I studied biology as an undergrad, so I often think about what it means for me to be Catholic and pro-science.
Here is what I purchased recently:
- Born Bad: Original Sin and the Making of the Western World by James Boyce
You know how sometimes you read a book at just the right time? Last year, I suddenly got the urge to reread Augustine’s Confessions. Since finishing it, not a day has gone by that I do not think about Augustine’s meditations on human nature. If you have not read Peter Brown’s biography of Augustine of Hippo you are missing out on one of the best biographies in the past 50 years.
Original Sin is hard to square with evolutionary biology, and it’s not really in the Bible (at least not explicitly). Augustine had a poorly translated Latin edition of the New Testament. He projected his own sexual struggles and a particular interpretation of Romans 5:12 onto the second Creation story. Eastern Christians do not believe that humans are born with the guilt of the sin of Adam. They do believe, however, that humans suffer the consequences of his sin. Despite the rejection of the doctrine today, Original Sin makes claims about humanity that still ring true for Western Christians…and atheists. James Boyce’s book traces the influence of Original Sin on the West. Half of the book deals with the influence of the doctrine on Deistic and Atheistic scientists. While most Christians no longer fear for the salvation of unbaptized babies tainted by the sin of Adam, the militant atheist Richard Dawkins has written a book called The Selfish Gene. Evolutionary biology has demonstrated that at least a part of our identity is determined by our genetics. Social and political theorists talk about structural sins. Perhaps, original sin, despite its mythical content, is more true than many of us would like to admit.
Do humans have freedom? Why did Martin Luther find predestination comforting? Did the Enlightenment really overthrow Augustinian original sin? What causes us to commit evil acts? All of these questions and more are explored in this brief book of historical theology written for a popular audience.
I have a lot of respect for Augustine and his theology. His teachings, however pessimistic, have helped me deal with struggles in my personal life (spiritual and psychological). I have very high expectations for this book.
- Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution by Kenneth Miller
Kenneth Miller is a cell biologist at Brown University, an ardent defender of evolution, and a Roman Catholic. I enjoyed his four-part interview with The Jesuit Post’s Fr. Quang Tran, S.J. on YouTube, so I decided to purchase his book on the intersection of biology and theism.