CHURCH-EVOLUTION Feb-1-2005 (650 words)

Church needs better evolution education, says bishops'

By Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Catholic educators need better teaching programs
about evolution "to correct the anti-evolution biases that Catholics pick up"
from the general society, according to a U.S. bishops' official involved in
dialogue with scientists for 20 years.

Without a church view of human creation that is consistent with currently
accepted scientific knowledge, "Catholicism may begin to seem less and
less 'realistic' to more and more thoughtful people," said David Byers,
executive director of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Science and Human
Values from 1984 to 2003.

"That dynamic is a far greater obstacle to religious assent than evolution,"
he said in a bylined article in the Feb. 7 issue of America, a weekly
magazine published in New York by the Jesuits. The article discussed the
value of the dialogues with scientists organized by the bishops' committee.

"Denying that humans evolved seems by this point a waste of time," he said
without mentioning specific controversies in the United States.

In recent years, conflicts have arisen in several parts of the country
questioning whether evolution should be taught in public schools as scientific
fact. In January, the public school board in Cobb County, Ga., voted to
appeal a federal judge's order to remove stickers on science textbooks
which said that "evolution is a theory, not a fact."

Byers said, "The official church sees little danger in evolution." He cited a
1996 speech by Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Science and
a 2004 document, "Communion and Stewardship" by the Vatican's
International Theological Commission.

The 2004 document "properly recognizes evolutionary theory as firmly
grounded in fact," he said.

But "our educational leadership has been very slow to correct the
anti-evolution biases that Catholics pick up from prominent elements in
contemporary culture," he said.

Byers complained that sermons and religious education materials "routinely
describe Adam and Eve as if they were an essentially modern couple,"
although "it is reasonable to suppose that the first humans, whatever their
stature in the eyes of God, looked and lived like other hominids of their
time," he added.

The Genesis creation stories should not be read literally because "they are
stories, after all," he said. They are meant to express "deeper truths" about
God's intent in creating humans, said Byers.

"It is wise to encourage an understanding of Scripture consistent with what
we know (or think we know) in the 21st century," he said.

Byers, currently executive director of the bishops' Committee on the Home
Missions, called evolution "one of the hottest battlegrounds between science
and religion."

Evolutionary theory by itself "does not necessarily support any philosophical
or theological generalizations," he said. "Arguments that evolution disproves
God's existence or humanity's spiritual dimension are simply wrongheaded."

Debating the implications of evolution with scientists "is a healthy exercise in
aligning science and religion, however the discussion turns out," he said.

Byers said church dialogue with scientists is a way of showing the scientific
community that the church has important values to contribute to issues
raised by their research and the applications of their knowledge.

Although most scientists are not Catholics and are skeptical at first about
the value of dialogue, their attitudes often change, he said.

"While few accepted the Catholic position on the moral status of the early
embryo, for example, most found the church's insistence on respecting
human life at every stage serious and substantive," said Byers.

Dialogue also helps evangelization because of U.S. society's strong belief
"that science offers an accurate, if limited, account of the way things are," he

Many Catholics question whether their religion is as in touch with reality as
science is, he said.

"Dialogue between religion and science can help assuage their doubts,
clearing away obstacles to a vital faith," he said.

"It can also make that faith more reasonable for those who may be
considering joining the church," he said.

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