Pope Gives Blessing to Evolution Theory

By Kenney, Nicholas A. | National Catholic Reporter, November 8, 1996 | Go to article overview

Pope Gives Blessing to Evolution Theory


Kenney, Nicholas A., National Catholic Reporter


Pope John Paul II said "new knowledge" led him to officially announce the Vatican's acceptance of evolutionary theory as "more than a hypothesis." The declaration grew out of mounting evidence for evolution in a variety of scientific disciplines.

"More than 'the theory' of evolution, it is appropriate to speak of 'the theories' of evolution," said John Paul II in a statement Oct. 22 to the plenary session of the pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Such findings coincide with "an explosion of thought in theology concerning the environment and eco-evolutionary questions of faith," said Catholic University theology professor Daniel Cowdin, in explaining why such a declaration would be made at this time.

"There is no established way to reconcile evolution and creationism, but most theologians no longer see the Book of Genesis as a scientific account - they are theological accounts. God is still the why of creation. But evolution is a possible how of creation."

It is only recently, said University of Portland theology professor Thomas Hosinski, that "theology has turned toward the natural world." Theologians traditionally leave it to the scientists to examine nature. The new theological focus on environment and morality, he said, has caused theologians to grapple with evolution in order to understand the natural world. "The pope is promoting a dialogue between religious and scientific experts," Hosinski said.

John Paul was not the first pope to state that science and church can find points of agreement in this area. For example, John Paul referred to a 1950 encyclical by Pope Pius XII in which the earlier pope said that there was no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith as long as there were certain firm points of faith where no concession can be made.

John Haught, Georgetown University theology professor and author of Science and Religion (Paulist Press, 1995), said, "Evolution is the integrating concept of the natural sciences. So if [Pope John Paul II] wants to seriously reconcile science and theology, he has to come to grips with evolution."

Haught was a participant at a June meeting at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, for a discussion of "Biological Evolution and Divine Action. …

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