Where is Evolution in Catholic Teaching?

by Anthony Nevard

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On 25th October 1996, it was widely reported that Pope John Paul II had at long last acknowledged that Darwin’s evolutionary view of the world’s history was true. We were informed that this was the implication of part of his letter to the advisory body, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which referred to evolution as being “more than a hypothesis”.

Was this a denial of the account of Creation in Genesis, or even a novel infallible teaching? Far from it! Even the Pope cannot change the meaning of the essential doctrines of the Faith, as they are truths revealed by God Himself. Incredibly, at a time when even atheist and agnostic scientists have rejected Darwinism as unsupportable, we were told that the Pope now accepts it! This article is intended to assure Catholics that Evolution has never been reconcilable with Papal teachings.

The mysteries of our origins can never be fully accessible to unaided reason or scientific research, but are part of God’s Revelation to Man. To accept them, we need the gift of Faith: but these truths are above our powers of reason, not in contradiction to them. Though we know that Sacred Scriptures are true, as God is their Author, we need the authority of the Church to interpret them infallibly, avoiding the excesses of both literalism and liberalism. The following key doctrinal teachings will clarify the Catholic position.

1870 VATICAN COUNCIL

  • Faith and Reason (e.g. the findings of true science) cannot be in real opposition: Truth is One.
  • God created a good world.
  • God, through His Providence. protects and guides all He has Created.
  • The first Man, body and soul, was created by God.

The idea that a spiritual soul was created in an animal body is alien to the words of the Scriptures, Christian Tradition, and all the Church Fathers and theologians.

1907 Pope St. Pius X Encyclical Pascendi

  • Condemned Modernism, which is based on Evolution.
  • Condemned the idea that the Faith must be subject to current views of Science and History.

1909 Biblical Commission Decree

Reinforced traditional Catholic doctrines on Creation.

  • Creation by God at the beginning of time
  • Special creation of Man; the formation of the first woman from the first man.
  • The unity of the human race
  • Their initial state of justice, integrity and immortality
  • The testing of Adam and Eve by a positive precept
  • Their temptation and sin under the influence of the Devil
  • Their expulsion from Paradise
  • The promise of a Redeemer.

Principles of interpretation of Genesis 1-3

  • These chapters relate to real events, not myths, legends or mere allegories or symbols.
  • Not all words and sentences need be understood in the literal sense; those which have been variously interpreted by the Church Fathers and theologians may be understood according to one's own judgement, subject to the Faith.
  • We need not expect scientific exactitude in expressing the inner nature of visible things or to read the complete order of creation.
  • The word day may be taken as a natural day or a certain space of time, and this question may be freely discussed.

1950 Pope Pius XII's Encyclical Humani Generis

  • Expresses sorrow at current discord and error on moral and religious matters that threatens the principles of Christian culture. [para. 1, 2]
  • Warns us not to hold evolution as proved, or to use it to explain the origin of all things; this leads to pantheism, materialism and other false philosophies. [para. 5, 6]
  • Warns of dangers of ignoring Papal teaching, so leading to relativism. [para. 15, 16]
  • Danger of limiting Scriptural inerrancy to religious matters only. [para. 22, 23]
  • Permits research and discussion into the doctrine of evolution regarding the question of the origin of the human body from pre-existing living matter. [para. 36]
  • Research must consider theories favourable and unfavourable to evolution fairly. [para. 36]
  • Each human soul is specially created by God. [para. 36]
  • Polygenism [theory of several human evolutionary origins] is unacceptable, as it is not reconcilable with the doctrine of Original Sin. [para. 37]

1962-65 Vatican Council II

No reference was made to creation, evolution, science or the interpretation of Genesis.

1994 Pope John Paul II. Catechism of the Catholic Church

Creation

31 pages of text; 36 subheadings in the Index; 59 page references. The traditional teachings are all clearly reiterated with references; for example:

"Catechesis on creation is of major importance. It concerns the very foundations of human and Christian life: for it makes explicit the response of the Christian faith to the basic question that men of all times have asked themselves: “Where do we come from?”, “Where are we going?” , “What is our origin?” , “What is our end?” , “Where does everything that exists come from and where is it going?” The two questions, the first about the origin and the second about the end, are inseparable. They are decisive for the meaning and orientation of our life and actions." [para. 282]

"Among all the Scriptural texts about creation, the first three chapters of Genesis occupy a unique place... they express the truths of creation its origin and its end in God, its order and goodness, the vocation of man, and finally the drama of sin and the hope of salvation." [para. 289]

Evolution

No mention of evolution anywhere in the text or in the Index.

We must conclude that the Catholic Church continues to teach officially that the human race is descended from Adam and Eve. Any theory of origins that conflicts with these authoritative teachings must be false and hence opposed to Christianity.


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