March 28, 2011
BR. JOACHIM OSTERMANN, OFM
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

Often, I am asked whether I believe in evolution or whether evolution is a fact. These are complicated questions, but most who ask them expect a clear and simple answer. So I have learned to simply say "yes, evolution is a fact."

However, I quite disagree with those who think that evolution is the answer to all there is to ask about life. Evolution is a theory of something, but not everything.

When I say evolution is a fact, it is not because I misunderstand the nature of scientific knowledge. A fact is something that actually happened.

When I say that evolution is a fact, I say, for example, that human beings as we know them today are much younger than the earth and derived, like all forms of life, from earlier kinds of living beings.

I say that we are of fairly recent origin, maybe 200,000 years old on a planet that has carried life for billions of years.

I say that our species came into existence through accumulation of genetic changes in an earlier and now extinct species.

This earlier species would have been more similar to what are today's apes than today's humans. All these things, I consider to be facts.

Scientific doubt in evolution as the general mechanism of the origin of species has become impossible. We can directly compare, letter by letter, the DNA of chimpanzees and humans, and we find only very subtle changes. We can easily see how the differences that we find can come about by gradual accumulation of one change at a time.

Further research will refine our understanding of how this happened. Human beings have a capacity for language that is entirely unique. It is made possible by subtle changes in genes that give us the anatomical features to express highly complex sounds.

Human beings also have a unique capacity for consciousness and self-awareness. This too, is made possible by subtle changes in genes causing anatomical changes in the human brain. Very slowly, by this interplay between refined communication and becoming aware of oneself as one person amongst others, the mental capacities of modern humans developed.

As this evolutionary process continued, human beings became something entirely different: the only species on this planet that is open to receive and understand God's word. We became capable to respond in love to the love of God.

GOD RULES

Evolution is not a theory of everything, but it is a theory of something. If anything, it should make us more aware of the fact that we are created and entirely dependent on God.

It shows how we live as one species amongst many; it shows that we are quite literally brothers and sisters of all creatures.

It allows us to see the dignity of all created beings as part of a larger creation. And it calls us to respond with wonder to the beauty and potential of this creation.

SUCH VARIETY

The mechanism by which the possibilities of creation unfolded is, indeed, random change and reproductive advantage.

God appears to have given a lot of licence to his creation to develop in various ways, but there is an overall direction of development.

The emergence of intelligent beings in creation - capable of looking at creation as a whole and receptive to the understanding of why they exist - looks like a very meaningful development to me. It shows God's desire for creation to bring forth beings in his own image, or capable of responding to his love.

(This article was originally published on Brother Joachim's online blog where he writes about science and religion: brotherjoachim.blogspot.com)