Pope Calls Evolution Theory Compatible with Faith

Article excerpt

More than a century after Darwin's "Origin of Species," Pope John Paul II has put the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church firmly behind the view that the human body may not have been the immediate creation of God but is the product of a gradual process of evolution.

With a formal statement sent to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Wednesday, the pope said that "fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis" and that it is compatible with Christian faith. The pope said the theory of evolution had been buttressed by scientific studies and discoveries since Darwin and others first proposed it in the 19th century. The academy, a body of scientific experts, advises the church on scientific matters.

"It is indeed remarkable that this theory has progressively taken root in the minds of researchers following a series of discoveries made in different spheres of knowledge," the pope said in his message, which was released Thursday. "The convergence, neither sought nor provoked, of results of studies undertaken independently from each other constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory." John Paul's statement is unlikely to change significantly the teaching of evolution in Catholic schools in the United States, where it is already a standard part of the curriculum. But in public schools, where the teaching of evolution and creationism is a contentious issue, the statement is seen as supporting the idea that religious faith and the teaching of evolution can easily coexist. If taken literally, the biblical view of the beginning of life and the scientific view developed by Darwin would seem irreconcilable. In Genesis, the creation of the world and Adam, the first human, took six days. Evolution's process of genetic mutation and natural selection - the survival and proliferation of the fittest new species - has taken billions of years, according to scientists. The church's previous position on evolution was established in a 1950 encyclical, issued by Pope Pius XII. This statement, Humani Generis, raised no objection to the promulgation of Darwin's views as a "serious hypothesis" that could be embraced by Catholics as long as it was not presented as "certain doctrine. …