Over the past few days we’ve seen literally hundreds of news stories headlining the Pope’s position on evolution and the Big Bang. Hint: he’s not opposed to science, as long as it’s understood that God is the ultimate creator.
We haven’t written about this (until now) because it isn’t news. What we’ve been waiting for is the inevitable creationist reaction, because that’s going to be fun. We’re expecting something along those lines soon, perhaps today. Meanwhile, we’ve finally found one news story that puts the Pope’s statements into the proper historical context, so that’s worth mentioning.
It’s also worth noting that it appears in the Times of Israel, an online newspaper based in Jerusalem. Their headline is Were Pope’s evolution remarks a break from Catholic teaching?, and there’s a comments section at the end. Their story says, with bold font added by us:
The Pope did indeed make comments about compatibility of evolution and the bible, but his comments continued Catholic teachings on science and God, a point missed by the coverage of his remarks. In a speech Monday before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Vatican City, Francis said that the theory of evolution is not incompatible with the account of creation as recorded in the Bible, and the Big Bang does not contradict divine intervention but rather requires it.
“We run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything,” he said, arguing against young earth creationism. “But that is not so.”
“The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”
Those are the remarks that were headlined everywhere, but so far, only the Times of Israel seems capable of putting the Pope’s words in perspective. They tell us:
Francis’s remarks were covered breathlessly in the media, but the coverage has not reflected that they are solidly consistent with previous Church teachings.
The official position of the Catholic Church has been very clear, emphasized Murray Watson, cofounder of the Center for Jewish-Catholic-Muslim learning at Ontario’s Western University: Catholicism does not see an inherent contradiction between faith and any of the several leading theories of evolution, as long as those theories can allow room for a number of beliefs. First, that God is the ultimate source of evolution. Second, that God is ultimately guiding the process, even if indirectly through the laws of nature. And finally, that the human soul is God’s direct creation, not a random result of evolution.
In other words, Theistic evolution. Let’s read on:
Speeches and statements by leading Catholic clergy over the years has presented the same position regarding faith and science. In a 1996 speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II said 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. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.”
Right. We’ve written about that before — see The Catholic Church and Evolution, and before that: The Catholic Church and Science — which is why we didn’t think the current Pope’s remarks were newsworthy. But it will certainly be upsetting to the Discoveroids — see Discovery Institute’s Advice to Pope Francis.
Then the Times of Israel asks the same question that occurred to us:
Why, then, did many media outlets perceive Francis’s speech as breaking new ground for the Catholic Church?
They quote Wheeling Jesuit University theologian Andrew Staron:
Staron posited that too many observers still see “a deep conflict between religious faith and scientific inquiry.”
“Both sides of this perceived conflict posit a God who interacts with the world from outside of it by rearranging the laws of nature when it suits the divine will. Belief in such a God — whether embraced or rejected — does not take seriously enough the possibility of coming to know the Creator in and through creation and, importantly, in and through human reason. To posit a God who is only accessible to an irrational faith is to believe that we can only come to know God by denying one of the key elements of what makes us human — our reason. Instead, the Catholic Church teaches that human reason, when properly formed, opens to the divine.“
That’s how we understood their position. It seems to us that the Catholic Church is moving toward a hybrid position that resembles Deism in the beginning, and then morphs into a literal interpretation of the events in the New Testament, but with the “history” of Genesis as allegorical. To us, that’s unobjectionable, but we’re waiting to be entertained by the anguished creationist reactions.
See also: The Pope’s Views on Science — So What?
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