Evolution, environment, Earth Day. A green Pope and interfaith tree plantings. Are science and religion finding their common ground?

By Jean Latz Griffin

One day at lunch in our Catholic all-girls high school, the talk turned to a discovery that had knocked our bobby socks off. One of our boyfriends had mentioned that the priests who taught at his Catholic all-boys school said that it was OK to believe in evolution.

Right in class, Father had said that we probably did evolve gradually from other animals and were related to apes. The seven-day Adam, Eve and the rib explanation was a story. It was a good story, he had said, and taught us a bunch of lessons, but not all the ones we learned about in grade school.

No! Couldn’t be, we said. At home that night, we asked our brothers, called our boyfriends. (All right. We were nerds – then called ‘”brains” – to care about this, but we did.)

The story was confirmed. “Everybody knows that,” the boys said smugly, as if they hadn’t colored the same creation story work sheets in grade school that we had.

The next day we went to one of our favorite teachers. Yes, Sister said, we could believe in evolution. There was enough science behind it that it seemed to be what happened. Just remember, she said, that God still created everything. Now we just understand a little more how he did it. Our parents didn’t believe us when we told them, but that was OK. Now we knew what the boys knew.earth

I think about that revelation often when people try to put science in one corner and religion in the other. Sure there may be tussles about the ethics of certain applications of science. Stem cell research certainly comes to mind. But the basic knowledge that comes from science doesn’t necessarily contradict what comes from religion and vice versa.

Most recently, the perceived conflict between science and religion came to mind on Earth Day 2009. Since Earth Day began in 1970, it has been controversial. Some religious leaders derided it as being humanist and secular. Environmentalists often blamed members and leaders of organized religion for neglecting the environment and preaching against the reality of man-made climate change.

In fact, people who have no church affiliation are twice as likely to believe there is solid evidence that the earth is warming due to human activity than are white, evangelical Protestants, according to a 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Indeed, Western religions have traditionally been on the side of a superior-humanity, inferior-animal/plant interpretation of the admonition in Genesis 1:28 to “… fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion…over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

None of the Buddhist goal of saving “every sentient being” for literal readers of that text. And slim pickings for a environmentally sensitive way of interacting with the earth.

But there are other ways to interpret Genesis, and it was refreshing to read that Earth Day 2009 celebrations included representatives from Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Unitarian Universalist and Jewish congregations, along with Baha’i, Zen Buddhist and Quakers, who came together to begin the planting of 12,000 trees in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

And it was both surprising and encouraging to learn that the Vatican in October began installing a new solar roof on its major buildings with the goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral state. To achieve that carbon neutrality, the Vatican is also planting a forest in Hungary.

“Benedict XVI has proven to be a surprisingly environmentally-aware Pontiff, calling for action against climate change and even suggesting that polluting be considered a major sin,” reporter Jesse Fox wrote on treehugger.com.

Words of praise for a Catholic leader from a website called “treehugger?”

Perhaps a new and better day’s a’dawning.

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About jeanlatzgriffin

Jean Latz Griffin is the owner of CyberINK, a small business that produces quirky skeleton-themed products. She has finished the first draft of a historical fantasy and received comments from her agent. She has turned to Orson Scott Card for tips on the second draft. She is author of "In the Same Breath," and "One Spirit: A Creation Story for the 21st Century." She has a certificate in creative writing from the University of Chicago's Writers Studio. Griffin is a member of the growing community of former Chicago Tribune reporters, enjoys Weekend Writing Warriors and the Story Studio in Chicago. Her Sheltie, Thunder, likes to "type" on her computer keys, and Dr Wu, a Weimaraner, likes to lick her ear when she is trying to think. Her husband passed in June of 2011. Her three fabulous grown sons live nearby. She plays violin in an amateur string orchestra.

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