This was originally intended to be a comment on the post below regarding "folk science", responding to Karie's request for books dealing with evolution from a Catholic perspective. However, it was getting so long I figured it might as well be a post instead.
I have not, as of yet, read the books that Geoffrey recommends, though several of them are ones that I am eager to read -- notably the collection of papers from the conference on evolution and creation which Benedict XVI sponsored last year (and now available in English from Ignatius.)
There is, in my opinion, a dearth of good material on "evolution from a Catholic perspective" which is accessible to the average reader. The reason for this is, so far as I can tell, that for many of those with a solid understanding of the topic, it does not seem like much of a controversy for Catholics, while many of those who are most urgent to frame the debate for other Catholics are those who are concerned that evolution represents some particular threat to the faith.
At the risk of being pedantic (a risk to which I am all too prone) I'd like to try to sketch very briefly how it seems to me the issue should be viewed by Catholics before listing off a couple of books.
There are, so far as I can tell, three reasons that people worry about evolution from a religious perspective:
1) Scriptural -- For those with a certain approach to biblical exegesis, it seems necessary to believe that all plants and animals were created within a short period of time and that nothing ever died before Adam's fall. For these folks, the billion year plus history of life presented by evolution is a major problem.
2) Philosophical -- Many Catholic thinkers look at terms used by modern biologists such as "undirected evolution" and "random mutation" and take it that evolution as a biological theory requires a philosophical stance that denies God's knowledge and creative power. They have no problem in principle with an ancient earth or with common descent, but they fear that evolutionary theory requires an acceptance of radically materialistic philosophy. This is also fed by:
3) Guilt by Association -- Many of the most well known biologists of the last 150 years have been atheists, and some of the most outspoken attackers of religion today (e.g. Richard Dawkins) are professional biologists. Given point two above, this tends to make people even more concerned that there is something fundamentally dangerous about evolutionary theory.
Point one has never been a great Catholic hang up because it is based on an approach to biblical interpretation which is generally not ours. However, if one wants to look at the question of how Catholics should deal with the creation account in Genesis, you won't get much better than Pope Benedict's commentary on the Creation Account. Catholics have long held that the Bible and science are eminently compatible -- a point on which Galileo extensively quotes St. Augustine in his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina.
Point two is where the most worry goes on these days, fueled to a great degree by point three. (Guilt by association is not, of course, a valid reason to take anything to be false in the realm of science, but it's an easy enough worry to get into given that so many apologists for atheism are running around loudly claiming that evolution has proved that there is no God.)
Perhaps the most famous example in regards to point two is some Cardinal Schonborn's writing, including his famous NY Times editorial, and several articles in First Things. Now, I agree with nearly everything that Schonborn says, except that he at time seems to suggest (and I don't know if this is just a matter of translation or a confusion that sometimes creeps into his writing) that the modern "neo-Darwinian" synthesis in biology somehow contains (or can contain) philosophical assumptions of randomness and lack of direction which are contrary to the faith.
Now, certainly, many individual scientists base their claims that the world is random and without direction (in the philosophical sense of the terms) on their understanding of biology, but in my opinion (and Cardinal Schonborn expresses this as well in some other parts of his writing) it is not in fact possible for science to produce or support philosophical positions such as these, except to the degree it may make one feel they are plausible.
People often think of science as telling us how the world actually is, but in fact, the scientific method is simply designed to allow us to make accurate predictive models of how physical systems governed by physical laws will act in the future. As such, it is fundamentally incapable of speaking to issues like whether the universe has a purpose, is moving in some intended direction, or is "random" in the philosophical sense of the term.
All that said, I don't currently have any books that deal with issues two and three from a Catholic perspective. I would, however, strongly recommend anything written in First Things about evolution by either Stephen M. Barr or Fr. Edward T. Oakes.
Stephen M. Barr's book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith deals with the relationship between modern science and a proper Catholic understanding of God's role in providing order in the universe (and the inability of materialist philosophies to explain this on their own) but it's primarily about physics and astronomy in that regard, not biology.
Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God presents some good critiques of the science that goes into "Intelligent Design", but I didn't find it fully satisfying at a theological level. (Miller is a Catholic biologist.)
My own approach tends to be that one doesn't really need a Catholic book on evolution, so long as one had a proper Catholic understanding of the place of the physical sciences in the overall hierarchy of knowledge. If one has a clear idea of what science can and can't do, evolution as a theory doesn't present any particular worry from a Catholic point of view.
Over the River and Through the Wood
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