Pope Francis, Evolution, & the Big Bang

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?

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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16 responses to “Pope Francis, Evolution, & the Big Bang

  1. The RCC has always been the forward looking in science.
    I went to Catlick school and got a great science education from the nuns.
    Yes they were way light on evilution but then I was only 12 anyway.

  2. The above Anonymous is me. I tried posting and something went weird

    The RCC has always been the forward looking in science.
    I went to Catlick school and got a great science education from the nuns.
    Yes they were way light on evilution but then I was only 12 anyway.
    And as shown by others the Galileo silliness is not as B&W as some like to show it. BUT So WHAT!! They are still delusional, obsessed with sex, and trying to force their BS morals onto everyone else. They are still psychotically delusional Aholes.

  3. I went to Catlick school

    Keep your perversions out of this. Who are you anyway, Jerry Coyne?

  4. It seems to me that the fuzz mainly comes from the USA, that backward superpower. Only one Dutch newspaper wrote about it and only today:

    http://www.trouw.nl/tr/nl/13912/Rooms-katholicisme/article/detail/3778227/2014/10/29/De-paus-accepteert-evolutie-en-dat-is-zo-vreemd-niet.dhtml

    Header: “The pope accepts evolution and that’s not that strange”

    First two lines: “Pope Franciscus made the news last Monday because he embraced the Big Bang and evolution. Catholic theologians don’t understand the fuzz.”

  5. Theologian Andrew Staron proclaims—

    “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.”

    And yet it is intensely curious to find consistently that whenever supposedly established theology runs afoul of that selfsame reason, theology immediately seeks refuge in that exact murky harbour of irrationality, more commonly called “Mysterious Ways™”, a catchall whose sole purpose is to obviate an elemental ad ignorantiam by garbing it in a fashionable and glitzy cloak of pseudo-profundity. Anyone for a hot mug of cognitive dissonance?

    Still, it’s interesting that the RCC has become progressively less antagonistic towards science over the past few centuries. Maybe that whole Galileo brouhaha wasn’t entirely lost on them, considering it took around three centuries for them to acknowledge it, and they’ve learnt some circumspection and the wariness that follows having being smacked in the mouth with a sackful of hard facts.

  6. RSG says: Still, it’s interesting that the RCC has become progressively less antagonistic towards science over the past few centuries.”

    Pope Pious XII is often cited as the first Pope to call for reconciliation between The RCC & science. Actually that occurred a couple of centuries earlier when churches started putting up lightening rods.

  7. I wonder how right wing Catholics like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingram are reacting to this.

  8. For the pope to disavow a creator would be the death sentence for the rcc, or perhaps him. They must always posit a creator, that’s what their religion stands on, nebulous as it is. At least he kicked the ID and fundy folks in the butt.

  9. Maybe the major challenge for this pope, subsequent popes, and holy men of all stripes into the future will be to find little gaps in our knowledge where, like squirrels getting ready for winter, they can stuff and hide their gods.

    The pope’s god has gone from being everywhere doing miraculous things like creating universes, parting seas and flooding worlds to hiding on somebody’s toast in a village somewhere. Where does he go next?

  10. Richard Bond

    So Pope Francis is suddenly an expert physicist? That sounds like a nasty case of Dunning–Kruger to me.

  11. that the human soul is God’s direct creation, not a random result of evolution.

    This sort of language has bugged me ever since I first heard it as a kid.

    Granting the premisses which they are operating with, human souls are immaterial, non physical, and thus not the subject matter of any science.

    By standard doctrine, each soul is created by an independent act of creation, not pre-existing, not inherited from an earlier generation.

    It is reproduction, not evolution, which is most directly concerned with the appearance of each individual. If people find it necessary to talk of the origins of souls and a science, why don’t they say, every time they talk about genetics, reproduction, development, and even metabolism, “but the human soul is God’s direct creation, not a random result of genetics”?
    Why don’t they say that? Because they would be laughed at.

    BTW, evolution is not a random process.

  12. @jason: “RSG says:…”

    Nope; not RSG. That was Con-Tester’s comment.

  13. If the soul (assuming it exists) isn’t the product of evolution, so what? Most theologians would cringe away from the idea that it was biological at all, and if it isn’t, biological evolution doesn’t apply to it.

  14. Among the things that have to be understood here is that (despite the fervent wishes of the bishops) there is no such thing as “a Catholic Church”. The American Catholic Church has long been a different animal than what might be found elsewhere in the world. I well remember in my early teen years knowing that the “the rhythm method” wasn’t keeping Catholic families to 2.5 children and, what’s more, the priests well knew it too but didn’t say a thing. I went to Catholic elementary schools, high school, and a Jesuit college (Franky is a Jesuit) and, despite losing faith (if I ever had it) in high school, never once did I feel pressured to deny my intellectual understanding of philosophy or science in favor of theology. I think Franky is trying to straddle the gap between the intellectual side of the church and the emotional … I’m beloved of god … side. He’s hardly the first and not likely to be more successful than those who have gone before.

    The most that anyone can hope for is that Franky won’t become an enemy of science or of intellectualism within the church.

  15. Christians and Muslims believe in CREATION.

    So the statement of Pope is a significant departure which might create controversies.

    Some will see it as an attempt to reconcile religious views with the current scientific thoughts.

    However there is one religion in the world, which will be fairly comfortable with what has been said; Hindus, who believe
    in Sanatan Dharm.

    Hindus have no problem with either CREATION or EVOLUTION and they are MORE CLOSE to EVOLUTION.

    Hindus believe in CYCLIC THEORY of EVOLUTION, and their theory is more comprehensive.

    They Believe and ACCEPT that God sitting in Heavens can NEVER solve the problems of Societies, and problem associated with it, but do answer prayers of individuals, and provide reliefs.

    If God wants to give relief in the problems pertaining to societies and other larger problems, He has to come as AVATAR on earth as Human and then provide direction by examples and by Physical actions (KARM).

    Lord Ram and Lord Krishna are the examples
    of the same.

    You may read:

    CREATION VS. EVOLUTION AND HINDUS
    http://awara32.blogspot.com/20

    SANATAN DHARM BELIEVE IN CHAOS AND NOT IN
    PERFECTION
    http://awara32.blogspot.in/201

  16. @John Pieret
    “Americanism” is on the list of errors promulgated by Pius IX (“Pius Nono”).

    But there is a significant current in the American Catholic Church which is ultra”conservative”, at times favorable to Antisemitism (Father Caughlin), sometimes finding the popes since Pius XII to be anti-popes (Sedevacantism). A mild form is found in Mariology. I don’t know anything about his other opinions, but a chief promoter of Geocentrism happens to be an American Catholic.