Wednesdays at St. Boniface, we have an evening Mass, at six; starting at five, the priest hears confessions in the sacristy. Except for the "school Mass," daily Mass is in our chapel, in the basement of the church. This is practical (it saves money on utilities) ; because it's a perpetual exposition chapel, it allows adorers to be at Mass; and it is customary. So--confessions in the sacristy.
As this is all in the basement, part of the foundation of the church--built of limestone rock -- is exposed in the sacristy. So, as I sat, waiting for penitents, and prayed my office, I sometimes found myself staring at the limestone rock.
As a boy, I was fascinated by the limestone walls of the house in which I grew up, and also, the limestone rock my parents used to make a patio, out back. If you've looked at limestone rock, you know what I mean: not only does it produce interesting fuzzy stuff that any kid would find curious, it is often, also chock-full of fossils. (As a boy, I one time ran into the house, alerting my mother to the need to call the Natural History Museum, because surely they would be amazed at the treasure-trove of fossils in our back yard! I don't recall what she said, but my mother was diplomatic in her response.)
Well, I still find limestone rock curious, and so I was contemplating it. And lo! something moved! It was some sort of bug; far too small to be a water bug, and it had lots of legs. I thought about killing it; I am not cruel, but my first thought is, "it's a pest, it must be killed." My next thought was, "what if there's a nest of them?" and I did not enjoy the thought of getting an exterminator in. Then I realized, no, it's just a miscellaneous bug. Could it know how close it came to death?
As I waited for someone to come to confession, I watched that bug make it's way down the wall. Where was it headed? What possible analogue to thought went on in it's "brain"? I saw it heading toward a cobweb, and I found myself not wanting it to get caught, but figured it might all the same, and then: what would that be like? It can't be capable of anything like thought and sensation as we know it--so I doubt it would "know terror" or despair anything -- it would just be caught, and sit there, until it's life ended.
Well, for whatever reason, I found myself thinking about evolution. Just to let you know, I tend to be skeptical about the "macro" theory -- I know I'm free to believe it, as a Catholic, but I'm also free not to believe it (I mean, theologically); and unlike a lot of folks, I don't care a whole lot, either way. But if I had my druthers, I'd rather it weren't true -- it may sound funny to put it that way, but on balance, I'd rather the theory were all a crock of ****. At least the macro theory, the business about us once upon a time being all amoebae. Yep, if it were up to me, I'd prefer the Lord God created man as he is, and there you have it.
I'm fully aware of the very smart people who purport to tear the macro-evolutionary theory all to ribbons; and I'm well aware of the very smart people who make those other smart people look like idiots. And maybe someday I'll sort it all out and take sides; but every time I try to read their arguments (usually late at night), my head hurts, my eyes glaze over and I think of something else I'd rather do. Meanwhile, I'll just wait for them to fight it all out. (Remember when someone used to have a funny, animated thing called "Celebrity Showdown"? They'd have two people, like Jessica Simpson and Al Sharpton square off, and it was hilarious, until it got really gory. That's what we need: a "Celebrity Showdown" between the ID folks and the Evolution folks. What fun!)
Well, unlike the bug, I can communicate to you the purpose in my meandering. As I considered evolution (yes, I really was praying! It takes awhile to write this, but not to have thought it.), my question formed in my mind: if macro-evolution is true, why would God do it that way?
You see, many who support the theory, and many who oppose it, do so because it seems to eliminate the need for God. And I do have to admit, it does invite that thought. But I asked myself: OK, let's say it's true--suppose God did do it that way; he had a choice--why was that his choice?
And it occured to me that God would have known that somewhere along the line, humanity would do precisely the investigating we've done, into the world around us. And we'd find the fossils, we'd observe the likenesses in animals, the vestigial organs, the whole shebang. And with that marvelous intellect the Almighty endowed us with, we'd think, and think and think. And what would we come up with?
There are some who want God to have created the world in such a way that, at some point, the facts compel us to believe in him. Our intellects work that way: when facts are presented to it, reason demands our assent. They'd like the existence of God to work that way, too.
But does God want that? Seems not! Rather, I think God wants to keep belief in him a matter of choice, notwithstanding the fact that it appeals to us on so many other levels. We are not compelled to assent to his existence, although there is so much, in all realms of knowledge, that invites and woos our belief.
The theory of macroevolution--whatever else one may say about it--does seem to preserve that choice. (I.e., rightly understood, as compatible with the postulates of the Faith.)
Now, before I close this post, I am well aware that this sort of talk works on some folks the way a bell worked on Pavlov's dog; and my comment box may soon be filled with esoteric, urgent prose about the dire crisis of evolutionary theory.
Please don't! You'll make my head hurt, and my eyes glaze over. If you really are smart, you'll have noted I never endorsed the theory, I simply entertained a thought-experiment about it. So you needn't preach at me like Savaronola converting a heretic.
P.S. After hearing someone's confession, I looked back for the bug's latest progress; I couldn't find him on the limestone wall. His fate is still unknown.