The Catholic Church has come a long way since the infamous Galileo affair. To our knowledge, they never officially opposed the theory of evolution, but it took a long time before they issued this statement by Pope John Paul II in 1996: Message to Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in which he said:
[F]resh knowledge has led to the recognition that evolution is 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. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favour of this theory.
But he left a bit of wiggle-room by adding:
[I]f the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter the spiritual soul is immediately created by God. … . Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.
They’re still mulling things over in the Vatican. This can be considered a companion piece to our older post, The Vatican and Evolution. In the St. Louis Review there’s this article: Church scientists see no conflict between evolution, hand of God, which they got from the Catholic News Service. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
VATICAN CITY — Evolutionary science is still grappling with understanding how the human species, with its unique capacities for language, culture, abstract reasoning and spirituality, may have emerged from a pre-ape ancestor. While the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God “freely created man,” the Church still considers the scientific investigation of the origins of humanity to be a valuable contribution to human knowledge.
That’s good to know. The article continues:
In its continuing dialogue with world-renowned scientific experts, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences brought together evolutionary biologists, paleoanthropologists, archaeologists, neuroscientists, theologians and philosophers to discuss the major physical and cultural changes that occurred during mankind’s evolution.
The working group on “The Emergence of the Human Being” met April 19-21 to discuss topics such as the mastery and use of fire, the beginning of burial and funeral rites and the emergence of language, culture and conscience.
Interesting choice of topics. Here’s more:
Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, science academy chancellor, told the group that scientific truths are part of divine truth and “can help philosophy and theology understand ever more fully the status and future of the human person.”
Science investigates the external world and how it works, while religion is concerned with “the internal world of the self, which belongs to the spirit present in his being and to his relationship with God,” the bishop said. As such, theology and philosophy “must not engage in a losing battle to establish the facts of nature that constitute the very scope of science,” he said.
We like that he described opposition to science as a “losing battle.” They’ve definitely come a long way. The article continues:
Bishop Sanchez said the evolutionary laws of heredity and genetic mutation pose no conflict to the Catholic faith and offer a biological explanation for the development of species on earth. However, he said, the beginning of the universe, “the transition from nothing to being,” is not a mutation; God is the first cause of creation and being.
We certainly agree that the Big Bang wasn’t a mutation, but it sounds like they’re sticking with the First Cause doctrine. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, that seems harmless. But then a little more Oogity Boogity slips in:
“In this first transcendent origin of the human being we should in fact admit the direct participation of God,” which occurs with each conception of human life, he said. Human beings are not just biological creatures, but spiritual, too, whose “incorruptible soul,” he said, “requires a creative act of God.”
This is an amazing exercise in — what shall we call it? — grudging acceptance of science. One last excerpt:
Msgr. Fiorenzo Facchini, who is an anthropologist and paleontologist, said evolution could have ended at the pre-human stage, but thanks to God’s will, humans emerged with the capacity for self-reflection and knowing the transcendent.
Make of that what you will, dear reader, but they’re centuries ahead of people like Ken Ham. Maybe there’s hope after all.
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