Can someone brief me on what the Theory of Evolution is about and its stance vs Church teaching? I know some Catholics believe Catholicism and Evolution are compatible, and I may be along that line too because God can create the world via science. But I just find it hard to believe we evolved from apes.
As far as I know, natural evolution is perfectly compatible with Church teaching so long as you acknowledge God as the initial creator of everything, and also that the soul is not a product of evolution - every human soul is directly created by God regardless of the natural processes that may or may not have caused the physical body to appear a certain way. The Church tends to leave explaining the natural world to science, unless it begins to impose on moral matters or matters of faith and revelation. So for the most part, you’re free to believe relatively whatever you want when it comes to science, in most cases.
As for evolution itself, we have observed small scale evolution, its clear that its a real thing. As for larger scale evolution, I’m not really educated enough to give a detailed critique or defense. I tend to believe it, but as I believe God is the ultimate source of all life regardless, it doesn’t bother me either way.
A less important side-note: The theory suggests humans didn’t quite evolve from apes as we know them today - we shared a common ancestor.
Humanity has evolved to having information technology, as the Pope (Francis) stated is a gift from God (we are to use it properly). This is a major change from only having demonstrated the spiritual version of connecting to others in the universe within the past. Humanity has changed together, and will continue to do so as we are given more gifts from God.
Evolution is the phenomenon of allele drift over time. What is an allele? My example will be oversimplified, but let’s say that there is a gene for eye color. For that gene, there could be the blue eye allele, the brown eye allele, the hazel eye allele, the green eye allele, and perhaps more. The gene is the location/what it controls, and the allele are all the variants that fit into that slot. An example of allele drift would be if in the year 1900, 80% of the population had brown eyes and 20% had blue eyes, and then in the year 2,000 only 70% had brown eyes and 30% had blue eyes. There is a change in the frequency of the brown and blue eye alleles in a population over 100 years. That is allele drift. It doesn’t occur in an individual, but in a population. The allele frequency in the example above is different in the ancestor population from 1900 than it is in the descendant population in 2000.
Evolution isn’t any different from this, but instead of one gene, consider we have millions. We tend to use the word “evolution” when there have been significant allele drifts such that if we compared the ancestor population to the descendant population a million years later (or five or ten or a hundred million years), we might be dealing with two populations that look and behave significantly different. In fact, if they look different enough, or if there have been significant changes in behavior, or if certain mutations in prior ancestors which were once rare are then distributed more widely by allele drift, we might call them different species. That is just a man-made category to designate the difference (a giraffe is obviously a different thing than an elm tree, but our genus species designations are man-made categories to try to capture these differences). Consider also: perhaps you have one ancestor population, and then the continents drift apart such that the ones living on one side have no interaction with the ones living on the other, the allele drift in one population can be different than the allele drift in the other, such that they take different divergent paths in the alleles that affect their phenotypes. Other factors that could isolate the two are, for example, a mountain range rising up over millions of years, and one side of the mountain range catches all the rain, and the other side has its rain clouds blocked by the mountains, making the environments on either side become different.
Allele drift has random factors to it (meiosis cell division, which sperm fertilizes the egg, etc…), and in large populations random chance tends to even out and allele frequencies tend to remain fairly steady. When the sample size is smaller, one could see fast swings caused by the randomness.
New stresses can also cause significant allele drift, not because it’s changing the individual, but because the stress might be harder on some of the population than others. Those who are more stressed are less likely to be successful having as many children as those better able to cope, meaning that those better able to cope will be responsible for more of the descendants in later generations, which can cause allele drift. Even sex appeal can be a factor. (In addition to just alleles, an odd mutation in chromosome or gene structure could be passed on if it didn’t kill or significantly harm the health of its bearer, and the frequency of that in a population over time could also change.)
Keep in mind that niches change. There might be a population of mice suited to eating berries. But if a disease devastates the berries, the mice will begin to starve. Those who only eat berries may start to die out, while those that occasionally ate nuts might be better off as they, in hunger, begin to eat more nuts. Furthermore, some of the mice might be able to digest nuts better than other mice, and these mice are more likely to be healthier, the others sicklier, and the healthier mice will likely have more success having and raising young, shifting the bell curve of alleles in the population again. Or maybe the mice will just go extinct if they can’t eat nuts at all and can’t find berries.
These are oversimplified scenarios. Envrironments change. Climates change. Predators change. Food sources change. All kinds of factors that can impact the survival rate and hurt some more than others.
You might also in history have two populations that split from an anscestor population and have no interaction for awhile, then get back together, then go apart again, then come back together. Sometimes it’s a clean split. Sometimes not.
The Church does not dogmatically consider the creation narrative in Genesis to be an absolutely literal history. It permits acceptance of evolution with a few caveats, as there are some theological truths we are not at liberty to brush aside. The Church does affirm the Fall as a primeval event involving a first true man and first true woman (with rational souls) disobeying God. The details in Genesis may be symbolic or told in a mythological style. Maybe the garden wasn’t a literal garden but a representation that everything was right between God and Man. Maybe the forbidden fruit and the eating of it represents the temptation and the act. But there was a historical event that was the Fall, and we believe all true men and women claim descent from Adam and Eve and inherit original sin from them.
The “complication” in evolution is that the scientific data does not support just two human beings only, but a larger population of more primitive organisms in which there was allele drift over time until the population resembled modern man. The Church teaches that we can’t view the fall as being a population event, but an event between two humans and that all true humans that have ever lived can claim descent from Adam and Eve.
Are these absolutely incompatible? I say no, if we make certain distinctions. We can’t know for certain, but what if the human population evolved as described above as highly intelligent animals but lacking human rationality, and Adam and Eve were the first two humans to have rational souls, but they were biologically similar enough to the other “pre-humans” (biologically the same but lacking rationality), and the descendants of Adam and Eve mated with this population, and their children also had rational souls? You could have Adam and Eve conceived with rational souls and growing up among the others. Or even a more traditional route, a human population did evolve as described above, then God formed Adam from clay in their biological image but also in God’s image by giving him a rational soul, then made Eve from Adam’s rib, and they were set aside in some special garden, and then after the fall Adam and Eve were put into the normal world, where their descendants mated with the biologically similar population as described above, and all those descended from Adam and Eve (even in mixes with the non-rational population) were born with rational souls.
Neither is empirically testable, true, but we might expect to see a change in ancestor human behavior in anthropological study. A grasping of abstract thought, language, etc… And note that if only one or two people had this ability we might not see any evidence. It would only be when there were enough humans making the types of things we’d expect to find and also luck preserving this evidence over the millenia that we’d be able to find evidence, so the trait could have been dispersed over many generations prior to when the evidence for abstract thought is dated in history. Anyway, these are only possible models which show how theological truths may be reconciled with the current evolutionary model and that they are not absolutely mutually exclusive.