to struggle with the same questions of faith. It’s as though no matter what my thoughts are it always boils down to this: the origins of humans. These questions are the ones I just can’t seem to get answers to, so I would love to hear what the catholic forum world has to say.

  1. If evolution is true (which I think there is strong evidence for) and species evolve in populations, how do we fit original sin?
  2. Everything appears to be random in nature. Space, Meteors, natural selection, even humans. If this is true, this means souls would be nonexistent. How can I look at this randomness differently?
  3. Waste. Dinosaurs? Giant extinct sea animals? Why would God create waste that seems to not serve a purpose?
  4. How can I look at human consciousness as intentional? It would seem like our ability to reason and have philosophical discourse could purely be from an evolved state of the brain where the question of “why” doesnt really matter and it could just be “how.”

Along with any answers, I would love any kind of recommendation on bringing together science and faith or philosophy and faith. Books, websites, documentaries, organizations, etc. My questions are genuine and I am really looking for truth. It feels like I’ll never fully “believe.” Thank you and God bless

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May I recommend this web site as a start. Then bring any further questions you may have. I really enjoyed this site.

https://www.thomisticevolution.org/

You might really enjoy Modern Physics and Ancient Faith by Stephen Barr

To the point of original sin, I reconcile it with evolution by assuming the first sin happened as soon as self-consciousness evolved. Say Adam and Eve were in a state of simple consciousness, and sometimes Adam would just walk up and take apples from Eve. He was bigger and stronger and just did it because he could. There was no ill intent. Then at some point he realized that what he was doing was hurtful to her, and chose to do it anyway. I’m not saying I believe this is specifically how sin came into the world, but it does illustrate how it might fit in with evolution.

As to the appearances of randomness, they are only random from our perspective. If you picture the history of the world from God’s perspective you might see it spinning like a top, with rocks being carved out by rivers then eroding into smoothness over millions of years. Why all the apparent chaos and variety? Why not? God has a whole universe at His disposal…he’s gonna use it :slight_smile:

If it’s any consolation, I don’t think anyone “fully believes” in this life, which is why the man with the sick son said in the gospel, “Lord, I believe…help my unbelief.” Our faith will always have room to grow.

That all been said, the fact that you care about these questions seems to me to be a sign of the Holy Spirit working in you.

Interesting questions, OP. I’ve struggled a little bit myself on the issue in my younger days as I bought into the erroneous belief that science and religion are antithetical somehow; like matter vs. antimatter. I used to be an atheist from middle school until high school, when I realized that science couldn’t adequately explain the origins of life and thus began my spiritual search.

I see science as the description of God’s Creation as it runs without divine, demonic or human intervention. God designed the Universe to run along rational and predictable lines. Otherwise: There would be no chance for the development of human life in a chaotic and unstable Universe.

Religion describes the supernatural aspects of God’s Universe and our relationship with the divine.

As for evolution; I believe it happened according to how science describes it. That everything evolved as conditions arose and changed with God as the First Cause setting everything in motion. That humans evolved into fully conscious and self aware beings; with The Fall taken as an allegory for the evolution of consciousness and our loss of innocence as we no longer unthinkingly followed our instincts.

As Catholics, we are told to believe that humans evolved from one ancestor, Adam (which simply means “man”). When people talk about “evolution” they assume all scientists believe exactly the same things about evolution. That’s not true. Some scientists believe mankind began with one person, which is logical since if there was some mutation, a group does not all get the same mutation at once. An individual has a mutation, just as an individual commits sin. And if he passes this mutation on to his descendants…it doesn’t take long. And the current thinking is that there was a bottleneck in the human population c. 70-75,000 years ago, perhaps reducing the population to about 10,000. And yes, this is all theoretical, but the point is that at least one school of evolutionary scientists are very comfortable with a single human (‘Adam’ if you like) being the ancestor of all mankind.

You could approach this in a variety of ways. First, what would stop God from programming randomness into the universe and natural laws? After all, our lives are a series of pretty random events, and nobody thinks twice about that. God can work indirectly, and from the overwhelming evidence we see around us, that is generally how God works. Second, you could argue that what appears to us today to be random, is, in fact, not random at all. Fractals are everywhere in nature. It wasn’t long ago we all thought they were random. Now we know they follow mathematical laws. So they’re not random at all. It’s possible that a lot of things we think are random today will eventually be proven to be not random at all.

Waste? Is a beautiful sunset a “waste”? What is the “purpose” of the Mona Lisa? People are hung up on “purpose.” Why can’t something just “be”?

This of course is a key question. Is consciousness a product of various chemical reactions in our brains, or is there something metaphysical happening–a ‘soul’ if you like? We’re still wondering, with Descartes, about this dualism. The Church tells us that God had a purpose and intention with creation. Again, there’s no reason to see a contradiction between that and science, even a science that believes in chemical reactions rather than a ‘soul’ because by definition a ‘soul’ would be outside of science’s concern, which is the material world. And once again, why wouldn’t God work indirectly?

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Beat me to it. Will answer most of the OP’s questions.

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God designed the universe (including the laws of nature) so that order could arise from chaos. Isn’t that awesome?

Look on it as part of a larger plan. Dinosaurs ruled for a time because the earth was not yet ready for humans.

Just as order arises from chaos, also higher levels of order emerge from lower levels. It’s all part of God’s amazing plan. First, atoms formed molecules. Then small molecules formed larger molecules. These then formed living matter – surely one of God’s greatest inventions. Then evolution – yet another of His greatest inventions – made living things that worked better in different circumstances.

Animals had to wait until the atmosphere had enough oxygen, which took about 2 billion years worth of photosynthesis. The Lord is very patient! This made possible simple animals, then animals with sensory organs and neural networks to regulate their movement. Fast forward to social animals, with nonverbal communication (and deception), authority, cooperation, and care of the young and needy.

Then a social animal emerged which could comprehend good and evil. Was that the prerequisite for original sin? Then came reputation, justice, law, forgiveness, and love. It was around this time that God revealed himself to his latest creation.

All good questions. And good replies. But I would struggle to explain the waste.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Hubble Extreme Deep Field experiment. NASA wanted to get the telescope to look back as far as possible. So they picked a tiny portion of the sky (about the size of a pencil point held at arms length) which appeared to be empty. And every time Hubble’s orbit was in tbe right place, they poined it this spot for a few seconds. This went on for ten years and we ended up with an exposure time of 23 days.

And they discovered well over 5,000 galaxies. In an area of around one thirty two millionth of the sky. The ‘least populated’ area of the sky. And when you consider that each galaxy has billions of stars and each star may well have a dozen or so planets. And each planet may well have a few moons, then there is a lot of real estate out there.

And we are now only considering the observable universe. What is beyond what we can see and can never access may well be infinite.

So our ‘home’ is like a galaxy sized house built for one person. You are only going to live in a few rooms and you are never going to be able to get to the rooms at the periphery. And every room at the periphery has a door which leads to an infinite number of other rooms but which you cannot open even if you could get there.

If someone could explain that in a way that makes some sense, I’d appreciate it.

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I have to say I’ve always admired your (Bradskii) posts, and this one is no exception. The two things I would add is that the universe we see doesn’t even include dark matter and dark energy, which are apparently greater than the visible universe. And then of course if you want to go back further to matter and anti-matter, they basically annihilated each other at the beginning of the universe except for a tiny bit of matter that became our universe. So vastness upon vastness.

Leaving the question of God aside, I don’t think you can attribute “purpose” to the universe, although a lot of scientists still talk about “why” things happen–see Daniel Dennett for that one. But I don’t think “why” is an appropriate question; “how” is.

If you add God to the equation, then it’s back to Isaiah 55: 8-9: " For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways." In other words, it’s pretty futile to think that you can understand the thoughts and ways of God. God may know “why,” but we don’t, and it’s probably a waste of time and energy to try to figure it out.

Finally, some personal thoughts about randomness and chance. Darren Brown (see Youtube) has a lot of clips where he fools people into thinking they are seeing random events unfold that are, in fact, carefully choreographed by Brown. And we have all had coincidences in our lives. I used to teach in the Middle East, and every summer we would vacation in Europe. Inevitably, we would meet other teachers from the university: once at the city gates in Canterbury, once in the cisterns in Istanbul, once at the Tower of London, etc. What are the odds? Pretty good, actually. If we would be able to recognized say 200 other teachers, they were all on vacation at the same time, and most went to Europe, and most went to the same places. Fifty-some years ago I went to England. I was watching a cricket match in a park in London, and some guy came along and explained some of the rules. A week later, I was at Deal Castle on the coast. As I was getting back into my car, who do you think drove up? The guy who had explained cricket to me in London the week before. And one of my favorite coincidences was in Saudi Arabia. We moved into a new house on campus, and who do you think lived next door? Some guy my spouse had gone to junior high with and hadn’t seen since. So coincidences are all over the place–and those are just the ones I’ve noticed. I’m sure that there have been many more chance encounters I simply didn’t notice. So the idea of randomness in the universe is not so odd.

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Evolution is incomplete. The Church does not accept every aspect. Note the reference to the encyclical Humani Generis in the following:

“64. Pope John Paul II stated some years ago that “new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge”(“Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Evolution”1996). In continuity with previous twentieth century papal teaching on evolution (especially Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis ), the Holy Father’s message acknowledges that there are “several theories of evolution” that are “materialist, reductionist and spiritualist” and thus incompatible with the Catholic faith. It follows that the message of Pope John Paul II cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe. Mainly concerned with evolution as it “involves the question of man,” however, Pope John Paul’s message is specifically critical of materialistic theories of human origins and insists on the relevance of philosophy and theology for an adequate understanding of the “ontological leap” to the human which cannot be explained in purely scientific terms. The Church’s interest in evolution thus focuses particularly on “the conception of man” who, as created in the image of God, “cannot be subordinated as a pure means or instrument either to the species or to society.” As a person created in the image of God, he is capable of forming relationships of communion with other persons and with the triune God, as well as of exercising sovereignty and stewardship in the created universe. The implication of these remarks is that theories of evolution and of the origin of the universe possess particular theological interest when they touch on the doctrines of the creation ex nihilo and the creation of man in the image of God.”

I could, but at the moment I don’t have the time. Sorry. Dang, so close to finding the answer, and it turns out the person who has it is busy. Life can be so wickedly cruel. :grinning:

Google the paper “Science, Theology, and Monogenes is” is by Kenneth Kemp. It’s an interesting proposal.

I’m not sure how this logic follows. Why wouldn’t we have souls? The natural processes are random in a sense, true, but at the same time nothing is separated from God as its ultimate origin.

Not sure I see the issue. They all played their roles in creation history. Why say it’s waste?

What do you mean by intentional? As in intended by God or do you mean it in the technical sense used by philosophers of the mind?

I think you’d be interested in a Thomist approach towards philosophy of nature. There’s plenty of reference materials out there. I could recommend “Aristotle’s Revenge” by Edward Feser. It’s a book on Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Science. It can be read as a standalone but it’s intended as a follow up to his book “Scholastic Metaphysics”. If you aren’t already familiar with some Thomism the book may still help but it may seem like he’s assuming some things with how quickly he moves through them (things he covered in Scholastic Metaphysics)

Not entirely sure what you are saying here. It appears that this presupposes that our Earth is the only planet inhabited by intelligent (or sentient, or sapient, whichever version you accept) life. If that was not your intent, then sorry. Another interpretation is that we are simply isolated by the cosmic speed limit and so can never reach the rest of the house, or at most a small portion surrounding our own room. In either case, a potential reason could be that God created many more species than us. Consider the first part of John 14:2 - “In my father’s house there are many rooms…” and use your own description of a galaxy-sized house, or extend it to a universe-sized house. Perhaps the isolation is the point; we are supposed to grow and develop apart from others until we are ready to graduate and meet the neighbors. In Heaven? Not for me to say.

Love the coincidence stories. And I’m something of a Dennet fan. And love the Derryn Brown shows. The fact that he can show how easily we believe something if we want it to be true strikes a chord (find it here: https://arandomstreamofconsciousness.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/derren-brown-astrology-horoscope-experiment/).

And the Isaiah quote is really the only answer to the question I posed. But one I don’t really accept.

If there was only what was described in Genesis then I might well be a believer. But then I have heard the argument that the vastness of the universe is there for us to glory in God’s handiwork. Which sounds a bit Look-What-I-Can-Do for me. We’re just ‘a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark’ to use Sagan’s words. That it could be suggested that we are special in some way always makes me smile.

Lucky certainly. But never special.

And how about we add time as well to the distances and sizes mentioned earlier. You are probably aware of the analogy of the Big Bang happening on January 1st and man appearing sometime late in the evening of December 31st. And Jesus about 5 seconds before midnight.

Can anyone seriously suggest that in another year’s time, assuming we can last that long, we will still be following religions exactly as we are now? That we would even be what we would describe as human? In the image of God? Or make that just one month - which is the time it took to go from the first appearance of multicellular life to Yo Yo Ma.

Religion seems so small to me.

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Very true. But I’ll be here when you find the time.

Or consider the same idea of isolation, but apply it not to us, but to me alone. I’m the only one in this reality, and I’ll meet the others when I’m ready.

Might make for a great sci-fi short story, but not a very convincing philosophical argument.

You don’t think that religions would have to drastically rearrange their relationship with whatever god in which they believed?

It might be interesting to discuss the Catholic line on morality with an intelligent insect from another galaxy.

There is no evidence of intelligent alien life.

Red pill or blue?

I warned Techno about making comments that might leave him open to sarcastic remarks that would not reflect well upon his position.

I’m going to pass on this opportunity as I did on the last.

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