February Meeting Summary: Sr. Betty McAdams, OSU
For our February meeting, we explored the complex topic of Catholicism and Anthropology with our speaker Sr. Betty McAdams, OSU, who holds advanced degrees in both subjects. During her talk, Sr. McAdams mainly focused on a subject that, among some circles, can cause contention: evolution. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about evolution in church and society,” she said. When interpreted correctly, however, the scientific and theological aspects of evolution can go together.
What is Evolution?
Contrary to common misconceptions, evolution is much more than just saying we “came from monkeys” or “survival of the fittest.” Rather, the straight definition is “a change in the genetic structure of a population.” “Humans came to Earth 2.5 million years ago and have gone through a cycle of adaptation and change in form, brain, and body structure,” explained Sr. McAdams. And while opponents often dismiss evolution as just a theory, “a theory is more than an opinion,” said Sr. McAdams, “it is well proven, and tested.”
Fundamentalism and Literal Interpretation of the Bible
According to Sr. McAdams, one of the main reasons why people have religious objections to evolution is because they “don’t understand how to interpret the Bible.” Since the early 19th century, there has been a rise of “Fundamentalist,” literal readings of the Bible. “They do not recognize literary genre,” said Sr. McAdams. “They think everything in the Bible is historical writing.” This is why Fundamentalists believe that the first chapter of Genesis should be taught as a scientific fact (ie, Scientific Creationism). A similar idea, Intelligent Design, tries to present itself as a “middleway,” but it is also flawed, for it does not take the theory of evolution into account.
Catholics and Contextual Interpretation of the Bible
Overall, the Catholic church has advocated a “contextual” interpretation of the Bible, one that takes history, culture, linguistics, and anthropology into account. Pope Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu encouraged the study of the Bible in its original language:
[T]extual criticism … [is] quite rightly employed in the case of the Sacred Books … Let the interpreter then, with all care and without neglecting any light derived from recent research, endeavor to determine the peculiar character and circumstances of the sacred writer, the age in which he lived, the sources written or oral to which he had recourse and the forms of expression he employed.
Thus, while a fundamental interpretation would see Genesis 1 as historical and scientific fact, a contextual interpretation would study the patterns that occur in the text (ie, God’s actions each day), it’s similarity/disimilarity to other creation stories of the time (ie, Enuma Elis and Gilgamesh), as well as the literary form (ie, poetic). What we learn about Genesis from this interpretation is the importance of the Sabbath and the fact that the universe was created by one, benevolent, priestly author. Unlike the other creation stories of the time, the one told in Genesis describes a theology of goodness, a world that was not created out of chaos or a war between multiple gods. As one can see, this is completely different from a scientific theory.
To help distinguish science from theology, we can look to the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. “We are very lucky to have a Magisterium that is well educated and uses experts to decide our teachings,” said Sr. McAdams.
Catholicism and Evolution
Through an enlightened reading of the scriptures, one can see that evolution and Catholicism are not necessarily at odds. Pope John Paul II believed that Catholics could embrace the theory of evolution without having to accept an atheistic outlook on the world. Rather, he felt that evolution can help us understand the “cosmic Christology” of the universe. Throughout time, the entire universe has always been silently shaped by God, and science can help us gain a richer understanding of this. “We have to look at what science has to teach us and meld it with our faith,” said McAdams.
To view more photos from our Supper & Speaker event, visit our Flickr page here.