EDMONTON — By embracing the theory of evolution, Pope John Paul II became “one of the great heroes in science and religion,” says a University of Alberta professor.
The late pope was one of the most important people in “breaking through the warfare model of science and religion always being in conflict,” Denis Lamoureux, who teaches a course in science and religion at St. Joseph’s College at the university.
Lamoureux heralded Pope John Paul’s 1996 statement that evolution is “more than an hypothesis.”
“In other words, evolution is not a problem. It should be seen as the way God created the world.”
However, he said, “Somehow the message did not get out to the church, to the pews.”
A poll conducted by ABC News in 2004 found that 51 per cent of U.S. Catholics believe the world was created in six days and that Genesis 1 presents a literally accurate account of creation.
What the creation accounts in Genesis actually teach, Lamoureux said, is “big ideas” — that God created the universe and life, that humans are created in God’s image, and that creation is good and we need to care for it.
He spoke Feb. 4 at A Conversation on Catholic Education and Contemporary Secular Society sponsored by St. Joseph’s College and Newman Theological College. People from 20 Catholic colleges or school districts across Alberta attended the event.
The professor, who has doctorates in both biology and theology as well as in dentistry, is the author of several books, including Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes!
His career, he said, has been one of trying to overcome the divide between evolution and creation. In that divide, “You’re either on the evolution side or the creation side; you’re either buying modern science or Christian faith; you either accept God or you reject God; you either accept morality or immorality.
“I cannot tell you how embedded this dichotomy is.”
In fact, he said, there are more than two positions on evolution, and then proceeded to outline five of them, two of which accept both a divine creator and biological evolution.
Lamoureux devoted one chapter of his recent book to “the religious evolution” of Charles Darwin who put forward the theory of evolution in his 1859 book, The Origin of Species.
Darwin, he said, “was not a Darwinist. He was never an atheist.”
Darwin did oppose the prevailing view that the universe was very old, but that each form of life was independently created by God. The evidence, he wrote, accords better with the view that evolution is the result of “the laws impressed on matter by the Creator.”
Lamoureux said Darwin “crushes” the dichotomy between faith and science. He believed in both a personal God and God’s intelligent design of the universe.
Lamoureux presented the gathering with a comment from a course evaluation by a Catholic student who said she was disappointed with the Catholic school system for not teaching the relationship between science and religion.
“This course really helped me to regain faith and see I could be both scientific and religious,” she wrote.
Students, the professor said, come to his class believing that one must choose between evolution and faith, but by the end of the 12-week course, 85 per cent say they have changed their views dramatically.