"In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the Earth, the Earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.
Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light Evening came, and morning followed the first day Thus the heavens and the Earth and all their array were completed. Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested Such is the story of the heavens and the Earth at their creation."
Genesis 1, 2
As children we were initiated into life through stories, through sacred stories such as the Genesis story at left. Our parents read to us from the Bible or told us from memory, stories about how the world came into being, how things came to be as they are, how we humans fit into the greater scheme of things and where everything is going. We heard these stories explained in school and in church. We colored them with crayons, sang them in songs and prayed them in our rituals.
Thomas Berry suggests that this is how it has always been with humans. From the time our ancient ancestors first tamed fire, people gathered around to tell each other stories, and even though these stories differed from time to time and place to place, they all fed the hunger we humans have to know about who we are, where we come from and where we are going.
As Christians, our sacred creation stories – our sacred cosmological myths – are to be found primarily in the Book of Genesis, and it would be difficult to overstate the impact that these biblical stories have had on our thinking and on the thinking and institutions of western civilization. This was illustrated by a recent Gallup poll inquiring about the origins of human life that found almost half of Americans today believe that human beings did not evolve, but were created by God in their present form, and at one time, within the last 10,000 years.
It is so important for us Christians to understand that religious stories, religious myths such as the Genesis story of creation, teach religious truths. They are not literally true. The Genesis story is not a historical or scientific account of the creation of the world. We now know that the world was not created in seven days. Thanks to our microscopes and telescopes, we know today what our ancestors could never have known, namely, that the universe burst into being (the Big Bang) some 14 billion years ago, and over these billions and billions of years has evolved from pure energy, to matter, to life, to conscious life and on to self-reflexive consciousness in the human species, and the marvelous thing is, this universe story – this creation story - continues as the universe itself continues to evolve and unfold.
For me as a Christian, for me as a Catholic, there is no conflict between the Genesis story that I learned as a child and evolution, because the religious truth that these sacred stories are trying to convey is that God, or that creative, mysterious power that pervades and penetrates the cosmos, is at the heart of this stupendous, unfolding process and has been from the very beginning.
The story of evolution is revealing things about the nature of reality and the nature of the universe that we have never known before, and so, it is imperative that we, as people of faith, learn about it. The story of evolution does not contradict the basic truths of our Christian faith. Rather, for me, it opens up their deeper meanings and unlocks their prophetic potential.
Sister Mimi Maloney SNJM is a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. She is also a member of Earth Care Catholics and the Interfaith Works Earth Stewardship Committee.
Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.