Thursday, 18 September 2008

Catholics have never been fundamentalists on evolution....

There an amusing story of CathNews today about the Vatican refusing to apologise - as the Anglicans have just done - for controversies over Darwin and the theory of evolution.

Archbishop Ravasi of the Pontifical Council for Culture pointed out in a press conference that:

(1) The Catholic Church had in fact never condemned Darwin or the theory of evolution, nor was his book ever placed on the banned books list;

(2) Evolution theory "is not incompatible from the outset with the teachings of the Catholic Church, nor the message of the Bible," he said.

In fact, St Augustine was the first to point out that the Genesis account of creation should probably not be interpreted too literally give that the first few 'days' takes place before the sun had been created to 'govern the day'. In fact Humani Generis, issued by Pope Pius XII in 1950 specifically allows Catholics to accept physical evolution provided they hold that (a) the human soul is directly and individually created by God and (b) Adam was the first parent of us all. Back in 1950, Pope Pius XII felt the debate was still open. More recently, Pope John Paul II suggested that in fact evolution was now the clear scientific consensus.

(3) The time had come to 'abandon the habit of issuing apologies and treating history as if it were a court always in session' (take that Anglican wimps)!

Yay Vatican! Tell the ratpack always out for blood where to go jump!

Now I know many traditionalists do in fact support creationism, or 'Intelligent Design'. They are free to do so. But they shouldn't do so because it is the teaching of the Church - it ain't.

And expect to see more on this subject given the conference the Council is sponsoring next year entitled 'Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A Critical Appraisal 150 years after The Origin of Species', to be held in Rome from March 3 to 7, 2009.


Cardinal Pole said...

"(1) The Catholic Church had in fact never condemned Darwin or the theory of evolution, nor was his book ever placed on the banned books list"

Yes, but polygenism is a condemned error and I, for my part, can see no better explanation for monogenism than the one found in Genesis.

Also, the Church has not ruled that Genesis is to be read in an allegorical or purely moral sense only.

And just how do the Darwinists explain the rise of life from non-life, or of sexual reproduction from asexual reproduction? I suppose their faith commitment tells them that they'll find the answer one day.

Louise said...

Pole, if we consider each of the "days" of Creation in Genesis as an aeon, then it corresponds pretty closely with what geologists think happened in the earth's formation.

I don't like Darwinian evolution as a scientific theory anyway - it has the big problem of The Missing Link for starters.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone who believes in evolution explain why Stephen Jay Gould had to invent the "hopeful monster" theory, if evolution is so well established scientifically?

Also, doesn't the preponderence of patristic weight on this NOT favour evolution??

Not to mention the fact that the "archbishop" of atheism, Darwin's mate, Thomas Huxley, Rector of the University of Edinborough, chided Darwin for the "small" difficulty of a lack of evidence. In other words, Darwin posited this idiotic theory knowing that it wasn't established by the evidence. Things haven't changed much since then...

If so, I'd be careful about saying that the church left one free to believe evolution on the basis of a few documents in the mid- 20C. Even undoubtedly holy popes like Pius XII can get things wrong when not protected by infallibility.

Just because a pope expresses a written opinion in some document, that doesn't mean, without more, that that particular opinion in fact is the teaching of the church.

One must be as aware of ultramontane exaggeration as of the gallican variety.

+ Thomas Wolsey

Archieps. Eborac.

Card. Presbyter Sae Caeciliae trans Tiberim

Legatus a latere.

Terra said...


It is hardly ultramontanism to ask people to accept the ruling of a Pope on what we may or may not believe. A ruling of this kind in an Encyclical is not mere opinion.

It is, rather, guidance which members of the Church are bound to accept on what are acceptable parameters for a debate.

All it is saying though is that one can't say that those who accept some version of evolution (ie one that is based on God's use of secondary causes, not survival of the fittest) hold an erroneous position.

The Fathers held lots of views on scientific issues which have been displaced by later understandings (as we've recently been treated to in relation to when human life begins). Unless we are talking about clearcut propositions that everyone agrees on and that have no other possible interpretation, sand that are necessary for faith, we are not bound to accept them when later evidence displaces them.

The Genesis account is capable of being interpreted several ways even on its literal meaning (as I pointed out).

Anonymous said...

Sorry Terra,

There are rulings and there are rulings.

Unless the ruling concerned is a statement either of the extraordinary magisterium, or of the infallible ordinary magisterium, it is liable to be erroneous.

Popes have made many false "rulings" throughout history, whether in regard to matters of faith (cf. Council of Florence on holy orders) or discipline (cf. the allegedly obligatory nature of the new mass, or the alleged validity of the "law" of celibacy, both of which were, and are, wrong. In regard to the latter, I recommend "Celibacy: Gift or Law" by Heinz-Juergen Vogels, as s starting point.)

Terra said...


The willingness of traditionalists to automatically disregard the ordinary magisterium, and fixate on individual (and often rather debatable) examples is something that troubles me greatly.

While it is true that dogmatic statements of the ordinary magisterium are generally potentially reformable (and a collection of recent ones may need to be), that doesn't mean we are free to disagree with them just because we don't like them.

I'd recommend a careful reading of the Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian n the Church on this:

There are obviously cases where one can disagree with the ordinary magisterium. But it shouldn't be our first instinct, notwithstanding the challenges of recent years!

In any case, in this particular instance it is debatable whether this really is ordinary magisterium.

Humani Generis goes to a lot of trouble to define some things that catholics must believe (which clearly are infallible in my view, such as the condemnation of polygenism). It then says that subject to these parameters a belief in evolution is not incompatible with the faith.

It is not saying that evolution is the correct theory. It may well turn out to be incorrect. But Pope Pius XII essentially said that that there is nothing stopping catholics from using it as a working theory (as all scientific theories are in essence hypotheses subject to falsification). I doubt that a statement which basically says 'it is ok to believe x' cannot be protected by infallibility.

I don't believe the examples you cite go to this type of problem.

Anonymous said...


We are free to disagree with the authentic, not infallible, ordinary magisterium, if we can establish that a particular "ruling" is wrong. That takes considerable research and thought. It's anything but a knee-jerk reaction. In other words, the onus of proof is on the person calling the authentic magisterium into question, but it's an onus that is capable, in some cases at least, of discharge.

+ Thomas Wolsey

Archieps. Ebor., etc.

Terra said...

Yes I agree, but the bar for dissent is quite high.

My issue is that traddies too often look like awfully like liberals, taking a cafeteria catholic approach on the grounds that some current teaching differs from their (personal) interpretation of a past one. And usually on the basis of someone else's claim to that effect rather than their own research and study.

The only difference is that traddies appeal to some past authority, while liberals appeal to themselves!

My point is that we need to be very careful in this area, and try and think with the Church, not withstanding the difficulties of doing so in an era when theological error (perpetrated by theologians and in many cases priests) is rife.

Cardinal Pole said...

As I have just said in a comment at CathNews, it is not a question of whether Genesis teaches science, but of whether it teaches history.