You see, I went in expecting a comparative religion class. What I got was something along the lines of “the psychology of spiritual belief,” and I probably would have taken the class even with that title. But it was essentially a psychology class, most of which covered ground I’d already covered (the only thing that kept me from a major in psychology was my unwillingness to take upper-level stats classes, so I ended up with a very heavy minor). What’s more, it essentially used psychology to “explain away” religious beliefs. In addition to the class lectures, we were required to watch a two-hour discussion amongst the four leading atheists thinkers, and then another full-length documentary about the battle of evolution vs. intelligent design. The conclusion was essentially this: God doesn’t exist because everything we used to attribute to God is now explained by science; and the soul doesn’t exist because everything we once attributed to the soul we now know happens in the brain.
Nothing in the course was new to me. Continuously being confronted with these challenges, along with my recent migration from “practicing Catholic” to something I don’t quite have a name for, did force me to take a long hard look at my “soul beliefs.” I think such long hard looks are good, although they’re scary. Still, something in my gut that holds to the existence of God won’t be easily denied. The course had explanations for those feelings, too, which I won’t go into here. But now that I’m done with the course, now that I’ve just reviewed all sorts of things I already knew as if they contradict religion (where I’ve never seen a contradiction before and, really, still don’t), I’ve come to this conclusion.
The only thing “disproving” our ideas about God “proves” is that our ideas about God are wrong. So what? I’ve always suspected our ideas about God are incomplete at best and damaging at worst. God is not to blame for all the ways we humans get God wrong.
Even though I’d never thought evolution and belief in God were opposed to one another, and even though the Catholic Church backs me up on this, watching the Nova documentary for the class did make me look at it more closely than I’m used to, when the implication came out that we are who we are based on a series of events and adaptation over time, and not that we are made in the image of God.
This kind of thinking assumes that more primitive versions of ourselves, whether homo erectus or a single-celled organism, could not have been made in God’s image.
But what in the world precludes that? If God is in all of creation, what does it matter how an individual member of that creation functions? Just as species change and evolve over time, I like to believe that our understanding of God also continues to ascend, perhaps even that our minds evolve toward God’s purpose and that, as a species, we are ever growing closer to a fuller understanding of who or what God is.
I believe in evolution, I believe in God, and I believe that it isn’t just our bodies and our minds that evolve. I believe our souls do, too. Scientific discovery only threatens God when you believe that God is small enough to be confined to 1700 pages written thousands of years ago (and often badly translated). The God I know is much bigger, much more unknowable than that. The Catholic Church instilled in me an appreciation of God as The Great Mystery, and everything we learn, in any discipline, brings us closer to understanding that mystery.
There is so much about the world, the mind, human nature, that we understand now that people didn’t understand when the Bible was written. The mysteries of the Bible’s writers were not the same mysteries that we face today, and yet, a great deal of mystery still remains. It is not in all the answers, but in that infinite question mark, that I find God.