Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis


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In his view, the evolution of consciousness in humanity was but a first step toward the entire cosmos achieving its own universal consciousness, or what he termed an Omega Point.

New Book Replies to Modern Thomists Who Would Make Peace with Evolution | Evolution News

Many in the Roman Catholic hierarchy agreed, but for different reasons. Once you adopted an evolutionary perspective, Teilhard argued, evil can be considered a natural feature of the world — a sort of inevitable secondary effect of the creation process itself. As for the age-old belief in a founding couple and an act of disobedience that universally brought sin and death into the world?

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It was no longer necessary, or even credible, in his view. In fact, refusal to accept the findings of science threatens the Church and its membership not just in Europe and the US where one in 10 of every Americans is already an ex-Catholic , but in Latin America, Asia and Africa, in almost every populated part of the Earth. But without a more rigorous integration of science into theology, the Church is hobbling its ability to serve as a voice of clarity in worldwide debates about climate change, genetically modified crops, vaccinating children, and the controversial nature of assisted reproductive technologies, including human cloning.

In reality, the Church has been on the wrong side of history ever since the 17th century when Galileo was brought up on charges by the Inquisition for defying the pope and sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life. Their efforts were quickly muzzled, although the Church was careful not to repeat its highly publicised mistreatment of Galileo. T oday, popular attitudes toward evolution and religion take three forms, and the Vatican sits uneasily between two of them.

The first, and most widely touted in recent years by prominent atheists, is that science in general and evolution in particular have completely debunked the claims of the major monotheistic religions. The second, what might be called the deist alternative, acknowledges that Darwinian evolution undermines key beliefs of Christianity but is completely compatible with a generally theistic view of the cosmos, one that owes its creation to a God who is content to wind up the clock, as it were, launch the Big Bang, and let the Universe run by itself.

The third position, one embraced by many fundamentalist Christians and more conservative adherents of both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, is the frank rejection of science where and when it directly contradicts Christian doctrine or scripture, such as the belief that God created the world in six days, the story of Noah and the flood, or that Adam and Eve were the first parents of the entire human race. For ample reasons, the Vatican is unwilling to embrace this third option. It is clear, however, that when it comes to evolution, Rome is not sure how to find a way to balance a continued support for the Catholic tradition and the consensus of science.

But such a way must be found. The late pontiff not only found evolution to be compatible with Christianity, he directly challenged Catholic theologians to mine the science of evolution for deeper insights into the human condition.

Pope Francis Supports Evolution & Destroys Christianity/Bible

It is a single choice and it confronts us all. He wondered whether an evolutionary perspective could bring new light to bear upon what the Church has always taught to be the special status of the human person, made, as the Bible states, in the image and likeness of God.

A few years later, the Pope made worldwide headlines — and also irked many Catholic conservatives — when he publicly declared that evolution was more than just a hypothesis. 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. The media often has a field day with such utterances, but they have little impact on official Church doctrine.

The Catechism has nothing to say on questions such as: What are Catholics today to make of genomics? Of the recent discovery that humans interbred with more than one vanished lineage of early hominins such as the Neanderthals? And where do Adam and Eve fit in this picture? It makes no acknowledgment of what genetics and paleoanthropology have determined about the physical origins of the earliest populations of modern humans and how this squares with belief in a single founding couple.

Many Catholics in the US seem to be following his lead: according to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey taken within the US, 26 per cent of white Catholics and 31 per cent of Hispanic Catholics believe humans have existed in their present state since the beginning of time. This includes Bruce Chapman who heads the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think tank that not only promotes intelligent design as a supposedly credible alternative to evolution, but repeatedly denigrates the scientific consensus in self-published books, articles and videos — and attacks the very methodology of modern science itself.

Their writings are often cited and picked up by parish bulletins throughout the US including churches in my home town, Newton, MA.

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In our discussion, he dismissed intelligent design as a sad hybrid of bad science, philosophy and theology. But he could not tell me whether Pope Francis might soon weigh in with a more official acceptance of evolution. Father Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, an astrophysicist teaching theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, has expressed far more concern.

In addition to his teaching duties and his own research, Tanzella-Nitti edits an online database called The Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science. The implications in the pastoral domain are obvious to all. Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun and director of Catholic Studies at Georgetown University, suggests that the notion of an immortal soul, in its classical formulation at least, is difficult to reconcile with evolutionary theory.

But from the beginning, Teilhard insisted that spirit is present, even in lifeless matter. In her view, theologians need to forge a deeper synthesis between the science and the faith, but almost all of them tacitly accept the old cosmos of the medieval church, the old view of spirit and matter as completely distinct.

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Haught sees himself as picking up where Teilhard left off. In his view, the problem of the immortal soul and the physical body being distinct entities is a holdover from old theology, which tends to divide reality between the eternity of Heaven and the time-bound vicissitudes of life on Earth. Such a view, Haught told me, is almost destined to see the human being as a lonely exile.

Not by a long shot.

New Book Replies to Modern Thomists Who Would Make Peace with Evolution

There has to be hope, Haught says, or theology is meaningless. In a universe that is still evolving, still not finished, there is a real sense of an open-ended future — and with that comes hope, and freedom. But neither are they being censured. But more is needed than academic discussions and publishing, she said. Since the Galileo debacle, the Church has been more accepting when it comes to physics and the other hard sciences.

What happens in the Universe outside of Earth has little impact on doctrinal questions. The science behind the Big Bang is largely congenial to the religious view that the world had a beginning in time. Catholics accept the idea of evolution in some form, a substantial percentage of American adults reject the scientific explanation for the origins of human life, and a number of religious groups in the U. Pope Francis is not the first pontiff to publicly affirm that evolution is compatible with church teachings.

About a quarter of U. The rejection of evolution by most evangelicals is largely mirrored by their churches, such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod , which explicitly reject evolutionary theory as being in conflict with what they see as biblical truth. The share of Hispanic Catholics in the U. In spite of efforts in many American states and localities to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools or to teach alternatives to evolution, courts in recent decades have consistently rejected public school curricula that veer away from evolutionary theory.

In Edwards v. Aguillard , for instance, the U. Supreme Court ruled that a Louisiana law requiring public school students to learn both evolution and creation science violated the U. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you. About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research.

Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis
Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis
Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis
Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis
Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis
Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis

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