Media Twists Papal Statement on Evolution
Michael S. Rose*
Most, if not all, media reports last week failed to make clear the meaning behind Pope John Paul II's message, delivered to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, concerning "theories of evolution."
The Pope in no way gave the Church's consent to "Darwinism," as has been widely reported. The scientific community itself has already all but disproved this popular hypothesis. Nor did the Pope write anything new concerning the Church's position on the various theories of evolution.
Although Pope John Paul stated that evolutionism is certainly valid as an hypothesis, he added that the theories of evolution which consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter "are incompatible with the truth about man." Further, several times he makes reference Pope Pius XII's 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis, which addresses the subject of evolutionism as a theory which can be used to undermine the foundations of Catholic doctrine.
The Catholic Church does not forbid genuine scholarly research with regard to the theories of evolution. She does, however, hold as an absolute truth that souls are immediately created by God. No honest scientific research or hypothesis, Pope John Paul said, can contradict this truth. Some contemporary scientists, however, inspired by anti-Christian philosophies, suggest that the origin of the human body— developing from lower life forms— has already been adequately demonstrated. The Church recognizes this argument as false.
Pope John Paul has made no new pronouncement, as has been reported lately, concerning the acceptability of any hypothesis of evolution. He has merely reasserted that the scientific inquiry into the origins of life is commendable as long as it is recognized, above all, that the soul is created by God alone.
Conjectural opinions, often taken to be scientifically-proved theories, continue to pose a problem for the Church. The current Pope, much the same as his predecessor Pope Pius XII, continues to condemn such false presumption insofar as it undermines essential Christian revelation.
One such conjectural opinion is that of "polygenism," which maintains that the human race did not come forth from a single set of parents. Pope Pius XII writes of polygenism that "the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with [the doctrine of] original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is everyone as his own."
EXCERPTS from Pope John Paul's statement
We know in effect that truth cannot contradict truth.
In the domain of inanimate and animate nature, the evolution of science and its applications make new questions arise. The Church can grasp their scope all the better as she understands their basic aspects.
Humani Generis considered the doctrine of 'evolutionism' as a serious hypothesis, worthy of a more deeply studied investigation and reflection on a par with the opposite hypothesis. ... Today, more than a half century after this encyclical, new knowledge leads us to recognize in the theory of evolution more than a hypothesis. ... The convergence, neither sought nor induced, of results of work done independently one from the other, constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.
The elaboration of a theory such as that of evolution, while obeying the exigency of homogeneity with the data of observation, borrows certain ideas from the philosophy of nature. To tell the truth, more than the theory of evolution, one must speak of the theories of evolution. .. There are thus materialistic and reductionist readings and spiritual readings.
The magisterium of the Church is directly interested in the question of evolution because this touches upon the concept of man,... created in the image and likeness of God. ... Pius XII underlined this essential point: 'if the origin of the human body is sought in living matter which existed before it, the spiritual soul is directly created by God.' Consequently, the theories of evolution which, as a result of the philosophies which inspire them, consider the spirit as emerging from forces of living matter or as a simple epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are moreover incapable of laying the foundation for the dignity of the person.
The sciences of observation describe and measure with ever greater precision the multiple manifestations of life and place them on a timeline. The moment of passing over to the spiritual is not the object of an observation of this type... But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of the awareness of self and of its reflexive nature, that of the moral conscience, that of liberty, or still yet the aesthetic and religious experience, are within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection, while theology extracts from it the final meaning according to the Creator's designs.
*Editor, St. Catherine Review
Editor's note: In response to a CWN news story ... about Pope John Paul's statement regarding the theory of evolution [22 October 1996, Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences] — a statement which also provoked heavy coverage in the secular media — several readers ... asked for more details. Following this analysis by Michael Rose, we have reproduced extensive excerpts from the Holy Father's remarks on the subject.
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