I was a really opinionated teen – and like a lot of us, I thought I knew everything when I was 14.
So when my ninth grade biology class got to a section on evolution, I had some THOUGHTS.
I grew up Catholic, and while I received consistent faith formation, I clearly had a lot left to learn about theology and faith and what we believe. With my very limited theological understanding and all the fervor of a kid who thinks they know the world, I was ready for a fight when I discovered we’d be learning about evolution.
And then that fight in me dissipated after a simple statement from my biology teacher. She remarked on how some people might find the study of evolution controversial, and then explained that we weren’t about to examine the truth of creation. Those questions are about who created the world and for what purpose. Instead, she explained we’d be studying the scientific truths of biology. And those questions are about how the created world works.
In short, she was saying that even though faith and science are both ways to seek and perceive truth about our world, they answer different questions. Science allows us to search for a “how.” Faith allows us to search for a “Who.” And when she put it that way, well, there wasn’t much to fight about.
Things can be true in different ways. A simple math calculation can prove to me that 2+2=4. I can measure and quantify and prove that truth. But I also know that my mother loves me. I can’t prove that truth in the same way — I can’t measure or quantify that love — but I’m just as certain that it is true. And I’ve learned that I shouldn’t expect the tools of science to be able to describe both of these kinds of truths.
And so began a discovery that’s continued for me to this day. Contrary to the beliefs I held as a teenager, I’ve discovered that my appreciation for science in fact strengthens — and is strengthened by — my faith.
It’s an old belief, often held by scientists and faithful people alike, that faith and science must somehow conflict — that if you’re faithful, your belief comes at the expense and denial of science. Or, if you dedicate your life to the study of science and proclaim its goodness, you’re denying God.
In my own experience, learning how the world works through the study of chemistry, biology, and physics does not conflict with my faith — embracing these truths of the universe is part of it. If I believe that God created the world and all its inhabitants, then part of that belief is that God grounds the realities that allow it to exist. Science is simply a way of uncovering those natural laws.
Being a Catholic doesn’t mean I ascribe to some magical, unrealistic view that the universe was created with a sprinkling of pixie dust. It means I believe God is the source of all things in the universe, and that we can witness and study the mechanisms by which He created this world and the beings within it.
Knowing the chemical reactions that spark electricity doesn’t take away from the light that Christ brings to the world. Understanding the biological reality of how humans are formed and made doesn’t take away from the dignity of human life. In fact, understanding the intricacies of the world and all the moments and reactions that have to go just right for any of our lives to be possible gives me a greater appreciation and awe for the One who created the world this way.