Creeping Creationism in Latin America?

faith_reason“An important function of theology is that of keeping religion linked to reason, and reason, to religion. Both these functions are of essential importance to humanity. . . [T]here exist pathologies of religion and – not less dangerous – pathologies of reason. Each has a need of the other, and to keep them continually connected is one of the tasks of theology.” — Pope Benedict XVI

I have previously written about the startingly high degree of ignorance in the United States of both science and theology. This lack of knowledge has led to a misconception that there is somehow a conflict between science and religion. One of the many reasons I am a Catholic is that Catholicism had a 2,000 year old tradition of believing that faith and reason are inseparable. As Pope John Paul II stated in his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart the desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that by knowing and loving God, men and women can come to the fullness of the truth about themselves”

God loves good science

God loves good science

Drawing on this long tradition, in recent times Catholic Church has supported science in this symbiotic relationship between faith and reason from its hosting a conference on Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life (including the denial of speaking engagements to promoters of creationism and intelligent design) to being a strong advocate of being good stewards of the environment by addressing climate change. Mainstream Protestants and Evangelicals also support these causes. One of the better web-based resources for the relationship between faith and science is the BioLogos Foundation, which was founded by Francis Collins, the current head of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and former leader of the Human Genome Project. Collins is also the author of the best-selling book The Language of God (It is worth noting that despite impeccable scientific credentials, Collins’ nomination to the NIH was opposed by the radical atheists such as Sam Harris, revealing both their intellectual bankruptcy and bigoted agenda).

Recently, BioLogos had an article that belief in anti-evolutionary creationism is starting to rise in Latin America:

 Concerns about the range of scientific literacy in America have been making headlines since the early part of the 20th century, and in classrooms and courtrooms across the United States, controversy continues to erupt over whether our textbooks should include material on creation or evolution or a mix of both. While our conversations about science and faith frequently refer to the concerns of American evangelicals about evolution and the old age of the earth, the influence of anti-evolutionists extends beyond our borders—biblical concordism is becoming a more and more popular view in the developing world, and concerns are rising about the effect these views could have on science education in places other than the United States.

In early June, we helped send evolutionary biologist Steve Roels to the Third World Summit on Evolution, convened in the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador, as an ambassador for BioLogos. The conference was designed as a showcase for cutting edge evolutionary science by Latin American academics, and several prominent scientists from other regions of the world, including a Nobel laureate, were invited as speakers as well.

* * *

Latin American scientists at the meeting regularly discussed the need for improved scientific literacy in their countries and more effective outreach to increase acceptance of evolutionary biology. More than one speaker was alarmed at the growing influence conservative religious groups have in framing public discussion of evolution. For many years, it seems that the conflict over evolution in the United States was regarded by international academics as a curiosity, but scientists are now very interested in opposing outspoken creationist groups that are starting to appear in their own countries.

While it is still true that most Latin American countries are predominately Catholic (and that the Catholic Church is “pro-evolution”), missionaries from other religious groups skeptical of evolution (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists) have been very successful and their ideas are gaining traction in several areas of Latin America. However, the skepticism with which Dr. Paz-y-Miño-C’s ideas were received suggests that Latin American academics, even professed agnostics and atheists, are looking for a more constructive and conciliatory strategy when it comes to addressing creationist voices in their society.

Biological evolution is currently the best scientific theory of how life formed on this planet. It is possible that will be another theory that better fits the data. But for now evolution is not only the best explanation of the scientific data, it provides amazing insights as to the nature of God and supports a God that is far more wonderful, majestic and amazing that the God creationists believe in. Christians who deny biological evolution are making a mockery of Christianity. As St. Augustine said 1,600 years ago:

“It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an unbeliever to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics [the literal interpretation of Genesis] and we should take all means to present such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up a Christian’s vast ignorance and laugh it to scorn”.

It is unfortunate that the anti-evolutionary “curiosity” in the United States is starting to spread to other parts of the world. I am especially surprised that it is gaining steam in Latin America given the high education levels of the region and the historical influence of the Catholic Church. Hopefully this separation of faith from reason will not spread and I appreciate the efforts of the Catholic Church and organizations such as the BioLogos Foundation to promote the harmony of faith and science.

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog (www.teilhard.com) explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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12 Responses to Creeping Creationism in Latin America?

  1. I believe the disharmony between faith and science has been the cause of many folks to reject Christianity entirely. They think we believe in fairy tales… and can you blame them? We close the door on reason as soon as we close the door on considering cultural context and the metaphoric teaching of the Bible and insist on reading it literally. Thank you for this most informative post!

    • I absolutely agree. Christianity has an exceptionally rich intellectual tradition and a long history of supporting science (indeed Christianity gave birth to modern science). Christianity has a wonderful message to share, primarily because it is the best explanation of the nature of reality and the nature of the human being. We should use all available evidence, especially science as that is a common language with non-believers, to promote our message.

      Here are some additional thoughts on the subject of using science and reason to promote faith. First, is an interesting study by M.I.T. on the compatability of Christian positions and science and demonstrated that the vast majority of all Christian denominations had strong harmony but that a small minority of anti-intellectual Christians were getting the attention According to the survey “the main divide in the U.S. origins debate isn’t between science and religion, but between a small fundamentalist minority and mainstream religious communities who embrace science.”

      A second blogpost is from a great article by Stephen Bullivant who had an article in America Magazine titled “Are Christian Believers Encouraging Mockery of Their Own Beliefs” which emphasized the same point you made.

      Thank you again for your excellent comments.

      Peace,
      W. Ockham

  2. A very well thought-out article.

  3. opreach says:

    Excellent! Thank you for sharing.

  4. Lynda says:

    I visit a young woman in my parish who has cancer and she is very conflicted because she believes that God and science or faith and science are at opposite poles. I have been encouraging her to follow the path that the doctors have outlined but she believes that this is showing her lack of faith in God to heal her. She is a very intelligent Catholic woman who has been misled at some point and I pray that she will soon find her way to following the correct path to health. I don’t say that there are no miraculous healings but I have advised her that God has given medical science to the world for a good reason. It is concerning to know that this kind of thinking is attributed to faith in God. Thanks for this post.

    • Hi Lynda,

      I will be praying for your friend.

      I am reminded of the story of the man who had a house and a big flood came. A police officer came to his house telling him to evacuate because the floodwaters were rising. The man replied: “I am staying here, God will save me.”

      The waters continued to rise past the first floor of his home and a few hours later a fire fighter came in a boat telling the man to evacuate because the floodwaters were rising. The man again replied “I am staying here, God will save me.”

      The waters continued to rise until the man had to climb on the roof because his house was completely underwater. A Coast Guard helicopter came and told the man to climb up the rope to the helicopter as this was his last chance to escape the floodwaters. The man replied a third time “I am staying here, God will save me.”

      The man eventually drowned. When he met God in heaven he was quite angry. “I had faith in you to save me and yet you let me drown. Why”?

      God replied: “I sent you a police officer, a boat and a helicopter.”

      • Lynda says:

        I have heard various renditions of that story you shared and it illustrates a great truth.
        Thank you for your prayers. I appreciate knowing that others are praying for her. Blessings.

  5. Recently I am have a problem with posting comments on other blogs. I just want to check whether my comments are termed as spam by Akismet.

    • Hi Jefferson, thank you for the heads up. Your comment was caught in the spam filter. I really appreciate your visiting and commenting on my blog. You have a tremendous site and I appreciate learning from your in-depth scholarship.

  6. Here in TN, they have taken steps though new legislation to allow creationism back into the classroom. This law turns the clock back nearly 100 years here in the seemingly unprogressive South and is simply embarrassing. There is no argument against the Theory of Evolution other than that of religious doctrine. The Monkey Law only opens the door for fanatic Christianity to creep its way back into our classrooms. You can see my visual response as a Tennessean to this absurd law on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/04/pulpit-in-classroom-biblical-agenda-in.html with some evolutionary art and a little bit of simple logic.

  7. James Wathen says:

    I must admit, I’m no scientist. However, I have recently encountered signifiant scientific information which contradicts your way of thinking. Therefore, I must respectfully disagree. There is much evidence against evolution, and a “millions of years” much less a “billions of years” creation event, to say the least. By describing anti-evolutionary Christians as being without reason, you are assuming that the evidence presented is a closed case, and this is sad to say the least. There is a burgeoning movement within the United States and abroad that both supports Science and a young Earth, or a literal-six-day Creation. What Christians need to do is decide if the current interpretation of data by an otherwise overwhelmingly anti-theist scientific community is the correct interpretation of the data collected. I would suggest looking into the Creation Science Movement in the UK, the Institute for Creation Research in the U.S., or the excellent Creation Ministries International, which I believe started in Australia, but has planted organizations in numerous countries around the world.

    • James, thank you for your comment. I am not a scientist either so I have no special qualifications in this area. I look at the evidence that is presented by the scientific community. I also recognize that, as you correctly point out, that there are significant elements of the scientific community that are hostile to religion (although that view is far from universal). With those caveats, the overwhelming consensus is that the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old, the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old and biological evolution is the best description of how life developed on Earth.

      As evangelical Christian, former head of the human genome project and current head of NIH, Francis Collins says:

      “Darwin’s framework of variation and natural selection is unquestionably correct. Universal common descent by natural processes is scientifically non‐negotiable. The theory of neo‐Darwinian evolution cannot rationally be doubted by any educated person.”

      This view is supported by other religious scientists such as physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne and geologist and Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin.

      I have previously looked at the resources you mention and do not find them convincing. Moreover, while the scientific accuracy of biological evolution does not directly impact the core on my Christian beliefs, I find the beauty of evolution enriches my faith life as it provides additional evidence that there is a Creator, there is a purposeful direction and meaning to life and that ultimately all things will be reconciled in Christ.

      Here are some excellent resources on the topic:

      Biologos Foundation
      Vatican Conference on Evolution and Emergence of Human Being

      Peace,
      W. Ockham

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