Science and religion, specifically Catholicism, have been at odds on many occasions (just check out how the Catholic Church responded to the scientific revolution). One topic in particular that many have questioned is the origins of humans. So in this article, let me try to clear this up and answer whether or not Catholicism – which is one of the biggest religions in the world – believes in evolution, a widely accepted theory in the scientific community.
Catholics can be both faithful and believe in evolution. For the Church, evolution does not oppose the Christian doctrine. This has always been the position of the Catholic Church and was reaffirmed by Pope Francis in 2014 during the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
So what exactly do the Church and popes say about evolution and why are Catholics free to accept the theory of evolution? Continue reading to find out.
Why Does the Catholic Church Accept Evolution?
Unlike the evangelical Protestants in the United States, Catholics have never been at odds with the scientific community regarding evolution. Pope Pius XII proclaimed this in the 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, confirming that there’s no conflict between Christianity and the theory of evolution. Considering, of course, that one believes that God is the Creator of all things and that a person’s soul is His direct creation and not something that came from any material forces.
It should be noted that Pope Pius XII expressed his concern, saying that the theory should be accepted with caution. He also called for more research about it. That said, he did not condemn it.
St. John Paul II had the same sentiment and endorsed Pius’ statement in 1996 through his Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Evolution. He approved the acceptance of the theory but reminded the faithful that questions about spirituality are beyond the realm of science. Then in 2014, Pope Francis said the same thing in his address during the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, saying: “Evolution in nature does not conflict with the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings who evolve.”
And so, the Catholic Church has long accepted or at least not objected to the theory of evolution because it does not conflict with Christian belief. According to the Church’s teachings, God created the universe out of nothing. Anything that happens after that, whether life forms developed over time and the stars and planets evolved, the Church doesn’t say. That’s where science comes in.
See, the Church does not deny science and reason. St. John Paul II confirmed this through his “Fides et Ratio (On Faith and Reason)”, where he said: “Even if faith is superior to reason there can never be a true divergence between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals the mysteries and bestows the gift of faith has also placed in the human spirit the light of reason.”
What is Evolution?
In an article in the National Library of Medicine, evolution is claimed to be both a “fact and a theory.” According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “evolution in its contemporary meaning in biology typically refers to the changes in the proportions of biological types in a population over time.” It is how new species and living things were able to come to be, as they are now, after developing through succeeding generations.
Now, evolution is a too-large topic for this article, so let’s make it simpler and look at evolution in two ways:
This is the understanding that everything evolved gradually. In this type of evolution, everything became what they are now because it went through a gradual, slow process. This suggests that everything – the universe, life, and humans – happened by mere chance. Many of those who believe in this type of evolution do not believe there’s a God that allowed it to happen. For this reason, Catholics do not accept this theory.
Theistic evolution or evolutionary creation is a type of evolution wherein things and life become what they are through a gradual, step-by-step process. But it does not mean that it happened by chance. This suggests that there’s a higher being that guides everything to fall into place. This guidance is what we call “divine providence”. So as Catholics, this is the type of theory that we can accept and believe.
What is the Catholic Position On Evolution
In conclusion, the Catholic’s position concerning evolution is the following:
The Church is clear in its teachings that God specially created the soul of man. It also accepts the possibility that human bodies developed over time from their past biological forms, but only with God’s guidance.
So whether humans were created or developed, it does not matter. What does matter is that as Catholics, we should believe that our souls are specially created by God. Meaning, that we didn’t inherit it from our parents nor did it evolve from another entity.
The Catholic Church doesn’t have an official position on whether or not life forms, of any kind, developed through time. It does teach its members that if they do, then it’s only possible through the guidance of God.
The Church and the Bible state that God created the universe out of nothing. The Vatican Council describes this in the Canons on God the Creator of All Things, canon 5, which states:
“If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God; or holds that God did not create by his will free from all necessity, but as necessarily as he necessarily loves himself; or denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema.”
In terms of the Catholic faith in creation, this can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 296, which states: “We believe that God needs no pre-existent thing or any help in order to create, nor is creation any sort of necessary emanation from the divine substance. God creates freely out of nothing”.
That said, while the Church allows all the faithful to believe in developing creations or special creations, it does not, in any circumstance, permit belief in atheistic evolution.