Do you believe that the earth is flat? Do you believe the sun, planets and stars revolve around the earth? Do you believe the earth travels on the back of a turtle? Do you believe that the universe came about in six days? Do you believe humans beings were created by command and have always existed as we are in our present form?

William Jennings Bryan earned a permanent place in American history nearly nine decades ago in the Scopes trial, where he successfully prosecuted a teacher who broke the law by teaching evolution in a public school. Now, the debate continues. In May, The New York Times headlined an article on the issue playing out at an evangelical Christian college, "Can Darwin and Eden coexist?"

In 31 of 50 U.S. states, there is still a legal dispute as to how the history of the universe and human development is to be taught in our schools. According to a 2001 Gallup poll, around 45 percent of Americans agree with the statement, "God created human beings in their present form within the past 10,000 years." A survey by a Swiss public opinion institute in 2002 found that 20 million German-speaking people think Darwin's theory of evolution is worthless.

How can this be, after seeing our white and blue planet against the black velvet of outer space, or the photography from the Hubble Space Telescope? Has no one been taught the theory of evolution or taken into account the findings of biology, geology, and astrophysics?

Due to the "Galileo disaster" which has haunted the Catholic Church since the Renaissance - when the astronomer was imprisoned for espousing the fact that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun - followed by the 19th-century condemnations of Charles Darwin by Catholic, Anglican and Protestant Churches, and on to the repression of "modernists" under Pope Pius X and the silencing of the Jesuit theologian-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin by Pope Pius XII in the 20th century, regretfully, Christianity (and Catholicism in particular) is not known as a friend of science.

Ironically, alongside this regretful history is the development of the modern scientific method and subsequent research carried out by such Catholic and Christian scientists as Renaissance priest Nicolaus Copernicus; Lutheran Johannes Kepler; Catholic Galileo Galilei; Jesuit priest Roger Joseph Boscovich, who did work on atomic theory; Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel, whose work was in genetics; the 2003 Nobel Prize winner in physics, Anthony James Leggett; Gerty Cori, a biochemist and the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in science; the 2007 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, physicist Gerhard Ertl; Sister of Charity Paula González, a biologist; Peter Grünberg, a German physicist and Nobel Prize winner; astrophysicist and Jesuit priest Manuel Carreira; and Jesuit priest Georges Lemaître, who developed the "Big Bang" model of an expanding universe.

Google "Catholic scientists." The list covers centuries.

Can Darwin and Eden coexist? For the Catholic Church, the answer is "yes." After Copernicus and Galileo, Newton and Darwin, there can be no going back.

In addition, we take the Bible seriously but not literally. To take the Bible literally is to ignore its cultural settings, literary genres and history. Some Christian denominations do this; thus, the continued debate between evolution and "creationism." But that a statement or story is not literally true does not mean it does not contain spiritual truth.

Along with our Christian faith, we live with science every day, from electricity to lasers. Science is not the enemy of theology or Christian living; fear is - and Jesus said fear is useless.

Inquisitiveness about creation has led us to astrophysics, string theory, microbiology, space and sea exploration, astronomy, genetics, cellular biology and physics. If God gave us the inquisitiveness which marks humans as different among all living creatures, isn't that part of what it means to be created in the "image and likeness of God?"

Why the disconnect between religion and science? Might we be asking of each discipline what it is not meant to answer?

Doesn't theology address the larger questions of the human experience: Who are we? What is our purpose and place in the universe? Does God exist? Who is God? What is our relationship to the divine and each other? Why do humans suffer? Why do we die? Why does evil exist?

Is it appropriate to expect answers for these questions from science? Conversely, can religion be expected to answer why there's a universe; how it came into being; and the questions posed by the natural world, matter, space and time, or energy and force?

Scientists and theologians may be looking at the mystery of creation from different perspectives.

Catholicism can integrate scientific learning with the truths of faith. The Church does not need to fear the teaching of evolution as long as it is understood as a scientific account of the physical origins and development of the universe. Our faith teaches that God is the creator of everything. While our faith does not bind us to any particular scientific theory about the origins of the universe, evolution is one theory that has been supported by scientific research and gained acceptance by the Church.

The Church supports the teaching of evolution as the best available account of how nature works. Thus, Pope Benedict XVI called the debate over evolution "an absurdity, because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such."

Can Darwin and Eden coexist? They can, because curiosity and inquiry, the basis of both scientific research and theology, are from God.

(Father Mickiewicz is pastor of St. Mary's parish in Oneonta.)