A Rational, Religious Mind
Alex Knapp summarizes the reason why many Christians reject the science of evolution:
For some Christians, evolution would, if true, completely shatter the doctrine of Original Sin. After all, if humans evolved, then there wasn’t an Adam, there wasn’t a Garden of Eden, and there wasn’t a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If that’s the case, these Christians believe, then there wasn’t a Fall and there wasn’t a reason for Christ to be crucified. Thus, in their minds, evolution is completely incompatible with Christian teachings.
As Alex notes, not all Christians think this way. Some approach the story of Adam more as figurative myth than as literal history. That’s pretty close to my take. Others reject the doctrine of original sin. I’m personally dubious of its traditional formulation. The Roman Catholic response has been to acknowledge the insights from evolutionary theory while maintaining something of a literal reading of the Adamic narratives. As recently as 1950, the pope, then Pius XII, had this to say:
For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.
You’ll notice that Pius treated an alleged historical-biological fact as an article of faith: Catholics must believe in a literal Adam from whom all humanity takes its origin. He also maintained that original sin passes through generation, thus grounding a theological claim in a biological one. As far as I know, the magisterium has not repudiated these assertions in Pius’s encyclical letter. The phrase “now it is in no way apparent” leaves room for a change, however, as it could, to the Church’s mind, become apparent that science rules out the possibility of all humanity originating from a single individual. The Catholic Church is, at least in theory, open to reforming its theology and doctrine in light of scientific conclusions.
I can’t speak for my coreligionists, but, personally, I wish they’d break the bad habit of making supposedly authoritative scientific truth claims from the standpoints of theological orthodoxy and devotion to doctrine. The religious mind–which conceives the world in terms of myth, mystery, ritual and wonder–has its own value apart from the rational endeavors of the scientists and the philosophers. The religious mind seeks a unique truth, even when its truth discloses a reality also pursued in other disciplines. Its methods of inquiry and verification are different than those of science and philosophy. Let them dialogue, but let’s not confuse them. Because each has its own truth to offer, religious faith and reason have much to say to one another. In my opinion, we benefit from listening to both and from cultivating a mind informed by both religiosity and reason.
Speaking of a rational, religious mind, my son, who’s five, complained to me this past Sunday about having to go to church. He asked why we had to go, and I told him that God asked us to gather with others to celebrate the Mass. His response: “Well, I didn’t hear him.” I imagine some religiously-minded parents would have been horrified. I was quietly pleased, and smiled as I helped him get ready.