Vatican Accepts Evolutionary Science

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“A recent Vatican document analyzed evolution in the light of faith, stepping into an area that has long been a religious and scientific minefield. “ Thus starts an article on the recent work by the International Theological Commission.

First, it accepts as likely the prevailing tenets of evolutionary science: the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in a “big bang”; the earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago; all living organisms on earth descended from a first organism; and man emerged some 40,000 years ago with the development of the larger, human brain. John Travis Creative tension: omnipotence of God vs. dynamism of a universe

Noticable quote by U.S. Jesuit Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory:

“But I think the question itself is wrong. It’s not just necessity or chance, it’s also opportunity. We live in a universe that statistically offers so many opportunities for the life-building processes to work together,” he said.

Some additional quotes

“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,”

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19 Comments

The Vatican accepts evolution because it gets advice from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. It helps to get advice from qualified scientists rather than quacks (example of policy dictated by quacks).

It’s admirable that the Vatican accepts the reality of biological evolution. However, as was seen last year by Cardinal Trujillo’s exaggeration of the flaws of using condoms in the face of statements by experts at the World Health Organization, it’s plain to see that where the Church feels it has dogmatic theological ground it cannot abandon, science is quickly discarded.

Evolution and heliocentrism are no longer felt to threats the Church’s authority, so the Church has no vested interest in denying them, but birth control, which does step on the proverbial toes of the Vatican, is still a realm where at least some representativss are willing to stretch the truth to the point of breaking it.

Does anyone have a link to the original document?

NCSE has the link to the original Vatican statement (old news) Papal Statement

The money quote: “[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.”

NCSE has the link to the original Vatican statement (old news) Papal Statement

The money quote: “[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.”

Perhaps one of the biologists could comment on these further quotations from the referenced news story?

“…the theological commission’s recent document said the appearance of the first members of the human race must be attributed to some form of divine intervention. It spoke of God acting through “causal chains” from the beginning of cosmic history to prepare for the “special creation of the human soul.”

It also emphasized the “personal character of creation” and said man, fashioned in the image of God, responds to a personal creator, not an impersonal force or energy.”

Or to this quotation from the Pope’s 1996 message about evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences?

“Pius XII stressed this essential point: if the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter the spiritual soul is immediately created by God … Consequently … theories of evolution which … 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.”

Perhaps one of the biologists could comment on these further quotations from the referenced news story?

“…the theological commission’s recent document said the appearance of the first members of the human race must be attributed to some form of divine intervention. It spoke of God acting through “causal chains” from the beginning of cosmic history to prepare for the “special creation of the human soul.”

It also emphasized the “personal character of creation” and said man, fashioned in the image of God, responds to a personal creator, not an impersonal force or energy.”

Or to this quotation from the Pope’s 1996 message about evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences?

“Pius XII stressed this essential point: if the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter the spiritual soul is immediately created by God … Consequently … theories of evolution which … 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.”

“Pius XII stressed this essential point: if the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter the spiritual soul is immediately created by God … Consequently … theories of evolution which … 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.”

While it’s possible to have religious beliefs which aren’t contradicted by science, it is not true that all religious beliefs are safe from scientific contradiction.

I don’t mean to be difficult, but how is selecting only the “positive” bits to report, in a post called “Vatican accepts evolutionary science,” different from “quote mining?”

I believe that the Catholic position would be that man’s physical being has arisen from causal chains, is amenable to investigation by science, and is best explained at this time by the theory of evolution, but that man’s spiritual being (his soul) is a product of special creation. This latter belief is not investigateable by science. I think the Catholic position accepts that science is a limited form of knowledge and needs to be properly confined to its proper area of study - the material world, and that humans should address other spiritual concerns through other means.

I personally don’t have a problem with this, and don’t think it causes a problem for science.

I focused on the ‘positive bits’ as they apply to evolutionary science.

I don’t understand. The Catholic position, as reported, is apparently that the first humans are (and indeed must be) the result of divine intervention, and also that while the human body may be the result of evolution the human mind is not. These doctrines don’t “apply to evolutionary science?” An organization that believes these “accepts evolutionary science” (without qualification or explanation)?

Jeff Chamberlain:

I think the important distinction being drawn here involves the role that God is said to have played in the evolutionary process. Creationists deny (to varying degrees depending on doctrine) that evolution happened at all, while the Catholic Church accepts the evidence and the explanation, and seeks to insert their God into the process in ways that satisfy their requirements without denying the evidence.

The general conceptualization of evolution as following a mechanism God decreed, following contingent pathways God engineered, and producing human consciousness by an act of supernatural intent, satisfies these requirements in a way that science can never falsify. Granted that it adds unnecessary overhead to the process, which would not change at all if no gods exist, but it doesn’t really contradict or interfere with the scientific approach.

Creationists deny (to varying degrees depending on doctrine) that evolution happened at all,

A sure sign of the power of evolution is that by now, even many of its opponents concede it’s at work. Creationists 100 years ago denied evolution happens, now they’ve (all but the very dumbest) retreated to saying it happens but it’s insufficient. The most extreme case of Partial-Surrender Creationism is a Behe-type, who thinks evolution can explain everything after the first cell exists. It’s taking them a very long time to come around, but some people aren’t all that fast.

Steve:

I read that the YECs are still the most numerous creationism denomination. Has this been changing? This is a good sign.

They might be the most numerous. It’s certainly the case that I’ve heard people in person advocate Answers in Genesis, and I’ve never heard the same about the Discovery Institute. But it seems the vanguard creationists–Johnson, Dembski, Behe, etc–all have Partial-Surrender positions. And in general there are fewer biblical literalists than in Darwin’s day. So obviously some of the smarter ones have come around a little bit, even if they still cling to bad ideas. Probably toward the end of the flat earth belief, there were some holdouts who thought there was curvature, but only locally. Presumably they believed in ‘micro-curvature’, but not ‘macro-curvature’. ;-)

Steve Wrote:

But it seems the vanguard creationists—Johnson, Dembski, Behe, etc—all have Partial-Surrender positions.

You fell for that?? Wake up and smell the strategy. First the United Army of the Righteous (BTC’s or big tent creationists) defeats science. Then they can make the age of the earth anything they want. It’s just not good politics to bring it up yet. I predict YEC will win by a landslide. Most IDists are probably YEC’s or don’t care very much. The idea that the earth is more than a few thousand years old comes from naturalism, which is very nearly the root of all evil; it’s not something they will really want hold on to.

Steve again: “And in general there are fewer biblical literalists than in Darwin’s day.”

I think the trend has been the other way for a few decades.

Pete Dunkelberg:

My understanding matches yours. In Darwin’s day, Biblical interpretations may have been more the default, but Darwin’s ideas didn’t take all that long to replace Biblical explanations, all things considered. Perhaps a decade or two. And that’s because people were looking for the best available explanation, and willing to switch to a stronger candidate. I don’t read those of Darwin’s time having institutionalized nor organized such fanatical opposition as we see today.

However, I wonder how ID would be presented in classrooms, and how reasonable questions about who the designer is, how the design was done, when it happened, etc. will be fielded. It strikes me that these questions can neither be avoided, nor answered without leading to bitter and divisive doctrinal battles among creationist sects.

I just don’t read the IDists as having surrendered anything, even partially. Behe’s examples of IC systems are hardly analyses of models of the first protocells. What passes for moderate, thoughtful Christians here in Alabama, at least those I’ve talked to, dismiss evolution out of hand. To them, it is simply wrong belief influenced by Satan. So if it’s taught in school (it’s generally avoided altogether around here), they see themselves as engaging in damage control as responsible parents.

Sometimes I wonder when was the last time most of those contributing here attended a Baptist church service, and started talking to the congregation. I’m talking about the normal, sin all week and worship on Sunday Baptist. Is my experience really that isolated?

Posted by Les Lane on September 27, 2004 01:26 PM

The Vatican accepts evolution because it gets advice from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. It helps to get advice from qualified scientists rather than quacks (example of policy dictated by quacks).

Wow. I hadn’t realized that the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod was still this anti-evo:

On July 15, 2004, the

Last action of convention affirms preaching, teaching creation

ST. LOUIS — In the final action before the close of the 62nd Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod July 15, delegates commended “preaching and teaching creation.”

This is not the first time that the Synod has spoken on the matter. A 1971 document of its Commission on Theology and Church Relations affirms creation as God’s work.

“The Scriptures teach that God is the creator of all that exists and is therefore the author and giver of life,” today’s resolution states. “The hypotheses of macro, organic and Darwinian evolution, including theistic evolution, or any other model denying special, immediate and miraculous creation undercut this support for the honoring of life as a gift of God,” it continues.

The convention resolved that all Synod schools — from preschools to universities and seminaries — “continue to teach creation from the Biblical perspective,” that no school “tolerate any teaching that contradicts the teachings of divine creation,” that schools “properly distinguish between micro and macro evolution” and affirm the Scriptural teaching on creation, and that all pastors and teachers be reminded to “increase emphasis to the doctrine of God as the creator and author of life in their preaching and teaching.”

The resolution was offered by Rev. Alfonso O. Espinosa of The Woodlands, Texas.

Posted July 15, 2004

I attended Valparaiso University, where of course evolution was taught along with everything else in biology. Valpo is generic Lutheran, but with many LCMS students/alums/donors. Creationism was fairly common in the student body but I only knew of one faculty member (an expert on Dutch culture, IIRC). We used to make joke that Lutherans were just slightly modified Catholics (even though Notre Dame was just an hour down the road and a tradition was to tape Luther’s 95 theses on the chapel door there every year) – I guess in this case, it is the Catholics that have modified more…

Key to American Lutherans for the perplexed

  • Evangelical Lutheran Church of America = liberal/moderate
  • LCMS = conservative
  • Wisconsin synod = extra conservative

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on September 26, 2004 6:04 PM.

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