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Darwin's Legacy of Controversy


THE EVOLUTION CONTROVERSY: A Survey of Competing Theories
CHANCE OR PURPOSE?: Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith
THE SKY IS NOT A CEILING: An Astronomer’s Faith
THIS LITTLE LIGHT: Lessons in Living From Sister Thea Bowman
SEX & THE SOUL: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses
A CIVILIZATION OF LOVE: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World
Soul Work for Lent

THE EVOLUTION CONTROVERSY: A Survey of Competing Theories, by Thomas B. Fowler and Daniel Kuebler. Baker Academic. 384 pp. $26.

CHANCE OR PURPOSE?: Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith, by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn. Ignatius Press. 184 pp. $19.95.

THE FAITH OF SCIENTISTS: In Their Own Words, edited by Nancy K. Frankenberry. Princeton University Press. 542 pp. $29.95.

DOES SCIENCE MAKE BELIEF IN GOD OBSOLETE? Thirteen Views on the Question, edited by Michael Shermer. John Templeton Foundation. 42 pp. Free at

THE SKY IS NOT A CEILING: An Astronomer's Faith, by Aileen O’Donoghue. Orbis Books. 174 pp. $18.

CHRIST IN EVOLUTION, by Ilia Delio, O.S.F. Orbis Books. 228 pp. $18.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, who teaches morality and bioethics classes at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati.

THIS MONTH WE OBSERVE the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the 19th-century proponent of evolution whose name continues to incite great passion in the debate over the cultural, philosophical and religious impact of this basic premise of modern biology. In differing ways, these six books address the relationship of science and religion.

A good place to start is with Thomas Fowler and Daniel Kuebler’s book. It is a true overview of the issues of the evolution controversy. An engineer and a biologist (respectively) who teach at Catholic colleges, the authors attempt to clarify the language and positions taken by various sides of the evolution debate. The subject of this book is the content of the controversy, not one school of thought.

Their work begins with an overview of the development of the theory of evolution, a review of the evidence presented and an examination of the “raw evidence.” Then they summarize and comment on the four leading schools of thought: Neo-Darwinism, Creationist, Intelligent Design and Meta- Darwinism.

Each chapter on the four schools ends with a summary of the arguments for and against that position, as well as a checklist of how well it meets the 10 criteria of a genuine scientific theory.

The work concludes with an assessment of the public policy implications, then a summary of the controversy and the road that lies ahead. A technical glossary covers terms from abiogenesis to vestigial structures, enabling readers to find their way through technical terms. A bibliography includes resources for further study.

The purpose of this text is to inform, not to take a position on what is best or true. The book is structured so that it can be read cover to cover, but most chapters stand alone.

While much of the attention is given to those who hold the extreme positions, there are many who seek to walk a middle ground. Despite assumptions to the contrary, a Catholic leader who believes in honest and serious discussion between natural science and theology is Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, O.P., archbishop of Vienna.

His brief 2005 op-ed article “Finding Design in Nature” in The New York Times stirred great debate. This work is an extended reflection on the theology of creation and grew out of a series of monthly lectures that he gave on Sundays in the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna.

In nine stages, Cardinal Schönborn presents the Catholic belief in God the Creator and the Christian understanding of creation and of humans as having been created by God. His essays address questions that arise from the natural sciences, but without disputing particular results or theories.

Since the Second Vatican Council emphasized that theology and natural sciences do not contradict one another, any conflict arises only when one (or both) strays beyond its own sphere of knowledge and faith.

Three sections of Schönborn’s book are most pertinent to the work of Darwin. The third essay notes that the Bible does not offer any theory about the origin of the world and the development of species. What the cardinal says is that nothing exists of itself; everything is created. Further, variety is no accident or the result of chance but is willed by the Creator, since no one creature alone can reflect God.

The cardinal also comments on Darwin’s emphasis on expediency and writes about the purposelessness of beauty.

In other chapters, Schönborn reflects on the belief that creation is not just an act of God at the beginning of the world, but continues today. In Schönborn’s words, theology talks about continuing creation and providence. Then in the final essay, he presents a reflection on the role that reason plays in making sure that science and theology do their duty in helping humanity find meaning and direction in their life.

In conjunction with Cardinal Schönborn’s essays, I suggest reading Nancy Frankenberry’s anthology of writings by 21 notable scientists from the 16th century to the present. The selections center on their faith, their views about God and the place religion holds—or does not hold—in their lives in light of their commitment to science.

Drawn from their own words in many primary sources, the essays show a spectrum of views from many areas of scientific inquiry. The author includes Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Darwin and Einstein in the “Founders of Modern Science” section. Rachel Carson, Carl Sagan, Jane Goodall and Stephen Hawking are the more familiar recent scientists.

Some scientists indicate that their inspiration is supernatural while others draw from nature alone. Many are very conventional, while others are somewhat unorthodox.

Yet the readings indicate that even the more orthodox thinkers (such as Galileo, Kepler, Newton and John Polkinghorne) had their questions and eccentricities. Critics of conventional religions (like Sagan and Richard Dawkins) focus on religious questions such as the argument from design and the cause of the cosmos.

The pamphlet from the Templeton Foundation covers much of the same ground as Frankenberry’s anthology, but does so in a much briefer format. It is recommended because it includes an essay by Cardinal Schönborn, as well as the atheist-evangelist Christopher Hitchens. The Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for research and dialogue on what scientists and theologians alike call the “big questions.” The price is right for a classroom resource!

The final two books come from contemporary women struggling to make sense of how scientific discoveries and lessons can support their faith while making certain that their faith informs their scientific work.

Aileen O’Donoghue is a professor of astronomy and a “journeying” Catholic who followed her love of the sky and the stars. It led her from an encounter with loneliness and emptiness to an experience of otherness and a relationship with that same sky’s loving intelligence.

One of the striking aspects of her work is how she connects the calibration and refinement used by scientists to check their data to how we can discern and understand the faith experiences of other people and ourselves. She includes reading, belonging to a parish community and a 30-day Ignatian retreat as key components for her.

O’Donoghue weaves her spiritual journey and lessons about astronomy together in a very intriguing way. The sky will never look the same again.

Ilia Delio is a professor and director of the Franciscan Center at Washington (D.C.) Theological Union. She turns to evolution for the dynamic understanding of God and God’s creation. She writes that “[e]volution is integral to the mystics’ vision, not as a science but as a way of discovering God.”

While I think that the simplified use of evolution without connecting with natural selection and random mutation could confuse those who refer to it only in the scientific sense, she does turn from a simplistic designer or creator to the dynamic meaning of Jesus Christ. How do we come to experience the divine now?

After presenting her basic principles in Chapter 1, Delio writes two chapters that give a sweeping view of Christ and the Incarnation from the Gospels through the Middle Ages, particularly emphasizing Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure and Blessed Duns Scotus. The four guides she selects to lead us through the modern world are Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., the Catholic Hindu scholar Raimon Panikkar, Thomas Merton, O.S.C.O., and Bede Griffiths, O.S.B.

All in all, these books represent a cross section of the books published in the last several years that examine the science and faith question. Each of them, in my opinion, presents an incomplete analysis. They are incomplete only because humans are incomplete—no matter what our academic degrees or position of authority.

Are there truths to be pursued? Yes. But we have to do it together, over the long haul. We should not dismiss what we cannot understand or accept as real. For anyone trying to get a better perspective on the legacy of Charles Darwin regarding science and faith, these books provide a wide array of options.

You can order THE EVOLUTION CONTROVERSY: A Survey of Competing Theories, CHANCE OR PURPOSE?: Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith, THE FAITH OF SCIENTISTS: In Their Own Words, DOES SCIENCE MAKE BELIEF IN GOD OBSOLETE? Thirteen Views on the Question, THE SKY IS NOT A CEILING: An Astronomer’s Faith and CHRIST IN EVOLUTION from St. Francis Bookshop.


THIS LITTLE LIGHT: Lessons in Living From Sister Thea Bowman, by Michael O’Neill McGrath. Orbis Books. 93 pp. $20.

Reviewed by JOHN FEISTER, an assistant editor of this publication who first wrote about Sister Thea Bowman in this magazine in 1985, and photographed her for a 2001 profile. He, along with Charlene Smith, F.S.P.A., is completing a full-length biography of Sister Thea.

SISTER THEA BOWMAN (1937-1990) was a widely known African-American Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, who devoted her life to intercultural awareness. She was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, where her physician-father and teacher-mother set their roots in Canton, Mississippi.

Young Thea, an only child, was called to be a follower of Francis and Clare, to join the sisters who had come to provide education and help to the oppressed poor of her community. In the prime of her ministry, she was known in Church circles for her workshops on race relations.

She became famous after CBS’s 60 Minutes did a moving profile of her, which was seen by millions. Cancer claimed her just as she was coming into this broader recognition, but the indefatigable Thea used her cancer to deepen her witness. From a wheelchair, the ailing Thea made a famous presentation to an assembly of United States Catholic bishops, in which she cajoled several hundred bishops into joining hands and singing together the civil-rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

Is it any wonder that she, even in death, continues to make a profound impact? Brother Michael O’Neill McGrath is witness to that. He discovered Thea after her death and, at the same time, found a key to his own faith journey.

Mickey McGrath is primarily a painter; I expected this short book to be mostly a collection of his paintings of Sister Thea, who had become a muse to him and the subject of many wonderful paintings. The book is indeed lavishly illustrated with those paintings. In addition, Mickey has written a narrative that is as much at the heart of this book as are the paintings.

In the narrative, Mickey shares his own struggle with grief and creativity, with personal oppression and freedom. In his Introduction, he says, “If you are in grief, let her show you how to live beyond emptiness. If you are sick, let her show you how to live with pain. If you are afraid and anxious, let her walk with you a while and hold your hand. If you have lost sight of beauty, let her hold up a mirror so you can see how beautiful you are.” Those words are the key to this book.

In allowing Thea’s saintly presence to heal and enliven him, Mickey McGrath was able to unleash new forces of freedom and creativity in his own life. He offers Thea’s life, ministry and witness as a way for any reader to do the same.

The themes of Thea’s life are captured in the words of the Negro spirituals that this virtuoso singer (who was also a university professor of English, a William Faulkner expert) brought to her audiences. “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “This Little Light of Mine” and other titles organize McGrath’s narrative and presentation of Thea images.

Essentially, the book is a short biography, told in words and paintings. It is an artist’s explanation of the energy behind his various paintings of Sister Thea.

At the end of the book, McGrath devotes a chapter to the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary, who live in a Minneapolis “monastery” in the spirit of Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal. The sisters provide a ministry of hospitality in a poor neighborhood that is primarily African-American. “How Thea-esque,” reflects McGrath, “to take their spirituality, something so old, so tried and true, and refashion it into something relevant to our world today.”

That is the key to this engaging, beautiful book. Mickey McGrath sees that energy of renewal and gospel authenticity in Sister Thea Bowman’s life and death, and wants to share it with anyone who will watch and listen.

You can order THIS LITTLE LIGHT: Lessons in Living From Sister Thea Bowman from St. Francis Bookshop.


SEX & THE SOUL: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses, by Donna Freitas. Oxford University Press. 299 pp. $24.95.

Reviewed by TYLER BLUE, who graduated in 2008 from the University of Dayton with journalism and religious studies degrees and was an intern in the St. Anthony Messenger Press book department last summer and fall. In January he began his graduate studies in journalism at Northwestern University.

WHEN IT COMES to the sexual habits of American college students, a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prevails. But Donna Freitas decided to ask, and what the students told her is, well, telling.

Freitas, an assistant professor of religion at Boston University, surveyed over 2,500 undergraduates at seven colleges and universities across the United States, in addition to conducting exhaustive interviews with 111 of them. Covering four institution types—Evangelical, Catholic, secular private and secular public—she set out to discover students’ thoughts on the topics of sex and religion and determine whether students see any connection between the two.

Readers might find it eye-opening that the sexual culture at Catholic institutions has more in common with public and secular private schools than with their Evangelical counterparts. In fact, the study leads Freitas to divide schools not by whether they are religiously affiliated or secular, but by whether they are religious (the Evangelical schools) or spiritual (everyone else).

At the “spiritual” schools, most students have abandoned institutional religion, relying instead on individual notions of “spirituality,” which are kept private and are very much amorphous. In other words, it’s like having a map that’s missing its north arrow: You may know where you want to go, but you have no sense of direction to guide you there.

So, predictably, it becomes almost impossible for these students with weak moral grounding to resist the strong temptation to give in to their sexual desires. As a result, the spiritual campuses are awash in what Freitas refers to as “hook-up” culture, where two people meet up at parties or bars, go home together and have one-night stands—with absolutely no strings attached.

Meanwhile, the pendulum swings the other way at the Evangelical colleges. Here, one is hard-pressed to find a place on campus that doesn’t integrate faith into the everyday lives of the students. And yet, at these schools, sex (at least the premarital kind) is more or less equated with blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (read, unforgivable).

Freitas understands that the strength of her book derives from the narratives of the oft-conflicted, ever-complicated (even hypocritical) students, who consistently come through with excruciatingly honest and personal accounts of their sexual experiences. Take, for example, the young man who despises when girls he’s “hooked up” with expect so much as a phone call the next day, yet who still loves his ex-girlfriend whose busy schedule prevented her from spending enough time with him.

Readers will have a hard time knowing whether to be extremely upset at the casual attitudes many of these students exhibit toward sex or to reach out in sympathy to these visibly confused souls—who recognize something is amiss from their behavior but who feel powerless to change the pervasive culture.

The book falters a bit toward the end, as Freitas presents the “three musts” that parents, pastors and others should take into account before sending their child, parishioner, etc., off to college. Are we really to believe that giving a second sex-talk to a teenager right before he/she leaves for college will be enough to change the “hook-up” culture? While Freitas is hard on the colleges that seemingly do nothing to promote healthy romance on their campuses, she is virtually silent when it comes to the role parents have in shaping their child’s view on sex and religion.

Still, this book is unflinching in its portrayal of what really takes place Friday and Saturday nights on campuses nationwide. Before a problem can be solved, it must first be exposed. Kudos to Freitas for bringing into the light issues that, up till now, we’ve tried to hide in darkness.

You can order SEX & THE SOUL: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses from St. Francis Bookshop.


A CIVILIZATION OF LOVE: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World, by Carl Anderson. HarperOne. 203 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. CREMIN IV, a middle school English teacher in Medford, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of the University of Maine and the University of Massachusetts, and is a veteran of the United States Navy. He lives in Reading, Massachusetts, with his wife and two daughters, and attends Mass at St. Patrick’s Parish in Stoneham.

“I GIVE YOU a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another”— John 13:34.

Although most Catholics associate the word vocation with a call to the priesthood and the religious life, the simplest definition of the word is “to summon.” Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, is issuing a summons to all Catholics to discover their vocation to love one another.

Anderson’s book, A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World, offers a thoughtful and wide-ranging examination of how love can change the world, and how we as Catholics must heed the call of our vocation as given to us by Jesus.

The title of the book is taken from Pope John Paul II’s 1980 encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy). Referencing Popes John Paul and Benedict XVI, Anderson describes the rationale for creating a civilization based on the radical love and self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Using the Knights of Columbus as an example of a successful global and charitable organization of lay Catholics, the author challenges all Catholics to engage the world by actively loving those around us: family, friends, co-workers and those with whom we may have less in common.

A Civilization of Love is divided into nine chapters. At the end of each chapter, there are suggestions for contemplation and action which make the book an ideal choice for a book club, an adult faith-formation group or an RCIA program. Each chapter is footnoted, and there is a helpful bibliography at the end. There is also an excellent supporting Web site at

This wonderful, thought-provoking book covers a wide range of topics of interest to all Catholics. The early chapters serve as a sort of primer on the meaning of love, the role of natural law in the formation of one’s conscience, the universality of the Golden Rule and the power of love to change the world for the better.

Anderson’s later chapters focus on the application of love to our current debates over the role of globalization, the ethics of business and the marketplace, and the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings, including those who have yet to be born.

Anderson is obviously well-read and moves easily among wide-ranging references to papal encyclicals, secular philosophers, social scientists, literary writers and theologians. Catholics, the author argues, should stand in contrast to “the masters of suspicion” who believe that there is no God, and argue that humankind is capable of being moral with no reference to an external, objective ethical order.

One can’t help but contrast Anderson’s passionate call for all people to love one another and to practice Christian humanism with the mini-boom in atheistic literature by men like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

The final chapter, “A Continent of Baptized Christians,” discusses the inevitable demographic shifts in the ethnic and cultural makeup of the United States. America, Anderson argues, is shifting away from its traditional ties to a rapidly secularizing Western Europe and becoming increasingly influenced by the more faithful and conservative cultures of Latin America.

Anderson’s discussion of the needs of the poor in the global South is an eye-opening preview of things to come. In 12 short years, 60 percent of all Catholics in the world will live in Asia, Africa or Latin America. These Catholics will be dramatically poorer and younger than American Catholics.

What is our responsibility to our Catholic brothers and sisters in the developing world, the author asks, and what do these changes mean for the global Church?

Overall, A Civilization of Love asks Catholics to recognize that our incredible technological and intellectual advances have far outpaced our ethical and moral thinking. Anderson believes that the Catholic Church has an essential role to play in building up the foundations of a world where love, rather than profit or self-absorption, serves as the basis for our personal actions and our societal policies.

“The responsibility of Christians in our own times,” Anderson writes, is “to radically transform culture, not by imposing values from above, but through a subtler yet more powerful process—living a vocation of love in the day-to-day reality of our lives.” Sounds like good advice to me.

You can order A CIVILIZATION OF LOVE: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World from St. Francis Bookshop.


Soul Work for Lent

Ash Wednesday (February 25 this year) ushers in Lent, an opportunity to make sure our lives are on track. These books might help.

SMALL SURRENDERS: A Lenten Journey, by Emilie Griffin (Paraclete Press, 248 pp., $21.95), presents 47 meditations for the days of Lent. This Catholic author of Turning and Doors Into Prayer contends we are converted not once in our lives, but many times, little by little and often imperceptibly—if we keep surrendering to God.

SOUL SEARCHING, by Mindy Caliguire (InterVarsity Press, 109 pp., $10), is part of the Soul Care® Resources series. From the Evangelical tradition, this series tries to speak to younger believers by getting down to essentials of Christianity. She starts with self-examination or the examen, the practice that St. Ignatius Loyola recommended to the Jesuits. This look at knowing ourselves, our sins and our gifts can propel us along the path the Spirit is leading. The book can also be used in a group setting.

RECONCILIATION, by Robert Morneau (Orbis Books/RCL Benziger, 141 pp., $10), is a pastoral and poetic bishop’s look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through confession, we find the interior resources to bring about the changes we want in our lives. Like other books in this new Orbis series (Prayer, by Joyce Rupp, and Holiness, by William J. O’Malley), this one helps us hear God’s invitation anew.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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