Does The Theory Of Evolution Contradict The Bible?
No, it doesn’t. Even The Bible Doesn’t Hold The Creation Story To Be Literally True!
But apart from that the Bible outright says that man is beast!
Eccl. 3: 18:
I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
There you are. Some translations add the word like, ‘themselves are like beasts’, but the passage is about the fact that men are going to die, just like animals
Eccl. 3: 20 & 21:
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth [whether] the spirit of the sons of man it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast it goeth downward to the earth?
But hasn’t the Catholic Church opposed Evolution? I suppose, evolution was seen as an attack on faith and the Church has not defended faith well in this situation. However in early times, at least from the fourth century to the thirteenth century there might even have been support for the Theory of Evolution from the Church, if it would not have been brought forth as an attack on faith and the Church.
Here are some extracts from Summa Thologica by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274):
In the section called ‘On the Order of Creation Towards Distinction’ in the article on ‘Whether formlessness of created matter preceded in time its formation?’ St. Thomas Aquinas discussed Gen. 1: 2, ‘And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.’ Who would have thought of the question? Scripture needs to be read carefully. In Gen. 1: 1 ‘God created the heaven and the earth.’ Earth has a form no matter whether one thinks it is flat or round. St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century thought it was round. In his reply to objection 1 St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, ‘The word earth is taken differently in this passage by Augustine (354 to 430), and by other writers. Augustine holds that by the words “earth” and “water,” in this passage primary matter itself is signified on account of its being impossible for Moses to make the idea of such matter intelligible to an ignorant people, except under the similitude of well-known objects.’ What an idea! Well he probably did not think of a big bang from which first elementary particles condensated and then later atoms formed which then congregated into stars etc. probably not, but the important concept here is that he thought that scripture adapts itself to its audience. He thought Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible and he could not explain this concept of primary matter to the ‘ignorant people’. Consequently St. Thomas Aquinas did not think that the creation of the world as described in Genesis is literally true!
This is also in accordance with Prov. 25: 2, ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.’
Also in his definitions of earth and water he took a big step towards our modern definitions of solid and liquid. In the same section he wrote, ‘At the same time it [primary matter] has so far a likeness to earth, in that it is susceptible of form, and to water in its adaptability to a variety of forms.’
The thoughts on astronomy also were not as backwards and aloof from critical questions as today’s people think. In the section ‘On the Work of Adornment; as Regards the Fourth Day [of creation]’ under the subheading ‘As to the production of the lights’ he addressed an objection (number 5), ‘Further, as astronomers say, there are many stars larger than the moon. Therefore the sun and the moon alone are not correctly described as the “two great lights.” (Gen. 1: 16)’ His reply is, ‘As Chrysostom (about 345 to 407) says, the two lights are called great, not so much with regard to their dimensions as to their influence and power. For though the stars be of greater bulk than the moon, yet the influence of the moon is more perceptible to the senses in this lower world. Moreover, as far as the senses are concerned, its apparent size is greater.’ Today astronomers speak of apparent and absolute magnitudes, meaning by the absolute magnitude of a star the brightness it would have as seen from ten parsecs distance away. Did you know that, Dear Reader? Do you know what a parsec is and why it is used? Thomas Aquinas already thought that the influence of the heavenly lights on our senses depends on how close they are to earth!
Now what about evolution. In the section called ‘On the work of the sixth day’ he addressed an objection (number 5), ‘Further, certain animals are generated from putrefaction, which is a kind of corruption. But corruption is repugnant to the first founding of the world. Therefore such animals should not have been produced at that time.’ At St. Thomas Aquinas’ time there was actually something seen as evidence for this view, called spontaneous generation. In those days it was thought that maggots, for example, originate from rotten meat. The fact that flies lay tiny eggs, invisible to the naked eye, into the meat was not known yet. It needs to be remembered that St. Thomas Aquinas lived in the thirteenth century long before Leeuwenhoek (1632 to 1723) invented the microscope. Even after this invention in a setting of pretty modern scientific attitudes it took two hundred years from this invention to the work of Louis Pasteur (1822 to1895) who explained putrefaction.
St. Thomas Aquinas’ reply to the above objection is, ‘Since the generation of one thing is the corruption of another, it was not incompatible with the first formation of things, that from the corruption of the less perfect the more perfect should be generated. Hence animals generated from the corruption of inanimate things, or of plants, may have been generated then.’ Well, he does not say anything about the origin of mankind, but most certainly this is easier to bring into accordance with the theory of evolution than with Genesis and it certainly contradicts the superficial reading of this book, which is quite common again in modern Western society. ‘The generation of one thing is the corruption of another,’ this could be called a mutation these days. Corruption of one thing leads to the generation of another. Most mutations are negative changes and decrease the chance of survival of the mutated individual, but the more perfect is generated from this by a rare coincidental improvement and natural selection. St. Thomas Aquinas even allowed for the creation of new species according to the modern theory of evolution, in saying that animals were generated from inanimate things or from plants! It is most remarkable that in this explanation there is no interference of God involved!
There is only one tiny step to be taken to potential complete acceptance of the theory of evolution and this is the realisation that humans are also animals. Here is a quote from Ecclesiastes 3: 18 to 21, ‘I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?’ Here it is in the Bible, man is beast!
So today’s image of medieval society is completely wrong. The church fathers accepted insights about nature, which we would call science these days, and they brought them into accord with the Bible. There was no restriction on what we would call ‘scientific investigation’ at all. It was still an early stage of science and the hard manual labour that the vast majority of medieval people had to do every day of their lives kept science from progressing faster. The word ‘school’ comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘skole’ which means ‘leisure’. Only people wealthy enough that they could afford not to work could engage in learning and philosophy, the love of wisdom about the natural world just as much as about the wisdom regarding ‘gods’. In everyday medieval life innovations were few and far between, there was no urge to invent new machines. Everybody went along the trodden path (Sunnah in Arabic) following the way of God or the crowd, saying their prayers, giving thanks for the harvests with which God blessed his faithful.