Pope reminds Catholics: evolution, Big Bang are true
God is not a “magician!”
Pope Francis took a stroll yesterday from the Vatican guest house apartment where he lives over to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to unveil a bust of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The bust itself is rather Teutonically foreboding, but the most interesting bit of the unveiling came when Francis made a short speech to assembled members of the Academy. Though only a few paragraphs long (and currently available only in Italian; the translation below is unofficial), Francis’s remarks focused largely on evolution—still a controversial doctrine in parts of the worldwide Christian church.
“When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we are in danger of imagining that God was a magician, complete with a magic wand capable of doing anything,” Francis said. “But he was not. He created beings and let them develop in accordance with the internal laws that He has given to each one.”
He went on:
Thus, this work of creation has been going on for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia until it has become what we know today, because God is not a demiurge or wizard but the Creator who gives being to all entities. The beginning of the world was not a work of chaos that has some other origin, but it derived directly from a supreme principle which creates by love. The Big Bang, which currently appears to explain the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of a divine creator but demands it. The evolution of nature is not inconsistent with the notion of Creation because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve…
The scientist must be moved by the confidence that nature conceals, in its evolutionary mechanisms, potential that our intelligence and freedom can discover and implement in order to develop the design of the Creator. So, no matter how limited, the action of man partakes of the power of God and is able to build a world fit for his dual life, bodily and spiritual, to build a humane world for all human beings and not for a group or class of privileged people.
A 2013 Pew Research survey found that 33 percent of all American adults believe that “humans existed in present form since [the] beginning.” Among Catholics, the percentages are slightly lower; 31 percent of Hispanic Catholics deny evolution, as do 26 percent of white Catholics. (Among white evangelical protestants, the number is a whopping 64 percent.)
Not just for Communists
The Catholic church has long been open to evolution, though always stressing its belief that God is the ultimate power behind the universe and its unfolding story.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII wrote about evolution in Humani Generis, saying that “Communists gladly subscribe to this opinion so that, when the souls of men have been deprived of every idea of a personal God, they may the more efficaciously defend and propagate their dialectical materialism.”
Nevertheless, he did not forbid that “research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter.”
For Pius XII, however, evolution was only a possibility that was yet unproven, and so he went on to rail against those who “act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.”
But by 1996, with far more evidence available, even a theological conservative like Pope John Paul II had no problem affirming that “new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge.”
And his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, though sometimes described by critics as a reactionary, likewise endorsed the statement of a scientific gathering convened at the Vatican under his tenure. It concluded:
Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.
While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage.
Big Bang Fizzles – Part one
Evolution, a False Religion World View Masqueraded as Science – Part two