Can a Catholic Accept Evolutionary Theory Uncritically?

I posted a couple of days ago on Genesis and the comments really lit up. As always the Genesis accounts of creation provide a rich field for controversy and discussion. The last post focused on the question of the genre of the Genesis texts. In this post I would like to ponder another point for discussion: The theory of evolution’s relationship to the Genesis text. Tomorrow I’d like to post on the question of polygensism (the theory that Adam was not one historical man but, rather, a euphemism for “mankind”).

Disclaimer– I do not intend to answer all the questions about evolution and Genesis here. This is a blog, not a theological or scientific journal. I am not a dogmatic theologian, neither do I have an advanced degree in Scripture. Neither am I a trained biologist. My MA is in moral theology. What I intend to do here is open a discussion. I would like to suggest some parameters to the topic which Catholicism requires of us. But in the end, I am going to depend on the comments section to broaden the discussion, make distinctions, suggest further limits, or clarify and quote other sources. Many of the commenters on this blog are theologically skilled and provide a valuable service to the rest of us. Likewise there are some with a scientific background who read here and can help clarify on the topic of evolution. I would only ask that all of us not rush to use words like heresy etc. and that the science folks not treat me or the rest of us like a bunch of ignoramuses. The Genesis accounts are very prototypical and archetypal. It is a true fact that the Church gives us guidance on how to interpret them but there is also some freedom to differ with each other as well. So let me set the table and then open the comments.

Sobriety about Evolutionary Theory – It is common to experience a rather simplistic notion among Catholics that the Theory of Evolution can be reconciled easily with the Biblical accounts and with our faith. Many will say something like this: “I have no problem with God setting things up so that we started as one-celled organisms and slowly evolved into being human beings. God could do this and perhaps the Genesis account is just simplifying evolution and telling us the same thing as what Evolution does.”

There are elements of the truth in this sort of a statement. Surely God could have set things up to evolve and directed the process so that human beings evolved and then, at some time he gave us souls. God could have done that.

The problem with the statement above is less theological than scientific because there is a word in that sentence that is “obnoxious” to evolutionary theory: “God.” The fact is that most Catholics who speak like this over-simplify evolutionary theory and hold a version of it that most Evolutionary Theorists do not hold. They accept the Theory of Evolution uncritically.

But, at the heart of evolutionary theory are the concepts of natural selection and genetic mutation. Notice the word “natural” and notice the word “mutation.” Generally speaking, evolutionary theory sees these processes as random, (though influenced by the environment). It sees them as chance mutations that happen to survive because they confer some benefit. But the process is natural, random and not directed by any outside intelligence with a design or purpose in mind.

Mutations in DNA are random, and in natural selection, the environment determines the probability of reproductive success. The end products of natural selection are organisms that are adapted to their present environments. Natural selection does not involve progress towards an ultimate goal. Evolution does not necessarily strive for more advanced, more intelligent, or more sophisticated life forms. Organisms are merely the outcome of variations that succeed or fail, dependent upon the environmental conditions at the time.[1]

Now what this means is that God is excluded as a cause by evolutionary theory. It would be fine if evolutionists (as natural scientists) were either silent on the question of God. Or, perhaps if they simply stated that things may be acted upon by an outside force or intelligence but that is beyond the scope of their discipline. But that is not what is being said by most proponents of evolutionary theory. They are saying that biodiversity results MERELY from natural selection and random (i.e. non intended or non-purposeful) genetic mutations. They are saying that observable effects of biodiversity are wholly caused by something natural, random and without any ultimate goal or plan.

But a Catholic cannot accept all of this. Even if a Catholic wants to accept that things have evolved in some way (whether through macro or microevolution) a Catholic cannot say that this process is simply random, chance, blind, or with no purpose. We believe that God alone created all things, and that he sustains all things. Neither do we confess some sort of “deist” God who merely started things off and then lets them take their own course. Rather, God sustains and carries out every detail.

The Book of Genesis depicts God as being personally involved in every stage of creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth” (Genesis 1:1). The text says further “God made the wild animals, each, according to their kinds (Gen 1:25). In other words, God specifically created each animal and person that is in an intentional way. The text of Genesis, while not scientific, states a truth that we cannot set aside: That God created (and sustains) all that we see. That what is, cannot MERELY be explained (as most evolutionists state) by blind, random natural selection. The Genesis text is clear to state that God alone creates and in doing so he is present at every stage, is personal, purposeful and acts with intelligence and goal in mind. He creates everything according to its kind.

This is our faith and we cannot simply accept evolutionary theory without some distinctions. Evolutionary theory proposes itself as a complete and closed explanation for the biodiversity of this planet. Catholics ought to be sober about who and what we are dealing with here. This theory sets aside important things we believe about creation and God, which are described in Genesis and believed by the Church. The theory sets aside God. Things are not the result of a rational, orderly and directed processes, they result from a process that is merely random, blind and tending to no purpose or end. We cannot accept such a theory merely on these terms. If we accept aspects of the theory, such as that things gradually evolved, we have to carefully distinguish this from mainstream evolutionary theory. But a simple, uncritical acceptance of evolutionary theory is for a Catholic untenable.

This does not mean that Catholics therefore run to the creationist school of thought.  There are important insights of science in the matter of creation and the material world that Catholics are free to accept and wise to accept. The Catechism stakes out a middle ground wherein a Catholic may be able to accept certain aspects of evolutionary theory in terms of secondary causality. But this must always be balanced with a deep reverence for God as the first cause of all that is:

God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan…..The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Far from diminishing the creature’s dignity, this truth enhances it. Drawn from nothingness by God’s power, wisdom and goodness, it can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for “without a Creator the creature vanishes.” Still less can a creature attain its ultimate end without the help of God’s grace. (CCC 306-309).

Hence, a Catholic ought to be very careful to avoid an uncritical acceptance of the Theory of Evolution.  An old maxim comes to mind: Seldom Affirm, never deny, always distinguish. Not a bad approach when it comes to this great debate about Evolution, the Bible and faith.

OK Have at it. I know much needs to be added. But that’s the point of a blog. To start a discussion, not end it.

122 Replies to “Can a Catholic Accept Evolutionary Theory Uncritically?”

    1. Evolution is an anti-scientific myth – a modern fable. People who accept evolution either do not comprehend the reality of randomness (as in a physically randomized system), or they skip over it. A randomized system is random forever unless acted upon by a force external to the random system. Always and forever. There is no getting around that. And taking that into account, if systems are truly randomized, there can never be certainty or predictability in any physical reaction. Yet we routinely take advantage of predictability (ask any of the astronauts who sojourned to the Moon and back).

      Science is a hard tool, and it has sharp edges. Evolution and its proxy, The Big Bang, both seek to blunt those edges by overwhelming the human mind with myriad possibilities (Prof. Hawking’s new book delves into this), but that is merely the ego of the scientist, not the nature of science.

      True science can never contradict true religion. There is but one body of truth, and it lives as our Lord, Jesus Christ.

      1. Evolution is just as scientific as quantum mechanics. Apparently, God DOES play dice with the universe. Nevertheless, how does evolution rule out divine guidance? Has God grown so weak and feeble in His old age that He can no longer control evolutionary outcomes?

  1. I think the important thing in discussing this topic is to not get too dualistic where we rigidly separate what is the action of natural forces and what is the action of God. That is the mistake that many of the scientistic atheists make. They say, “Look, we have discovered the mechanism by which species, emerge and devleop. Therefore, there is no God. We have explained every aspect of it and there is no room left for him.” Their unexamined assumption is of course that if we can describe the natural cause or process by which something occurs, then God is excluded. Unfortunately, in reacting to this kind argument, many believers simply argue the opposite side of the coin without realizing that they are buying into the very dualism that is at the heart of the athiests’ error. The believers say, “No, you haven’t explained everything. See, these aspects of biological life are too complex to be explained by your theory. The only explanation is an intelligent designer.” Inevitably this reduces God to a “god of the gaps” (i.e. God is responsible for those things that can’t be explained through science), and the believer is left with a smaller, less relevant god each time science makes an advance in its theories in this area. This is why so many believers invest so much effort into disputing the evidence for scientific theories that in many cases are very well established. (e.g. Someone in the previous discussion on Genesis was effectively reviving the Galileo controversy by contesting the notion that the earth orbits the sun.) The better solution is to realize that if God is the creator of all that is, then the natural processes by which things occur in the universe are also His actions. Just because we have an explanation for how something occurs doesn’t mean that God isn’t in it.

    And just to lay down my disclaimers: Nothing in what I have said above should be construed to mean that God can only work through nature (i.e. Deism) or that God IS nature (i.e pantheism).

    1. Vincent,

      I believe you have the “opposite side of the coin” opinion incorrect. I do enjoy your input and I do get much out of what you write, but I consider myself on this side and I don’t ever remember holding to God being a “God of the gaps”. And I don’t know any Creationists that do hold that position either.

      What would happen if science came out and said that the earth does not spin and does not orbit around the sun? What would happen if science came out and said the earth is getting colder, then it is warming because of co2, then it is cooling for some strange reason without the reduction in co2? What would happen if science came out and said we need “zero population” because the earth can’t sustain all the humans? Should we disregard God’s command to “go forth and multiply” or should we take science as truth and willfully submit? Where would our faith be if we conformed it to a faulty science just to have it unravel in the end? Why would you hinge your faith on such a sandy foundation? Why not just go with what God reveals to us in Scripture? All Scripture was written from an eyewitness account. Since ALL Scripture has the Holy Spirit as its Author, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters in the beginning, then the Spirit witnessed everything. Why would God allow a human author to write something down, even if it was not relevant to the original intent of the message if it was not true. It can’t happen. That would be like me, as editor and inspiration to my son for a paper he has to write for school, allow him when writing about why the trees are green, make a comment about the moon being a piece of cheese. I would never let him put that in the paper even if it had nothing to do with what he was trying to get across. Would you let your son do such a thing, when knowing that the moon is not a big piece of cheese? The analogy was off the top of my head, so forgive the simplicity of it.

      Although, this would have to assume that one believes the Holy Spirit was actually present at Creation. The truth of God being one, with 3 Persons uses this as a foundation for the revelation. Let “Us” create……

      1. Why would God allow the scriptural authors to record things that are inaccurate?

        1) Because above all else, God respects human freedom. God is love, and love is not an emotion but rather an act of the will. That means love must be freely chosen for it to be real love. In order for us to truly be able to be with our God who is love, we must be free so that we may truly love. This also means we must be free to do things other than what God intends or desires. Mysteriously, through His infinite providence, God is able to work his plan of salvation through human beings’ free choices. As is often said, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” Just as God was able to bring His covenant to fulfillment despite a lot of human resistance between Abraham and Jesus, so too God is able to truly manifest His word through many different human authors’ freely attempting to express the Truth with which He has enlightened them. And just as not all the key players between Abraham and Jesus perfectly followed God at every moment, neither did every author always perfectly express the Truth that God had revealed to them. Yet God, in His providence, still is able to reveal through them the truth which he wished to see confided in the Sacred Scriptures for the sake of our salvation.

        2) Because scripture is God’s word in human words. Human words are necessarily limited and finite and fail to capture the fullness of God’s Truth. Human words are necessarily expressed in a particular language, in a particular cultural setting, in a particular literary genre, using particular images and metaphysical presuppositions, etc, all of which fail to fully express the infinite Truth of our God. It is a limitation of the medium of language. Yet it is necessary for God to express Himself to us through this medium because it is what we humans can comprehend.

        I think you are absolutely correct that we must be cautious about any particular conclusion of science. Scientific theories are constantly refined and so it would be foolish to put our ultimate faith in them. At the same time, I think it is a failure for us to appreciate our created goodness if we simply turn aside from what we can know through our senses and our reason (which, after all, is all that science is). God made us with these senses, and God gave us this intellect to use. We Catholics do not believe in the Reformation doctrine of total depravity, that human nature and human reason have become totally corrupted by sin. While we recognize that sin has scarred us deeply, we still believe that we retain significant aspects of our created goodness, and our human reason is still able to apprehend truth. Thus, while it is good for us to be cautious about how much we base our lives around any particular scientific conclusion, our faith does not require us to simply choose “faith” over “science.” This would embody the dualism I cautioned against before. Indeed, our ability to read and understand the scriptures requires the use of the very same senses and reason that are at work when we do science. Thus it would be naive to simply pit one against the other thinking that we had somehow escaped the limitations of human knowing.

      2. Vincent,

        I appreciate your comments. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on the details of Creation. Point 1, I believe is a stretch to conclude with, though. In my opinion, free will has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit inspiring Scripture. That would be like saying that God said…, “let there be light” but the Word decided to create a unicorn instead. The New Testament tells us that all scripture is to be used for education and correction. I am not sure why we would be told this if there were known errors in it. I understand what you are saying and I agree, just not when it comes to the Divine Authorship of Sacred Scripture. We are told to venerate the Word of God, not as much as adoring the Word made Flesh, but the Word of God is Christ.

        I totally agree with point 2 and below and I thank you for conversing with me.

        Pax Christi,

      3. Thanks Michael. I have appreciated your willingness to engage in serious discussion in a civil and charitable manner. Pax.

  2. Very good post. Because I was a scientist first and now a Catholic, I admit it has been hard for me to reconcile what I’ve learned in school with my faith. But what I’ve learned in school is taken as much on faith as my belief in God — the theory of evolution is still a theory. There are many, many gaps in the fossil record, so although you can see the unity of the mechanisms (how protein synthesis works, how eyes work, etc.) I see the Hand of God in all of this. It is truly beautiful.

    I think only God can create something beautiful out of random collisions. The thing is, our human brains only discern randomness in certain patterns. A higher being, like an angel might see more, but we are but mere humans. I’m not a mathematician but I’ve taken enough math to know that sometimes out of a seemingly ugly mess of an equation comes out a pretty pattern.

    I’m not sure I’ve seen evidence for species formation. So I do accept that God created it all. The fossil record says that species have disappeared. Maybe that is also part of God’s plan.

  3. hmmm. I am so used to debunking Evangelicals on Evolution I usually just see it as a tool of use, unimportant, but you are right, there are some issues with the theory, not just morally but scientifically.

    I use different arguments on atheists!

  4. Look at DNA from a purely logical way. All mutations are a LOSS of information. Whether it is the breakdown of the human body or selectively choosing traits for a particular breed of dog you want. There never has been (since God initially made it) and never will be, the “creation” of “new information” within DNA. Babies are a replication of their parents, not new. All mutation is a “loss of information.” God created it, evolution loses it, through the breakdown of DNA from sin.

    I would say these discussions are treading on dangerous grounds. As Paul says to Timothy, Scripture is Divinely Inspired. Why would God lie? Is there something you guys know about Genesis that the rest of us don’t? Ha.

    I’ll leave you with a prophecy from Michael Brown’s website Spirit Daily, for your own personal revelation of course (a man reports this was told to him in a dream by Jesus):

    “My greatest nemesis is science, even more so than the media. The science that alters life, the science which creates a counterfeit heaven, the science that toils with the womb and genes, the science that has filled the air with the power of the enemy, the science which creates chemical witchcraft and fouls the earth, the science which seeks to create life but cannot in actuality even sustain it, the science which has denied God.”

    1. I agree with you, Will. If I had to lay a bet down, which I do, it would be on God. I will not take my chances with science. I just don’t understand why so many people elevate science above the Word of God. They make the Word of God conform to unproven scientific theories instead of making science conform to the Word. Just like it is for each individual, v=V. So to should it be with science and the Word of God. Not V=v.

    2. Will, that is not true that all mutations are a loss of information. A single base (ATCG) on a DNA molecule can mutate to another one from radiation, etc. So that is not a loss of information but a change of information. Also, entire genes can be duplicated if they are part of a transposon. Also, look at Down Syndrome. That is a mutation in which there is an entire extra chromosome, not a loss of information.

      1. I think that this is a harmful way of looking at science. In fact, I think that this way of looking at science is really, deep down, agreement with the story that the Enlightenment tried to tell us about science and religion. The Enlightenment tried to tell us that religion was an oppressive force that was opposed to truth, a force of unreason, and that Reason, in the form of science, was liberating us from the oppression of religion. To have a Jesus who says that science is his greatest nemesis seems to be, deep down, the same thing as having a Jesus who is endorsing this Enlightenment story, a Jesus who is endorsing the idea that faith and reason, that faith and science, are ultimately in conflict.

        I think that the Catholic faith gives us something very different. St. John’s Gospel tells us that in the beginning was the Word, the Logos (Jn. 1:1). God himself, although he ultimately transcends the right use of human reason, does not contradict it. Thus, since God is reasonable, his works too are reasonable, and reason is right to seek into the truths of nature, the very good world that God created. When it does so, it need not fear that it will find truths opposed to the truths revealed by God. In fact, the very revelation of who God is happened within the very good world he created. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (Jn 1:14) “Whatever its source,” St. Thomas Aquinas said, “truth is of the Holy Spirit.” (cited in John Paul II, Fides et Ratio 44) This includes truth that comes from the source of the scientific endeavor.

        If it is true that science and scientists have often opposed God, have often bought into the Enlightenment story I mentioned earlier, it is because, after all, they are still acting as if they are “in Adam” and not “in Christ.” They are still acting as if power, their own power, is the ultimate good, trumping all others. The problem is not science, the problem is not investigation of God’s good world, the problem is sin. The problem is that these scientists, being “in Adam”, have listened to the all too sweet voice of the tempter; “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5) If they hearkened, rather, to the voice of God, and did not harden their hearts (c.f. Psalm 95:7-8), they might still do some good, in fact, very great good, in their investigation into truth.

      2. I should clarify that my last comment was replying to the original comment by Will and not to Erica’s reply.

      3. Real quick, I’ll just second Erica on this. Mutations are not a loss of information, but a change of information. But this alone would not be the naturalistic understanding of evolution: another “mechanism” is necessary, namely natural selection, that which filters out “bad” mutations from “good” ones, eventually culminating in…?

      4. Matthew,

        You are correct to say that TRUE science and God should not conflict. I agree. But unfortunately, you will never get that. Scientist nowadays are not interesting in discovering the truth about God’s creation and how to better understand it. Their goal is to prove that He does not exist. Not all scientist are like this but the ones that are control the content that is published to the media. This is why you never hear any information from their outlets that contradict their agenda.

      5. Michael P, I find that comment about scientists nowadays to be insulting and not true. While there is a lot of dangerous and unethical science that is going on, the majority of scientists are good people who are doing good research to help humanity. The many medications and treatments we have available today are a result of scientists spending countless hours of research in learning how cellular mechanisms work and how to intervene to control disease processes. There is no conspiracy to prove to the media that God doesn’t exist. Scientists study God’s creation and theologians study God.

      6. Erica,

        I am not talking about medical science at all, and I never said scientists are not good people. I said they to bad things when it comes to coercing results to fit their agenda. The ones that are not doing this usually don’t get a say so in the scientific community because of the problems they bring to the table for the ones already there. I apologize that my comments seemed sweeping, I did not make it clear.

    3. I think that the Catholic Approach is not to see science as an enemy or opponent. There are surely some strident attitudes among some scientists that have become proud and see what they offer as sufficient to explain everything. However, science itself is a search for truth and truth is ulimately one. Hence I think if we disitnguish between true science and some of the current ideologies in some aspects of it we are closer to the Catholic approach.

  5. I guess I am one of those people who has “no problem with God setting things up so that we started as one-celled organisms and slowly evolved.” Except a one celled organism evolving into a multicelled organism is not nearly as comlex as a molecules coming together to form a one celled organism that can reproduce. Also, the atoms had to come together to form molecules and the atoms had to exist before that could happen. I think that is one thing evolution can’t explain is why does matter exist in the first place. So can I believe that God created matter with a specific plan in mind of how it would interact and evolve?

    Without a doubt I have faith but I would really have trouble not accepting the evoluntionary theory as the scientific community believes it. There is so much evidence for it. And I don’t think it means anything to say there are gaps in the fossil record because just since some evidence is lacking doesn’t mean we can disregard the multitude of evidence we have. Also from a scientific persective, what appears to be gaps in the fossil record could be because species were evolving more quickly at that time due to climate change.

    But, as much as I accept evolution, I accept the Church much more and any past or future official Church teachings about these matters.

    1. Erica,

      The fossil records disprove evolution more than it proves it. They are even finding collagen in bones that are supposed to be millions of years old. They are having to modify their findings and skirt around this fact by claiming the environment around these bones did a better job preserving them. They are constantly finding things that disprove their theory that the earth is billions of years old but yet they keep making excuses for them. The same carbon dating that is used to prove their old earth can be used to prove a young earth. The results are based on a presupposed position before analyzing the data.

      1. Ok, I can’t say you’re wrong because I don’t actually know a whole lot about fossils. I would be curious if you could provide any links to articles in scientific journals that show the fossil records disprove evolution. My training was much more focused on the cellular/molecular side of biology so that is what I am most familiar with. Even within cells there is much evidence of evolution. Here are some simplified explanations from wikipedia

        Everything I studied was within the context of evolution and I wouldn’t know how else to understand it. Also I wouldn’t know how to understand vesitigial organs without evolution. Here is a link for those who are unaware what it refers to

        I know the links I provided were to wikipedia articles, not journals but the references to the journals are at the bottom of each article.

        If the Church were to officially teach that despite the evidence man is not a product of evolution then that is what I would believe but until then I am going to believe what the respected scientists and universities teach based on the evidence.

        One more thing, some may not accept evolution because it seems to imply that God is not active in the universe. But this is not a conclusion for those who believe that God created the universe and created time but is not Himself bound or limited by time. Although science may see life as evolving for however many billions of years without divine intervention we can’t assume that God would see that as time in the same way we do. I’ll accept that this a mystery I can’t wrap my mind around but this is how I have come to reconcile my faith with scientific evidence.

        Thank you for this blog post. I have wanted to bounce these ideas off of people for a while.


      2. Yes, I too have been less than impressed with the fossil record and when I have raised questions about it am generally greated with hostility. I also wonder if we distinguish enough between micro-evolution (adaptations within a species) and macroevolution – evolution from speicies into another. At any rate the debate contunues!

      3. Erica,

        I am not a fossil expert either but I do have common sense. If I am looking to prove something wrong, and I can’t come up with evidence to do such a thing, then I have basically just proven correct what I was trying to prove wrong, or at least I have proven my theory wrong. It is the responsibility of the person making the challenge to present the evidence. The fossil records have never shown an animal in a transitional stage, between one animal species and another. I agree that things evolve due to surroundings but they do not change species altogether. The common traits that animals share is simple to reconcile; they all have the same Creator.

      4. Regarding vestigial organs, the appendix is thought to be one. However, I had a roommate in college that was doing his doctoral research on the appendix. He studies many rabbits, I helped hold some of them while he did surgery, and what he found was that the appendix actually had much to do with the immune system. We presume many things when we do not understand them.

    2. Erica, you seem to know a little more than normal. Could you point out what evidence actually points to the STRICT interpretation of naturalistic evolution, that is random mutation + natural selection? I agree that there is a lot of evidence through observation and basic logic that evolution occurs in some fashion, but I find it hard to believe that even with a complete fossil record one could say “the strict interpretation of naturalistic evolution is most likely correct.” This simply seems beyond science, delving into forces that are not even observable.

      1. Telemachus, I am not sure what you are asking for. I think the some of the best evidence of naturalistic evolution is of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics through new proteins. Since bacteria multiply so greatly in such a short amount of time, it is easier to actually observe the changes that take place in the DNA.

        Michael P, what would it take for a fossil record to show an animal in a transitional stage? One who refuses to believe evolution occurs could refuse to believe that it is actually in a transitional stage. Many scientists do believe that they have found fossils of transitional stages. Homo Ergaster is believed to be transitional between Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus. Homo Heidelbergenesis is believed to be transitional between Homo Ergaster and Homo Sapiens. So what is the problem?

        Blake Helgoth, the appendix is believed to be part of the immune system even in humans. But this is considered to be a secondary function since the primary function was lost.

      2. Erica,

        They are all Homo-s. Pardon the pun. Where is the fish with feet fossil? Where is the bird that has human limbs and so forth? I do believe some evolving took place within species but not between them.


      3. Eric,

        How do you know that the primary function was lost? You can not even say what that primary function was.

      4. Michael P, you claimed that there has never been a fossil in a transitional stage from one species to another but I gave you a couple examples. How is it a problem that they are all Homos? That does not mean they are the same species. In the animal kingdom, the definition of a species is all those in a group who can produce fertile offspring.

        Regarding your question of a fossil of fish with feet I refer you to this link for an example and explanation.

        Regarding birds with human limbs- birds did not evolve from humans and humans did not evolve from birds so we would not expect to see any fossils like that.

        As I said, fossils is not my area of study and the information I have provided was a result of google searches. If you have further questions about fossils that can’t be found from google searches please contact an evolutionary biologist. You can go to the webpage of a university, look at the biology section, and read about the research interests of each professor to find one who is studying in that field, and then email him or her. I don’t doubt that many will be willing to answer questions if they are asked in a respectful way.

        Blake Helgoth, I don’t know that the primary function of the appendix was lost but I believe, along with many scientists that it most likely has been. The primary function was most likely cellulose digestion.

    1. Given that mankind is defined by DNA as distinguishing humanity from what went before it is common sense that there must have been a first DNA variation. Hence there must have been a first DNA variation that conformed to what we describe as Adam. There must have been a first male and female human beings by evolution.

      While believing in evolution, there is as yet no satisfactory theory to which I am aware that explains the mechanism of increasing DNA length for higher organisms. The partial pressure of oxygen in the history of the earth is one variable but again if that was the trigger the mechanism is unknown.

      If DNA components of different lengths arrived in the shower of ice that created the oceans that would still put the question of origin back still further.

    2. Jim,

      He’ll be talking about monogenism and polygenism in the next post. Ask this question again at his next post.

      1. To do so is no different that believing in a literal first homo sapiens–which evolution demands, unless somehow there is an argument for simultaneous, absolutely consistent mutation and evolution of many members of a species into exactly the same kind of new species. Remember the book Lucy? And the reports that trace all human DNA to a single common ancestor in the Middle East? Science is very often blind to its own inconsistencies and its own articles of faith…

  6. I think that you are very right to bring in St. Thomas’ discussion about how God works through secondary causes. That, I think, is key to understanding how a Catholic can accept evolution.

    I think that we have to very carefully distinguish between randomness as seen by us and randomness absolutely. Therefore, we could accept what the evolutionists say about randomness in one sense, e.g. that, to us, evolution doesn’t seem to be moving toward some end and the mutations seem random, but in another sense we would reject it, saying that absolutely speaking, as far as God’s will is concerned, evolution is not random.

    1. Agreed. Add to this what was said before about God not being bound by space and time in the same way we are. Our whole sense of causation is temporal: an antecedent cause leading to some subsequent outcome. But, if God is not bound by time, his power to “cause” things doesn’t even have to run this way.

  7. After spending years as a card-carrying Creationist who viewed belief in Evolution as a Faith destroying heresy, I have in recent years mellowed to the view where I think we can believe what we like in how the world came to be as long as we accept that all of mankind is descended from one man and one woman (which is I understand scientifically plausible).

    However, of late I have been begun to suspect that I was right the first place. While as a Catholic we are required to accept that all of humanity is descended from one man (Adam) and one woman (Eve), we are also taught that Adam and Eve were created with body and soul filled with supernatural grace and a special nature where their souls had primacy over their bodies (the opposite to us now) to the extent that they suffered no concupiscence and they would not have died if they had not sinned. When they sinned and fell, their nature was changed (to the one we now inherit) and they now suffered death. This is where I now find my stumbling block. I cannot reconcile this original higher nature to any creature that evolved from a non-human ancestor. The fact that we have inherited Adam and Eve’s fallen nature and had no access to supernatural grace for our souls on our own (i.e., original sin) is the reason that Christ became man, surely? Why would he do that if our nature has always been this way reached through evolution? And about the Garden of Eden itself? Heaven on earth arrived at via evolution? Belief in Evolution requires too much blind faith for me!

    This is why I am now of the belief that the world was created fully formed with a “back-story” of history. I imagine a tree created 5 mins ago by God would still have many rings through its trunk if it were sawn in half and would therefore appear many years old! If anyone has any ideas to reconcile these positions then in all sincerity I would be very interested to hear them.

    1. Your position is acceptable for a Catholic I would think not not required of a Catholic either. I suppose the idea of a back-story would explain a lot of the ancient and pre-historic data we have access to. However, you theory amounts to what we would call speculative theology. It also has the qualities of a Deus ex machina solution (paradoxically!) wherein an exoctic explanation is advanced and somewhat forced onto the data so that everyone lives happily ever after. Please understand, I mean no disrespect, I say only that it has elements of a Deus ex machina solution, not that it is one.

      1. Msgr,

        I haven’t come across the term “Deus ex machina” before, but now that you mention it though it does sound like what I suggested. I never was very creative! Not wishing to fall into that trap again, I will have to move back onto the fence.
        I still have trouble picturing an infant Adam and Eve with their perfect natures in complete harmony with God being raised in the Garden of Eden by non-human parents. It’s the elephant in the room for me in any discussion on evolution and the origin of man.

  8. Msgr,

    Dr Stephen Barr, who writes and speaks about such things often, has noted that a distinction must be made between the terms “random” and “unplanned.” “Random” is a scientific term that simply means uncorrelated. “Unplanned” is not a scientific term, as it deals with a being’s purpose. You appear to equate the two, but I believe that this is an essential distinction to make in any discussion such as this. That a process is random does not imply that it is unplanned, unguided, or blind. That a correlation cannot be seen does not imply that there is no purpose in what is happening.

    1. OK. I think I see what you are saying. But here too I wonder if the average evolutionist has this distinction in mind? Nevertheless, I agree: That a correlation cannot be seen does not imply that there is no purpose in what is happening.

    2. Fr. T, I think that this is a great distinction. I commented on this further below. Dr. Stephen Barr is very much in agreement with Thomists on the matter of chance…

      @Msgr Pope, whether the evolutionist “has this distinction in mind” or not, I do think that they implicitly accept it. They will be the first to admit that they study observable reality…not the invisible. Yet, I agree with you that it would be very difficult to explain this distinction to many scientists (since they are often rather unfamiliar with traditional western philosophy).

  9. Father be careful with church interpetation. Pope Benedict XVI has written a book on this matter called: “In the Beginning. . . A Catholic Understanding Of The Story of Creation And The Fall.” B-16 says in his book: “What this professor wants to inflict on us is far more unbelievable than what us poor Christians were ever expected to believe.”
    A person should also read: STATE V. SCOPES, SCOPES V. STATE, 152 Tenn. 424, 278 S.W., to understand the argument of evolution being taught in our schools, it was termed the “Monkey Trial,” and was made into the movie “Inherit the Wind (1960).”
    It also behooves every Catholic to know that “the human spirit cannot be excavated with a shovel (Joseph Ratzinger).” The human soul could not have been derived from that of a brute, since it is of a spirtual nature; for which reason we must refer to its origin as creative act on the part of God.
    Pope Pius XII”s Encyclical of the 1950 HUMANI GENERIS summarized “all men have descended from an individual, Adam, who has transmitted original sin to all mankind. Catholics may not believe in “Polygenism” as the scientific hypothesis that mankind descended from a group of original humans, that there are many Adams and Eves.” Paragraph #37 of said Humani Generis states as follows:
    When, however there is a question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace the opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.
    Post Vatican II: Regrding Polygenisn in an artical in L’Osservatore Romano by Roberto Masi stated: “Humanity has its origin in a single couple; this couple committed the sin against God and as a result of this all their children are born in original Sin.”
    As I told my grandchildren, if humans are the product of evolution as being descended from an ape as Charles Darwin claims in his book On the Origin of Species (1859), and Descent of Man, and Adam being man, or human, then all Adam’s off spring would also be descendants from the ape species. This would be heresy (and let him who believes not be ‘anathema”), and would logically conclude that Jesus, Our Lord, also descended from an ape, which breaks the 1st Commandment which requires a belief in God, and is the 1st sentence in the Creed. Jesus is called the New Adam, not the new ape. Darwin is probally in hell with a man’s head, and an ape’s body. Jesus said: I and the Father are One; He who has seen me has seen my Father. Now we know Jesus Father must not look like an ape or a worm, or Jesus would bear that likeness. Jesus said the flesh of man is different than that of the animal, and bird.
    St. Thomas Aquinas says that unbelief is the greatest of sins. In Gen. 1:24 it says: Let the earth bring forth the living soul (that of the brute); while of man it is written “that He breathed into his face (Adam) the breath of life. In Ecclesiastes (xii) it concludes: “the dust return into its earth from whence it was; and the spirit return to God who gave it. So we are more that mere beasts or brutes with intellect. Death comes to both man and brute, but not to the soul. God made us right; Eccles. Vii,30.
    Man through science will never find his origin. No man can find out the work that God made from the beginning to the end; Eccles. 3:11. Remember now, thy Creator; Eccles. 12:7. Fear God, keep his Commandments; Eccles: 12:13
    The First Vatican Council in 1869-70 during the papacy of Pope Pius IX , had a section on ‘Faith and Reason’ that includes the following regarding science and faith: (Para 9) “Hence it is forbidden to defend as legitimate the conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of the faith, particularly if they have been condemmed by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.” Truth cannot contridict Truth, Jesus said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)
    If Jesus did not pay for the sins of an individual Adam, then our faith is in vain. Rom. 5:12 says: Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world. The doctrine of Christ’s redemption is based on the doctrine of Creation. The doctrine that Adam committed sin against God, and Jesus atoned for that sin. Pslm Ixviii “Then did I pay for that which I took not away. St. Augustine says: “But all that Adam lost, Christ found upon the Cross.”
    In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed.), at paragraph 635 explains the part of the Creed where Jesus descends into hell. Jesus the author of life went to Hades “to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve….’I am your God, who for your sake have become your son….I order you, OSleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.'” For this reason we say: At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth.Rev 1:18; Phil. 2:10.
    So who are you, a son of the monkey, or the Children of God, as Jesus has called us? My grand-children responded to that question, I ain’t from no monkey, I am a child of God.

    1. I agree Granpa Tom that there are many problems with Evolution and hope to address the Polygenism issue this evening. I too will use many of the quotes you have advanced here. I am trying here to make certain distinctions. A Catholic, or any one it seems may have scientific concerns about the theory as well as theolgical ones. I think you have stated some of those well here.

    2. Grandpa Tom, this is a conversation I remember my 13-year-old brother having with my father a long time ago. My brother was very, very upset and said, “welll, maybe your father was a chimpanzee, but my father sure isn’t.” Sadly, both of them have nothing to do with the Church and think religion is for the weak-minded.

      But your comment is wonderful and gives me much food for thought. This is exactly what I struggled with when I came to believe in Christ … and I still struggle. Thank you so much for this. And I look forward to reading what Monsignor Pope has to say about mono-and poly-genism.

  10. Well saisd ! As a catholic open to believe in some facts of evolution, it is indeed necessary to not diminish or void the sacred plan of creation. What is very interesting is that the father of the Big Bang Theory was a catholic priest, George L’metre. His theory makes a very revolutionary change in the scientific way to see the whole universe, even Einstein previously critizeced his, bu later he realise that he was right ! Most of the cientist before L’ metre (who happens to be besides a priest a well renamed astronomer from his time) believed in the pre-existence of the universe. L’metre stated that everything start with a single explosion of a particule. L’metre also never was consider an heretic, neither denied the theological implications of creation. We can bet what L’metre believed what was before the Big Bang, and yes the eternity of the prescense of God. So yes we can open ourselves to new discoverings from astronomy to biology related to evolution, but we have to be careful because there”s a thin frontier that can lead us to deism. Besides, I remember my father answering this why I was a little boy and found in that time very confusing to reconcile creation vs evolution : “for God was 7 days, for us was millions of years” I guess creation shows who”s the Chef and evolution the recippe and process, but always believing that the Chef didn”t leave the pot cooking itself.

      1. Francisco,

        There seems to be the thought out there that if there was a ‘Big Bang’ it was the beginning. That is followed by thinking maybe God caused the Big Bang, setting all things in motion. That leads to the idea that the universe is like a watch, once wound up and now set in motion. However, that is not the case. God is actively causing all things.
        Also, there was no before creation – since time is part of creation. This is very important to keep in mind.

  11. Part of the problem is that “theory” when used as a scientific term of art has a very specific meaning that public discussions of science often miss. A theory, to a scientist, is not something that could be true. It is not a hypothesis or a hunch or a conjecture. A theory is as close to truth as the human mind can come with reasonable certainty. More importantly, a theory has predictive power – “if X happens, Y will happen.” And most important, a theory is falsifiable – there is some way to disprove it. (And yes, evolution meets this definition. This piece, though written by an atheist, is a detailed and well-put explanation.)

    As a matter of biology evolution is, for all intents and purposes, true. Evolution explains how we – organic life – work. But God is most emphatically not like us. Trying to use science to define or evaluate or constrain God (He who takes our predictions and laughs at them) is a category error; it is using a hammer to fix a computer chip. Wrong tool, wrong scale, wrong problem.

    1. Well I am not as convinced as you are that Evolution as defined is true. I think there are still many matters for vigorous debate. That said, I agree that we cannot scientifically analyze God or merely codify him.

      1. Perhaps my view of evolution is a bit like your earlier point about “taking the bible literally.” If you ask me if I think evolution as true, I’ve got to ask for context. As biology? Absolutely true. As cosmology or as disproof of God? Hardly. As a basis for morality or human relations? Absolutely not! (All of the malevolent ideologies of the 20th Century trace back to the ideals of “Social Darwinism;” that human beings can be classified by some objective standard as “fit” or “unfit,” and that social progress depends on having more “fit” people and fewer “unfit” ones.)

    2. Jon,

      I just want to point out that many scientific theories are theories because they can’t be proven. I think they call the ones that can be proven, laws. You can’t redefine the word to benefit your team. Also, many mysteries that science tries to solve by their theories can be explained by another theory. So there we are back to the unknown. Go and compare the Heliocentric Model to the Geocentric one and tell me how the Geocentric Model can claim to be superior to the Heliocentric Model. Both can explain the seasons, nights, moon cycles and so forth just a good as the other. We adhere to the Heliocentric Model now because of where unproven scientific theories have lead us. I don’t think this specific topic is essential to Catholics pertaining salvation, but I choose to at least leave room for the Geocentric Model in my faith. I don’t remember the Church making a dogmatic claim to this one and they shouldn’t.

      1. Should have read…

        Go and compare the Heliocentric Model to the Geocentric one and tell me how the Heliocentric Model can claim to be superior to the Geocentric Model.

      2. The distinction between a “theory” and a “law” is that a law can be reduced to a mathematical equation. (See here for some examples.) Biology is a tricky science because it doesn’t lend itself to a lot of absolute laws. In biology what you usually end up with is a set of probabilities, and there are always outliers. The only biological theories I’ve heard referred to as “laws” are the laws of inheritance developed by Gregor Mendel (a monk), and even those only state, briefly, that an offspring’s inheritance of a parent’s traits is purely random. I’m not sure they qualify as laws, because you can’t really reduce them to a simple equation.

        On heliocentrism vs. geocentrism: The proof, for me, of heliocentrism is that NASA engineers relying on heliocentric theory have been able to launch probes that can make it to the other planets in our solar system, and in some cases, even return physical samples of those planets to Earth. And it is true that some theories can explain the same thing. For example, it’s not that geocentrism is wrong per se; engineers sending probes to the moon, putting communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit, or calculating tides use a geocentric model because it is a valid frame of reference for the problems they’re trying to solve. It’s when you get outside of the Earth-Moon system that the geocentric model breaks down. For all the modifications of cycles and epicycles added on to it by Ptolemy and Copernicus, it is pretty bad at predicting where planets are going to be when. In fairness, the heliocentric model was also pretty bad at planetary predictions, which is why the two systems competed with each other even after Galileo. What gave the heliocentric model the edge was Johannes Kepler’s theory – there’s that word again – built on the observations of earlier astronomers (Copernicus and Brahe) that the orbits of the planets were elliptical and not circular. With that correction, astronomers were now able to predict the movements of the planets with great accuracy.

        Nowhere in the Bible does God state the solar system is geocentric or heliocentric. But our observations of the solar system that God made confirms that yes, it is heliocentric. (If it wasn’t, those folks at NASA wouldn’t be able to pull off the awe-inspiring calculations needed to send probes to Jupiter and Saturn.) Rather than lock ourselves into frames of reference based on isolated snippets of scripture, let’s celebrate the majesty of God’s creation, and give thanks to God for minds that can understand it. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder’s craft.” (Psalm 19:2)

  12. Ok, it seems that the elephant in the room is a first set of parents and the passing on of Original Sin. How can those truths be reconciled with the theory of evolution? Those things, as well as the primary cause, are what make it almost impossible for me to accept evolution as a Catholic. We do not have to be 7 day creationist, but I do not see how we can be evolutionists.

    In addition to Msgr.’s post discussing the primary cause, I would add that we believe (because of revelation) that God is actively causing all things that exist. That means it is not a onetime deal, that God is causing all that is and therefore intending all that is. Let’s leave evil as a privation of good for another discussion.

    On the scientific front, there is no evidence of macro evolution, only micro. Plus, most (if not all) mutations seem to be rooted out of a species rather than perpetuated. Scientists, please let me know where I am wrong on this.

    1. As to your first point, I am considering it tonight on the Blog I hope to write.

      As to your second point agreed.

      As to your 3rd point: I also agree that I am less impressed with the evidence I have been presented for macro-evolution.

  13. One of the things that bugs me about naturalist evolutionary theory (i.e. mutation + selection) is the lack of an ability to explain why increasing complexity must necessarily come about. As Msgr. Pope noted via the first quote, “Evolution does not necessarily strive for more advanced, more intelligent, or more sophisticated life forms.” Then whence comes complexity in life-forms?

    It seems to me that if this flavor of evolutionary theory is correct, then its adherents will have to clearly show that increasing complexity is in some way “built-in” to the mechanics of evolution, albeit in a probabilistic fashion. The funny thing is, by demonstrating this embeddedness of the “Principle of Inevitable Complexification” (to coin a phrase), naturalists would surely be opening up a Pandora’s box, because this embeddedness necessarily spawns the question “Where did THIS come from, and what moves IT?”

    Have I identified a catch-22?

    1. I too have this concern. THere seems to be a reverse entropy at work in the created world. The second law of thermodynamics suggest that things should be breaking down into more basic components and assuming room temperature. But the opposite seems to be happening at many levels too. This leads me to conclude that something outside the thermodynamic system is influencing the reversal of entropy. I know science cannot call this God but I choose to. When I have stated this question to proponets of evolution et al. I am usually greated with scorn and informed that I don’tknow what I talking about. But my questions remain unanswered. What causes the second law of TD to be in reverse?

      1. The theory of evolution does not contradict the laws of thermodynamics. In a system the amount of energy remains constant but overall becomes more disordered. That does not mean that every part of it becomes more disordered. If I was in an isolated system with a bunch of leaves on the ground and I raked them into a pile it may look like the system became more ordered. In reality, the system has become more disordered because to do that work I had to use up a very ordered form of energy and turn it into a disordered form. It used to be orderly carbohydrates in my cells but now it is heat, water, and carbon dioxide that I breathed out and is now floating around the air. Overall the system became more disordered because there was more order (or usable energy) in the carbohydrates than in a pile of leaves plus the energy that is floating around the air.

        On a larger scale, life on earth can evolve and become more complex (or ordered) but overall the universe has become more disordered. The source of energy that drives the formation of molecules and life on earth is the sun. But the sun is becoming more disordered because it is gradually giving off its energy in the form of light and heat in all directions. In other words it is burning out and the universe as a whole is becoming more disordered despite the increased order in the complexity of life on earth.

      2. Erica,

        You are correct in what you are saying, but to Msgr. Pope’s and my point, whence comes the “force” for increasing order and complexity? When you rake leaves, it is YOU raking the leaves. I’m not challenging you, just pointing out that there doesn’t seem to be any way of approaching this from a purely naturalistic account of evolution.

      3. I was wondering if my explanation made sense to anyone. Maybe that’s why I’m not a teacher. I’ll try again. Someone raking leaves has not violated the laws of thermodynamics. Despite the conscious thought involved the energy and disorder can be explained by chemical equations. The person is part of the system, not an outside force. I’ll try a more simple example that doesn’t involve conscious thought.

        Would you say that a plant undergoing photosynthesis has violated the laws of thermodynamics? A plant uses energy from the sun to change carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates. The plant grows bigger and more complex. The carbohydrates in the plant are much more ordered and complex than the water in the ground and carbon dioxide in the air. We can know this from practical experience because there is usable energy in the plant (we eat it to get its energy.) The “force” driving the increased order and complexity is the sun, which in the process has become more disordered as I explained above. The increase in disorder of the sun is greater than the increase in order of the plant and the laws of thermodynamics have not been violated. That is why in thermodynamics you have to look at the system as a whole to understand how all reactions are causing the universe to become more disordered overall (despite local increases in order.)

        Here is a nonbiological example. A machine in a factory puts parts together to make a final product. There is more order in the final product than in the parts but the machine has had to use a source of energy, such as coal. The overall disorder has increased despite the increase in order when the parts were put together. That is why a machine is never 100% efficient in converting energy. The energy is not lost but it has a decreased quality, since it is more disordered. In the case of coal it has been lost as heat and whatever the biproducts of burning coal are.

        Please let me know if this makes sense! Msgr. Pope, please tell me if this has made sense. I am sorry that propents of evolution have treated you with scorn when you asked about entropy. If there are theological reasons to oppose evolution (which I still am not convinced of) then I will accept that but there are no scientific reasons to oppose evolution either from a biological point of view or from a thermodynamics point of view.


      4. Yikes, one bad sentence in there.

        “In the case of coal it has been lost as heat and whatever the biproducts of burning coal are.”

        The energy is not lost but some of its order, or usefulness has been. In thermodynamics usefulness, order, and complexity will have the same meaning.

  14. I will just post two problems or conflicts that come to my mind with this issue. One which is a problem for evolution and one which is a problem for creationism.

    Life as we know it requires DNA to encode the proteins and enzymes which are responsible for the material component of people and the bodies of all other living organisms. The components or the building blocks of the DNA are called nucleic acids. Nucleic acids are fairly complex molecules and to create one takes various starting materials as well as enzymes that are encoded by the DNA itself. Therefore, the DNA replicates itself by using the code provided by the DNA. This is a terrible circular problem or the proverbial “which came first- the chicken or the egg?” Evolutionary theory as far as I know it provides no explanations as to how this could be possible. (For my biology credentials- I have a degree in biology and am in medical school. I tried to provide a simple explanation that keeps the important and relevant details, but I recognize there is more that could be said.)

    My problem I would pose to creationists would be that the two creation accounts in Genesis do not seem to agree with each other and I would go as far as to say that concerning the creation of the physical order, they even seem to conflict. I find the first story having the plants being made, then animals, then man. In the second the order seems to be man, plants, then animals. There might be some way this can be reconciled, but it is not clear to me.

    1. Both accounts are not chronological. The first lays out the order in which the heavens and earth were created and the second zooms in and gives a more personal view between God and mankind. They complement each other. They do not contradict because they are telling the same story from different perspectives. One focuses on chronology and one on covenant.

  15. Msgr. Pope:

    Thank you for weighing in so thoughtfully on a subject on which so many Catholics are confused.

    In response to the claims above that random means uncorrelated and doesn’t otherwise have any particular metaphysical significance, this simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Of course one is stipulate and hold a private definition of a word in one’s head, and to use it differently from the way it’s used by the relevant community. Moreover, there’s obviously a difference between something being merely uncorrelated at a physical level and being undirected at the theological level. But this nuancing of the word “random” hardly clarifies things.

    Even a casual acquaintance with mainstream biology textbooks (and Darwin’s writings) reveals that in such contexts, the word “random” is almost always understood to be purposeless and undirected. Darwin was absolutely insistent on this point, and resisted any interpretation of his theory according to which God might be directing things behind the scenes. Neo-Darwinists have generally followed Darwin on this. People have a right to define their theory as they understand it. It’s misleading to insist on some other private definition of a word. It would be nice to pretend there is no conflict here between Darwinian Theory and Catholic theology, but common sense suggests that there is.

    1. Jay, it is true that we have to understand the words scientists use in their own context and not in our metaphysical/theological context. However, if we really look at what the scientists mean when they say “random”, I do not think that they are necessarily ruling out God’s direction on the level of primary causality — they are really only claiming that God is not a secondary cause, and I agree with them on that point!

      In other words, the atheistic scientist is actually saying much less than he thinks he is saying (or at least is only justified in saying less than he perhaps thinks he is saying). He says “There is no God”, but what he means (or what he is justified in meaning) is only “In the created observable universe, there is no God”. And I agree, God does not exists as one of those creatures which is observable. He is not a creature, he is not a secondary cause…he is above and beyond observable reality, above and beyond science…he is the primary cause.

      Thus, speaking theologically, everything (or at least most everything) which happens at the level of irrational creatures is random and determined by chance… But, that does not mean that it is not directed by God on the level of primary causality.

    2. If random means purposeless and undirected, then how scientifically do you declare something to be random ?

      1. Matt, the whole point is that random does not necessarily mean undirected or purposeless

      2. re: Reginauldus and God is not an observable creature but above and beyond observable reality. You have just negated Jesus as Christ, the gospels of the New testament and Catholicism.

      3. @Roberlifelongcatholic,
        You are quite confused…

        “GOD is not an observable CREATURE”…GOD is not a CREATURE…is this really so hard to understand?

        Jesus is God, yes. Jesus is observable, yes. Jesus is a creature, yes.
        But he is not a creature as God. He is not observable as God.

        …but your ignorance is now quite observable…

  16. “…[God] does not play dice.” – Albert Einstein
    “Stop telling God what he must do!” – Neils Bohr

    This stuff gets tricky really quick. Once you sit down and do the math, you won’t understand how God used randomness for evolution. What you may understand is how awesome his mind and power must be!

  17. Msgr. Pope, another good article. I would like to comment more, but I am a bit stunned by the number of comments already posted!

    I would simply like to add that there is no real problem (for a Catholic) in accepting the “scientific view” that all things come to be through random processes. St. Thomas is very clear that God’s primary causality can look like chance among secondary causes — there is no need to deny chance, it really does exist among creatures (though God does nothing by chance).
    An earlier comment spoke of the difference between something being random and something being unplanned…I agree that these are very different claims…this is a nice way to put St. Thomas’ doctrine.

    Thus, the mutations could be random, and chance, and (in the order of secondary causes) without a recognizable plan…but yet planned and directed by God (as a primary cause).
    While I think that a strict evolutionary theory rules out the Intelligent Design theorists (who generally fail to recognize the difference between primary and secondary causality), it need not trouble the Thomists.

    To put it simply….atheist evolutionary scientists look at the observable world and say “There is no God” — what they really mean is that, in the observable world of secondary causes, there is no God. I am pretty comfortable with that claim.
    God is not contained in the observable world, he is not a secondary cause; he is the first cause, the primary cause.

    THE PROBLEM WITH ATHEISTS is that they conclude that because God is not a secondary cause, neither is he the primary cause.
    THE PROBLEM WITH INTELLIGENT DESIGN THEORISTS is that they conclude that because God is the primary cause, he is also a secondary cause.
    And, finally, THE PROBLEM WITH STRICT CREATIONISTS is that they conclude that because God is the primary cause, there are no secondary causes.

    BUT THE THOMIST (calm and collected as he must always be) concludes that because God is the primary cause, all else must be secondary causes — and he never confuses the two.

    1. Reginaldus,

      I love your above post. I just can’t understand the driving passion and underlying disquiet over Evolutionary Theory. I’m stunned by the number of comments as well. I’m not trying to make light of the topic but, gratefully, I just don’t get it. Thanks for your comments, they sum up my point of view more articulately than my capabilities could ever allow. I just wish I had them a year ago when I allowed myself to be involved in arguments over Global Warming which then morphed into Climate Change. For me, the two arguments, Evolutionary Theory and Climate Change ring with a peculiar similarity. Your outline of problems with Atheists, Intelligent Design Theorists, Creationists and the Thomist would have been very helpful at the time, well said.

    2. Well said. I too am disheartened by the number of people who feel that their faith in God as the primary cause is threatened by scientific explorations of secondary causes. They don’t realize that they are buying into the same Enlightenment era dualism as the atheists they desire to oppose.

      I think it is worth noting that attempts to deny empirical data on the basis of particular readings of scripture don’t have a good track record. Yes, there may be gaps in the fossil record. But what are you going to do when those gaps are inevitably filled (as is steadily happening)?

    3. @Reginaldus
      comment concerning:

      And, finally, THE PROBLEM WITH STRICT CREATIONISTS is that they conclude that because God is the primary cause, there are no secondary causes.

      I am a Creationist and this is totally untrue. We are not deist or agnostics. We do not believe God is a monad that winds the watch and walks away with no relation to His creation. We believe that God created all things just as He told us -whether we understand it or not- and that He sustains life at all times and for all things. How do you take A and conclude C with no evidence put forth? How can anyone Creationist even hold this position if Christian? The covenants God makes with mankind throughout history are a testament to his active participation. We surely believe that God works in our lives and is very active in His creation, ALL of it. Please do us a favor and quite trying to represent us. Is it any wonder why we are misunderstood and treated like ignorant neanderthals, as if we just don’t get it? I am not sure if you purposely do this to give more credence to your cause but as a Catholic, I would hope not.

      Not sure who said this, maybe GK Chesterton…”Those who wed themselves to the spirit of the age will soon find themselves a widower.”

      I choose not to wed myself to the spirit of modernity, which has been rightly called the synthesis of all heresies in PASCENDI DOMINICI GREGIS. Much of what we experience today has evolved from what was written about in the below encyclical. See evolution is real.

      1. MichaelP, I am sorry to have so greatly offended you. Unfortunately, I really cannot understand what exactly your argument is; but I can tell that my comment struck you as very unbalanced. Certainly, I meant no such offence…

        What I meant by my comment about creationist denying secondary causality is this: strict creationism seems to hold that, if God was involved in creating the various species of organisms, then evolution was not involved — this is a clear case of affirming the primary cause and denying the possibility of secondary causes.
        Hence I wrote, “THE PROBLEM WITH STRICT CREATIONISTS is that they conclude that because God is the primary cause, there are no secondary causes.”

        I was in no way intending to say that Creationists are deists (I don’t know where you got that from). God’s primary causality is quite contrary to the deist and agnostic positions, as it affirms that he is continually involved in holding all creation in existence. “Primary Causality” does not mean the “First Chronological Cause”, it refers to the foundational cause of all existence at every moment…Hopefully, this helps to ease our differences somewhat…

        By the way, I really like G.K. Chesterton and I love Pascendi…but I do not think that a strict form of creationism is based on the Catholic Tradition — St. Augustine himself (following Platonic thought) developed something of a theory of evolution (though, not for man) in his Literal Commentary on Genesis.

  18. Where I took my theology, they used the historical critical method. To my mind, the historical critical method simply states that whatever else we are (such as being in the likeness of God) we are historical creatures hemmed in by the realities of the world. Consequently, all our ideas and beliefs while having metaphysical origins in God have practical, identifiable sources in the world. The word “creature” here is key. We are materially conditioned beings. We have a worldly genesis. So, does anyone really suggest that their mother and father are not the source of their coming into being? Do we really have to place conditions on that reality?

    It seems to me that the theory of evolution says nothing more than that we have a biological history, which explains some of how biological creatures develop. I believe it is important to remember that evolution does not actually try to explain that much. It does not try to explain our relationship with God. It does not try to explain what we experience with our consciousnesses.

    I think historical thinking (which I believe is the kind of thinking evolutionary thinking to be) is rightly a specialty of Catholic theological thought. It does not claim for instance that we should all be scientific materialist determinists or that we do not experience God in our lives. It simply affirms that God formed us out of the primeval mud.

  19. Something over 30 years ago I attended a public lecture on Non Belief and Science by Fr John Gaine, who was associated with, or part of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Believers. On the subject of evolution he used the expression, as I recall, of creation and evolution being “teleological hylozoism”. By that I understood it to mean that the final outcome of creation was implicit in the very act of creation.
    St Paul in Ephesians expresses that in Ephesians that is beautifully rendered by Blessed Columbia Marmion
    “It is in Christ-‘in Him’- that ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ chose us ‘before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish’ in His, the Father’s, sight. In His love,’according to the purpose of His will,’ He predestined us to be His adopted sons, through Jesus Christ, ‘unto the praise of the glory of His grace’, by which He has made us pleasing to His eyes, ‘in His beloved Son’. (Eph 1 3:6)”

  20. Well no scientific theory can go uncriticized.

    There are some biologists in fact that challenge the contemporary view on evolution. By this I do not mean that they refuse evolution altogether or that they necessarely support ID or creationism, but that evolution has still many open questions.

    Evolution is both a falsifiable fact (especially when it come to microevolution, e.g. evolution of bacterial and other microprganisms) and a *theory* that tries to explain, in virtue of empirical observations, how life has evolved.

    The theory of evolution in itself is not contrary to the Catholic Faith… ‘evolutionism’ (which is a subsection of materialism) however it is, since it denies anything spiritural *a priori*.

  21. God’s word “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth,That is good enough for me

  22. Lots of interesting comments 🙂 I am learning a lot here. I guess you could say I believe in both science and God – I believe that science has been important in evolutionary events in life, but it’s God who created everything. I have also seen how it’s miracles of God, not necessarily science and medicine, that has saved a person’s life. In terms of evolution, things are very interesting, and I have a lot of questions. For instance, what about the Ice Age? And the dinosaurs? Where did they come from? And did they come before or after Adam and Eve? This is where I get really confused…so if anyone skilled in this matter wants to answer, I would be more than happy to hear the response and learn something new 🙂

  23. I have not figured out why the naturalism of mutation and selection is supposed to refute God, but the naturalism of electromagnetism or gravity is not. A thorough understanding of the physics of vibrating strings may explain a great deal about the Moonlight Sonata, but it does not dispense with the role of the pianist. Secondary [instrumental] causation did not originate with Thomas, but was commonly acknowledged throughout the Middle Ages. God as creator is analogous [but only analogous] to our pianist. The pianist does not “set up” the Sonata at the beginning, but sustains it throughout. If he were to stop playing for an instant, the Sonata would cease.

    Time is the measure of change in corruptible being; hence, God being outside time, there is no need to posit Him as setting up a one-celled organism and “letting it evolve.” Einstein showed that there is a single spacetime manifold, and so a material being exists not only at a point in time, but throughout its time. You are the same being as at your conception and will continue to be the same being until death. In the same sense, Pope Benedict wrote:

    “Creation should be thought of, not according to the model of the craftsman who makes all sorts of objects, but rather in the manner that thought is creative. And at the same time it becomes evident that being-in-movement as a whole (and not just the beginning) is creation…”
    + + +

    As for those evolutionists (who bear the same relationship to evolution as creationists do to creation) who claim the process is undirected and has no “goal,” they are mistaken. First of all, “randomness” cannot be a cause of anything, since it is not a being. Rather, it is a state of ignorance on our part. Secondly, evolution is simply “change over time.” (The term originally referred to the unrolling of a scroll by a reader. What is written on the scroll is already there, but to the reader it passes before his eyes a line at a time.) Darwin did not propose evolution. Already in his Literal Meanings of Genesis, Augustine wrote:

    It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth. In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in times to come. (Book V Ch. 4:11)

    This seems a clear statement that the origin of species (crops and trees, and also animals, etc.) have natural mechanisms, in that “earth” (nature) received the power of “bringing them forth.” What Darwin provided was a scientific theory that would account for evolution.

    Thirdly, evolution clearly does have a goal: viz., greater fitness for a niche. Recall that “evolution by natural selection” is a general cause and therefore must have a general goal. What else can a biologist mean by saying that a longer beak is advantageous to this bird? Or that white fur is advantageous to a polar bear? Like any other natural law, it works “always or for the most part” toward an end. If there were no end, there would be no lawfulness about it, and natural selection would not qualify as a scientific law at all.

    On the grand scale, evolution clearly has a towardness for complexity. Not that every evolutionary change results in greater complexity; but that the tendency over the eons has been in that direction. If we take seriously the claim that there is no towardness in evolution, then the biologist is stuck trying to explain the remarkable fact that it has in fact moved consistently in this direction.

    Last comment in an already overly long reply. Thomas’ Fifth Way reasons to God’s existence from the lawfulness of nature, not from weird and improbable exceptions to nature. (God saw that it was good. Therefore, it doesn’t need constant tweaking.) It is the very fact that nature is ordered that indicates the hand of God. Therefore, he would have taken Darwin’s theory (to the extent that it is law-like) as modest evidence in favor of God, rather than the contrary. Those who suppose that a natural mechanism eliminates the need for God confuse the “ground of being” with “just another efficient cause in competition with other efficient causes.”

    1. You are the same being as at your conception and will continue to be the same being until death

      OK, I’m responding a couple of days later, and this really is a tangent from the rest of what you say, but this particular statement is not entirely correct.

      On the contrary, it is really rather remarkable that we are NOT the same as when we were born. All right, in one sense we are the same “being,” but on the physical level, the cells of our body are constantly being replaced, and the molecules within those cells that are not replaced are themselves being exchanged for other molecules. As such, the physical body that we have today is probably 99.99 percent different from the body we were born with, or the body we had at age 18 years.

      And the mystery of it all is that, even though we are physically an entirely different entity, we are still the same “being.” Almost every cell in our body is different, if not every cell, and yet we have the same memories, the same state of mind and thought. We look the same, but are something different entirely (kind of like the Eucharist, looks like bread, but isn’t).

      It is almost enough for one to conclude that there is a transcendant aspect to our being that is separate from, and yet a part of, our physical body — a transcendantal aspect one might call a “spirit” that is permanent, so that, joined with the ever-changing physical body, together they make up the “being” of the person.

      1. I have to say, of all of the postings on this comments section, these two by Statistician and Bender are my favorites. They gave me goosebumps. Rock on!

  24. There are two simple problems with the Darwinian account of evolution:1.complexity of biochemical mechanism operating at the cellular level, and 2.retrospective design of the study and the bias it introduces.

    1. Beware the implications of the complexity argument. See my post near the very top.

      As for the design of the study, I presume you are referring to Darwin himself. Much work has obviously been done since Darwin’s original study that does not have the same problems.

      1. Hi Vincent!Give me an exemple where the shortcomings of a retrospective analysis were overcome by “new” studies.

  25. “I think the some of the best evidence of naturalistic evolution is of bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics through new proteins.”

    Interesting that you would use that as an example. The antibiotics we use come almost exclusively from bacteria (ie. we discovered and co-opted their “weapons” to use against them). So, in fact, the mechanisms of resistance to antibiotics were not developed (or evolved) in response to antibiotic use, but rather were pre-existing in the bacterial species/strains who produced the antibiotics in the first place. The rise in bacterial resistance that comes as a result of antibiotic use is due mostly to transfer of the genes coding for resistance from one bacterial species or strain to others. Surely, some adaptive mutations can be held responsible for fine-tuning the resistance to deal with the many later generation antibiotics we have made (variations on the originals), but once again we see the pattern of only small changes to pre-existing machinery.

  26. Dear Msgr. Pope,
    This is one of the areas that there is great misunderstanding among Catholics of good will. I hope your post and discussion will help clear some things up.

    I think Vincent’s first comments are excellent. It is certainly acceptable and proper that we believe that God creates not only matter but the processes and laws that govern that matter. For example, gravity. We know, theologically, that God in His providence, keeps us stuck to this planet, and our planet just the right distance from the sun. But we have no problem ascribing it to gravity in physics class without specifically pointing out that God created gravity. For some reason we expect those who explain the process of evolution (some who are believers some who are not) to insert a notation that God caused evolution, and if that is lacking we assume they are saying that God does not cause evolution, when in fact they are saying neither. They are merely describing a process for which they “see” in nature copious evidence.

    I’m not sure I agree with you Msgr. Pope, when you say that, “Now what this means is that God is excluded as a cause by evolutionary theory. It would be fine if evolutionists (as natural scientists) were either silent on the question of God.” I think those who study evolution are silent about God in their science. Can you give me a source that gives a scientific definition for evolutionary theory in terms of God? Please be careful to distinguish what the science says, versus what scientists say “out of school.” Just as what Catholics say “out of school” should not be confused with the teaching of the magisterium. When scientists do pontificate on matters having to do with God, we should call them on it and not give it any more credit than any other layman.

    Fr. T brings up makes some good comments about the word “random”. When discussing evolution with atheist scientists (and by no means are all scientists atheists, nor all those who study evolution), I like to clarify that random mean “no discernable pattern” or similar wording so that we all are using the same definition.

    Another thing, the use of the word “theory” and proof. Theory, as defined by Prentice Hall Biology by Miller and Levine (one of the most commonly used high school biology texts in this country) defines it as: “ well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.” It is neither a hunch, nor an idea.; that would be more akin to an hypothesis. A theory should be given more “respect” than an hypothesis, but it is not proven fact. Nothing in science is. Science does not prove anything, it merely disproves things. That does not prevent us from accepting some theories, which have not been proven false, and have been supported by an abundance of research as “fact” for all practical purposes. That’s why people confidently board airplanes everyday, though the physics that hold them up are all based on scientific “theories”.

    One line of thinking I have noticed among Catholics is something like this, “Some people who accept evolution are atheists. I am not an atheist. Therefore I do not believe in evolution.” I think we need to strengthen our teaching of science AND logic.

    Blessed Nicholas Steno, Pray for us!

  27. My daughter points out how Catholics are such defenders of the literal acceptance of John 6:6, yet have been seduced from the truth about Genesis. For Catholics who really want the challenge, check out these websites. You will never be the same.
    *1. (Hugh Owen, founder) former atheist, son of first secretary general of International Planned Parenthood. Excellent site with Catholic articles supporting Church teaching, current scientific findings, articles and complete books.
    *2. Creation Rediscovered: Evolution and the Importance of the Origins Debate (Gerard J.Keane) A review of this book can be found at:
    *3. Creation vs. Evolution: What Every Catholic Should know (Eric Bermingham) Imprimatur & Nihil Obstat (this entire book can be read and downloaded from at the above link
    *4. (review of) The Doctrines of Genesis 1-11: A Compendium and Defense of Traditional Catholic Theology on Origins (Father Victor P. Warkulwiz, M.S.S.)
    *5. Biology versus Evolution web site by Joseph Mastropaolo Ph.D., and Karl Priest, M.A.
    *6 (Walt Brown, PhD.) Dr. Brown’s scientific book, In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood: can be read on the internet as well as purchased in hard copy. This one is non-Catholic, but excellent.

  28. I want to thank my friend, Carmela for sending me this link. Let me just say that as a Catholic who has been shunned in the Catholic homeschool world it is wonderful to read these posts. The curriculum I penned for the homeschool world was with a Creation Scientist-Mom, an oil and well Geologist (now deceased) who was once an atheist and became a Christian. She and I wrote a series of Creation Study Guides. The Christian homeschool community at large and the Institute for Creation Research specifically, embraced our work as ground breaking and clear for non-science parents to teach their children the important differences between evolution and Creation. (

    When I sent my book for review to the Catholic community, mainly Catholic homeschool catalogs and businesses, I was told my views were anti-Catholic. I was even sent a fax (yes, remember those days) by one owner of a Catholic book store on Good Friday telling me she was reporting me to several people as being anti-Catholic. I was appalled! I took my curriculum to our priest and he approved it as sound. Another complaint was the lack of reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This book was not available when the books were first penned in 1995, and given the Catholics shunning my curriculum I did not feel it would help my sales to the Christian protestant world when I did revise the books.

    The only backing I received in the Catholic community was from Steve Wood who wrote a glowing recommendation, Gerry Keane, an Australian (now deceased) who wrote Creation Rediscovered and the Kolbe Center’s Hugh Owen. I have come to know each of these gentlemen and they are godly examples and proof that the Lord is working miracles in our times.

    When Catholic youth are consistently taught that Genesis is a myth (check any Catholic CCD program curriculum) and K-12 Catholic schools, it is no wonder that this generation has turned its back on God. I have been told evolution is a “non-issue” and only “Evangelicals” care. How wonderful to read these posts (yes, I read them all) and feel that once again there may be a chance for the Catholic generation to see the light and realize the issue is real.

    By the way, if you care to read a paper I wrote when I found a Darwinian Evolution card on a Nativity set at my local warehouse store on Christmas, here is the link.

    I will continue to read these posts and want to thank the person who began this thread.

  29. To Everyone on this blog:

    I recommend Evolution And Other Fairy Tales by Larry Azar. Professor Emeritus Azar received undergraduate and graduate degrees in math, physics, and philosophy from Boston College and a Doctorate in Philosophy from the Pontifical Institute of the University of Toronto where he studied with Etienne Gilson, Anton Pegis, and Armand Maurer.

    Dr. Azar proves that Darwin’s answers to all of the following were affirmative:

    Was he a racist? a sexist? (Did he consider Negroes and women inferior to Caucasians and males?)
    Would he maintain that there is no free will?
    Are dogs religious?
    Do plants reason?
    Did he consider all things as fundamentally the same?
    Is it true that he did not discuss the origin of even one species in his Origin of Species?
    Was he coerced to describe his principal contribution to evolution (natural selection) as only a metaphor?
    Is his species only a variation?
    Would he confess that his theory proved nothing?

    Bill Foley

  30. Jesus said ” I am the beginning and I am the end”. He the beginner before TIME has started the creative act of the visible things we see out of nothingness, my belief is that His power of creativity in everything is always there till the end of its time. The multiplicity of the visible things we see, experience, feel etc are in its fullness and it is the effect of HIS power of His wisdom. My conclusion about the evolution/creation is HIS power is present even in the tiniest particle of an atom and that power will be there till its end.

  31. IDvolution – God “breathed” the super language of DNA into the “kinds” in the creative act.  This accounts for the diversity of life we see.  The core makeup shared by all living things have the necessary complex information built in that facilitates rapid and responsive adaptation of features and variation while being able to preserve the “kind” that they began as.  Life has been created with the creativity built in ready to respond to triggering events.

    Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on Earth have the same core, it is virtually certain that living organisms have been thought of AT ONCE by the One and the same Creator endowed with the super language we know as DNA that switched on the formation of the various kinds, the cattle, the swimming creatures, the flying creatures, etc.. in a pristine harmonious state and superb adaptability and responsiveness to their environment for the purpose of populating the earth that became subject to the ravages of corruption by the sin of one man (deleterious mutations).

  32. Thank You Monsignore for your text.

    Since a couple of months I’ve been working on my doctoral thesis in dogmatics on creation. The literature is broad and everybody could find justification to any idea on creation. However one often replayed sentence is that using some special methods we can reconcile Scripture with evolutionary theories. The sentence is as often replayed as rare is it exemplified. Till now I haven’t found any convincing appliance of these miraculous methods. Is there anybody who could help me with any bibliography? Mr Behe wanted to find in the scientific literature any traces of the molecular evolution, any articales treating on the certain mechanism but he found none. Is the same case with Bible-evolution problem? Do theologians have only assertions that such literature exists?

    1. Regarding bibliography on creation in general. This recent book is recommended: New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy by Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D.
      ISBN: 978-0-8028-6383-6 The Magis Center of Reason and Faith website is a good source:

      Do be very careful on websites with goals of reconciling faith and science. Read the fine print to check if their “faith” diminishes the Catholic dogma of original sin into a human perception of the presence of evil or if it denies the possibility of two sole parents (Adam and Eve) of the human species because of evolutionary evidence.

      As for molecular evolution, I am guessing that refers to humans evolving from populations of 10,000 or more. It can also refer to epiphenomenon, i.e., the emergence of special spiritual qualities, such as the soul’s intellect and will, as being part of the evolution of the human anatomy or as part of a cultural evolution regarding morality, etc. Because natural science is in the material/physical realm, I doubt that there are any special methods to reconcile the spiritual truths taught by the Catholic Church with theories based on materialism, i.e., reality consists of matter. Obviously, one could use the “special” method of eliminating the spiritual soul.

      When faced with “mountains of evolutionary evidence” one needs to remember that these mountains are based on various anthills of assumptions–assumptions going millions and millions of years backwards. Granted that some assumptions may be correct; however in the years since Francisco J. Ayala’s early research, many original assumptions are being challenged. While individual research may demonstrate a particular conclusion, the question which must be asked is — Does the evidence warrant going from the particular to the universal as in definitely ruling out Adam and Eve? Even with computer simulated populations, data does not account for everything which happened across the earth at the beginning of man’s history.

      I would also guess that the “special methods” refer to some form of polygenism. Msgr. Pope has an excellent blog on “The Problem of Polygenism in Accepting the Theory of Evolution” He covers the various aspects in a clear, precise, readable manner. He quotes Humani Generis, the Encyclical of Pope Pius XII. You will also find the preceding section 35 useful. In fact, read the entire Encyclical.

      One last suggestion. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, paragraphs 355 -421 until you can recite them from memory. It is our human nature, rational/corporeal, spirit/matter, the unique unification of soul and body, which demonstrates that we, alone, created in the Image of God, are called to share in God’s life through knowledge and love. Our species is peerless, the pinnacle of God’s creation. Our creation is Catholic dogma.

  33. Msgr. Pope’s clearly expressed statement — “Evolutionary theory proposes itself as a complete and closed explanation for the biodiversity of this planet.” is a scientific issue which needs to be addressed in the future.

  34. Did Pope Pius XII support evolutionary theory?

    The following is the extract from Catholic Church and evolution, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

    “In the 1950 encyclical humani generis, Pope Pius XII confirmed that there is no intrinsic conflict between Christianity and the theory of evolution, provided that Christians believe that the individual soul is a direct creation by God and not the product of purely material forces.”

    Let’s analyze the above paragraph as below:

    The phrase, Christians believe that the individual soul is a direct creation by God, as mentioned above gives us the truth of God’s direct involvement in creation of individual soul. As the phrase, there is no intrinsic conflict between Christianity and the theory of evolution, is mentioned before the phrase, PROVIDED that Christians believe that the individual soul is a direct creation of God, it gives us the conclusion that Paul Pius XII only supported evolutionary theory provided that it supports individual soul was a direct creation of God. However, evolutionary theory does not support individual soul was the direct creation of God. Instead, it supports that God only assisted in the evolution instead of He created individual soul by Himself directly. Indeed, evolution assumes material force, i.e. natural selection, that causes one animal to be transformed into another.

    As the phrase, provided that, has been stressed before the phrase, Christians believe that the individual soul is a direct creation by God and not the product of purely material forces (natural selection), it gives us a conclusion that Paul only encourages Christians to believe in evolution on the condition if it supports that God was a direct creator of individual soul, and that each of the creation was not the result of the product or the end-result of purely material force, such as, natural selection that drove the animals to be transformed.

    As evolutionary theory does not support a direct creation from God and that it supports that it was the end-result of purely material force, such as, natural selection that drove animals to transform, Paul Pius XII did not call Christians to support evolutionary theory.

    Paul Pius XII only called Christians to support evolutionary theory only if the teaching supports that it was God that created individual soul. Besides, they have to support that the existence of individual soul was not the product of material force but God’s direct creation.

    Nevertheless, Paul Pius XII did not support evolutionary theory since this teaching does not support God’s direct creation. Besides, this teaching supports the end-result of evolution was the product of material force, such as, natural selection, that drove animals to transform.

  35. Despite Pope Pius XII did not forbid evolutionary theory, he treated it to be the new erroneous philosophy.

    The following are the extracts from the speech of Pope Pius XII at St. Peter’s (Rome) on 12th August 1950:

    Pope Pius XII: “5. If anyone examines the state of affairs outside the Christian fold, he will easily discover the principle trends that not a few learned men are following. Some imprudently and indiscreetly hold that EVOLUTION, which has not been fully proved even in the domain of natural sciences, explains the origin of all things, and audaciously support the monistic and pantheistic opinion that the world is in continual evolution. Communists gladly subscribe to this opinion so that, when the souls of men have been deprived of every idea of a personal God, they may the more efficaciously defend and propagate their dialectical materialism.”
    6. SUCH fictitious tenets of EVOLUTION which repudiate all that is absolute, firm and immutable, HAVE PAVED THE WAY FOR THE NEW ERRONEOUS PHILOSOPHY which, rivaling idealism, immanentism and pragmatism, has assumed the name of existentialism, since it concerns itself only with existence of individual things and neglects all consideration of their immutable essences.

    Comment upon the speech of Pope Pius XII as listed above and observe those letters that are placed in capital letters. As the phrase, evolution…have paved the way for the new erroneous philosophy, is mentioned above, it implies that he treated evolutionary doctrine to be misleading and erroneous. As evolution was treated by Pope Pius XII to be the new erroneous philosophy, he did not treat it to be the truth of God.

    Pope Pius XII followed his speech: “8. IN ALL THIS CONFUSION OF OPINION it is some consolation to Us to see former adherents of rationalism today frequently desiring to return to the fountain of divinely communicated truth, and to acknowledge and profess the word of God as contained in Sacred Scripture as the foundation of religious teaching. But at the same time it is a matter of regret that not a few of these, the more firmly they accept the word of God, so much the more do they diminish the value of human reason, and the more they exalt the authority of God the Revealer, the more severely do they spurn the teaching office of the Church, which has been instituted by Christ, Our Lord, to preserve and interpret divine revelation. This attitude is not only plainly at variance with Holy Scripture, but is shown to be false by experience also. For often those who disagree with the true Church complain openly of their disagreement in matters of dogma and thus unwillingly bear witness to the necessity of a living Teaching Authority.”

    Comment upon the speech of Pope Pius XII as listed above. The phrase, In all this confusion of opinion, as mentioned above should refer to his speech as mentioned earlier pertaining to his thought of evolution. The phrase, In all this confusion of opinion, as mentioned above, gives us the impression that he treated evolution to be full of confusion.

    Pope Pius XII followed his speech: “9. Now Catholic theologians and philosophers, whose grave duty it is to defend natural and supernatural truth and instill it in the hearts of men, CANNOT AFFORD TO IGNORE OR NEGLECT THESE MORE OR LESS ERRONEOUS OPINIONS. Rather they must come to understand THESE SAME THEORIES well, both because DISEASES ARE NOT PROPERLY TREATED unless they are rightly diagnosed, and because sometimes even in THESE FALSE THEORIES a certain amount of truth is contained, and, finally, because these theories provoke more subtle discussion and evaluation of philosophical and theological truths.”

    Comment upon the speech of Pope Pius XII as listed above. As the phrase, cannot afford to ignore…these…erroneous opinions, is mentioned above, it implies that he demanded Christians to be alert and beware of these erroneous opinions instead of ignoring them to let it has the influence upon the Church. The phrase, these false theories, gives the implication that he treated evolutionary theory to be a false theory and should not be treated as part of the truth of God.

    Pope Pius XII followed his speech: “10. If philosophers and theologians strive only to derive such profit from the careful examination of these doctrines, there would be no reason for any intervention by the Teaching Authority of the Church. However, although We know that CATHOLIC TEACHERS generally AVOID THESE ERRORS, it is apparent, however, that SOME TODAY, as in apostolic times, desirous of novelty, and FEARING TO BE CONSIDERED IGNORANT OF RECENT SCIENTIFIC FINDINGS, TRY TO WITHDRAW THEM FROM THE SACRED TEACHING AUTHORITY and are accordingly in danger of gradually DEPARTING FROM REVEALED TRUTH and of drawing others along with them into error.”

    Comment upon the speech of Pope Pius XII as listed above. As the phrase, Catholic teachers…avoid these errors, is mentioned above, it implies that Catholic teachers should avoid these errors especially evolution had been treated by him as the new erroneous philosophy. As the phrase, some today…fearing to be considered ignorant of recent scientific findings, is mentioned before the phrase, departing from…truth, it implies that he treated some people that involved in evolution (recent findings) to be those people that depart from the truth of God.

    Pope Pius XII followed his speech by: “36. For these reasons THE TEACHING AUTHORITY OF CHURCH DOES NOT FORBID that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to THE DOCTRINE OF EVOLUTION, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the CATHOLIC FATIH obliges us to HOLD that SOULS ARE IMMEDIATELY CREATED BY GOD. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11] Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.”

    As the phrase, the teaching authority of church does not forbid…the doctrine of evolution, is mentioned above, it implies that Paul Pius XII did not interfere the doctrine of evolution despite he treated it as new erroneous philosophy.

    As the phrase, souls are immediately created by God, is mentioned above, it implies that he supported that Catholic faith should be based on the concept that all souls are immediately created by God. This teaching certainly contradicts evolutionary theory that teaches that all souls could not be created immediately by God but it would take many years to evolve so as to come into being. Besides, evolutionary theory supports that God do not create directly all souls but have assisted in the process of evolution. This concept is certainly wrong since it implies that God do not involve in the creation of souls but to stand aside just to assist them to be formed. A question has to be raised. Did God create the souls personally or He just stood aside to assist their formation?

    Nevertheless, Paul Pius XII did not support that evolutionary theory is the truth of God despite he did not forbid its teaching.

  36. What did Pope Pius IX want Christians to do towards those fellow Christians that support all things were the divine work from God through evolution?
    The following is the extract from Catholics and Evolution, wiki:
    On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, during the papacy of Pope Pius IX, who defined dogmatically papal infallibility during the First Vatican Council in 1869–70…..
    On God the Creator, the Vatican Council was very clear. The definitions preceding the “anathema” (as a technical term of Catholic theology, let him be “cut off” or excommunicated, cf. Galatians 1:6–9; Titus 3:10–11; Matthew 18:15–17) signify an infallible doctrine of the Catholic Faith (De Fide):
    1. On God the creator of all things
    1. …..
    2. …..
    3. …..
    4. IF ANYONE SAYS THAT that finite things, both corporal and spiritual, or at any rate, spiritual, emanated from THE DIVINE SUBSTANCE; or that the divine essence, BY the manifestation and EVOLUTION of itself BECOMES ALL THINGS or, finally, that God is a universal or indefinite being which by self-determination establishes the totality of things distinct in genera, species and individuals: LET HIM BE ANATHEMA.
    5. …..
    Comment upon the speech from Pope Pius IX as listed above and observe carefully those letters that are in capital letters.
    As the phrase, If anyone says that…the divine substance (could be God)…by…evolution of itself becomes all things…let him be anathema, is mentioned in his speech above, it seems to be that he discouraged Christians to have faith in evolution. The phrase, finite things…spiritual…the divine substance, as mentioned in his speech, could refer to God in which Christians support the divine work of God in evolution. Thus, the phrase, the divine substance…by…evolution…becomes all things, could be interpreted as these Christians should have supported that God by evolution that becomes all things. What did he mention about these people? Let him be anathema. Excommunicate!

  37. The discrepancies between the scripture and the scientific evolution of the earth:

    The scriptural verses about the beginning of the earth:

    Genesis 1:2, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

    Genesis 1:9-10, “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

    As the phrase, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, is mentioned in Genesis 1:2, it implies that the earth was initially covered with water.

    As the phrase, let the dry land appear, is mentioned in Genesis 1:9-10, it implies that land should appear lately. If the land should appear first, there should not be any reason for the scripture to mention with the phrase, let the dry land appear. Besides, it would not be possible for the scripture to mention with the phrase, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered unto one place, if the land should have appeared before the existence of sea. Even if one might assume that land and sea water would coexist in the beginning in the creation of the earth, why should the scripture mention with the phrase, Let the dry land appear, as if that there was no land initially on earth?

    The following is the extract from the website address, , pertaining to the evolution of the earth:

    4650 mya: Formation of chondrules in the Solar Nebula
    – 4567 mya: Formation of the Solar System
    Sun was only 70% as bright as today.
    – 4500 mya: Formation of the Earth.
    – 4450 mya: The Moon accretes from fragments
    of a collision between the Earth and a planetoid;
    Moon’s orbit is beyond 64,000 km from the Earth.[33]
    – Earth’s original hydrogen and helium atmosphere
    escapes Earth’s gravity.
    – 4455 mya: Tidal locking causes one side
    of the Moon to face the Earth permanently.[30]
    – 3900 mya: Cataclysmic meteorite bombardment.
    The Moon is 282,000 km from Earth.[34]
    – Earth’s atmosphere becomes mostly
    carbon dioxide, water vapor,
    methane, and ammonia.
    – Formation of carbonate minerals starts
    reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.
    – There is no geologic record for the Hadean Eon.

    My comment: As listed above, the earth day was 7 hour’s long in 4450 mya and yet in 3000 mya, its speed reduced to 14.4 hour’s long per earth day. Thus, the spinning speed of the earth was super fast prior to 4450 mya since it took 7 hour’s long to finish its full day. In such a high speed, all the substances, such as, sea water, would fly out of the sky. Or in other words, sea water should not be in existence in beginning of the evolution of the earth.

    As listed above also, earth’s orginal hydrogen and helium atmosphere would escape from the earth’s gravity in 4450 mya. Considering the environmental condition if the whole earth was filled with water, it is impossible for the earth to emit hydrogen and helium when the land was covered fully with water.

    Besides, the rapid spinning of the earth in 7 hour’s long prior to 4450 mya would cause sea water to fly out of the earth.

    The above show the contradiction between the scripture and the scientific evolution of the earth.

    1. You have apparently mistaken Genesis for a Science book. It is using poetry and allegory to describe creation. Day does not equal 7 24 hour periods. That is silly. The Sun isn’t even mentioned as being created until the 4th “day” You have also apparently confused Catholics with Fundamentalists or creationists. We are neither and do not read scripture this way. Catholics see no fundamental conflict between the findings of Science and the Genesis account because we do not read the passage in the literal manner you do. To read it that way is to lack sophistication regarding the nature of language and genre of the Genesis account. Hence your argument is a straw man. The article I have written critiques not science, but the non-scientific claim that evolution is blind, and has no guiding intelligence. That would be contrary to our faith. But of course that should not matter to you as a scientist since true science does not propose to deal with the metaphysical question of God’s existence or of the nature of extrinsic causality. Science deal reasonably well with material and to some extent efficient causality. But final and formal causality are outside its realm. So I hate to say it but your tour of 3000 + or – MYA is of little relevance tot he discussion here and I would not dispute your claims as a theologian. Among scientists (which I am not) your theories may continue to be debated, but they are not relevant here because I do not dispute them.

  38. Was the earth formed through several destructions that were brought forth by volcanoes, meteorites and etc.? Does it differ from scriptural point of view?

    Scriptural verses about the creation of the earth:

    Genesis 1:2, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

    Genesis 1:9-10, “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

    The phrase, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, in Genesis 1:2, implies that the scripture supports that the earth was initially covered with water. As the phrase, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together…and let the dry land appear, is mentioned in Genesis 1:9-10, it implies the appearance of land lately. Thus, the scripture supports that the land was not visible on the surface of the earth since it was covered with water.

    As the scripture mentions that the earth was covered with water, it is unlikely that volcanoes could be visible at that time since they should be under the sea water. As all the mountains were in the sea as mentioned in Genesis 1:2, how could the earth be under-attacked by volcanoes? As all the lands were in the sea water as mentioned in the scripture, how could the earth be under-attacked by meteorites? This is by virtue of meteorites would simply drop into the sea without any strong impact upon the land of the earth.

    The following is the extract from the website, , in which contradiction has been found against the scripture:

    ‘This first eon in which the Earth existed is what is known as the Hadean period, named after the Greek word “Hades” (underworld) which refers to the condition of the planet at the time. During this time, the Earth’s surface was under a continuous bombardment by meteorites, and volcanism is believed to be severe due to the large heat flow and geothermal gradient. Outgassing and volcanic activity produced the primordial atmosphere. Condensing water vapor, augmented by ice delivered by comets, accumulated in the atmosphere and cooled the molten exterior of the planet to form a solid crust and produced the oceans. This period ended roughly 3.8 years ago with the onset of the Archean age, by which time, the Earth had cooled significantly and primordial life began to evolve.’

    1. OK, this conversation is going nowhere. Genesis is speaking poetically. Do you comprehend what I am saying? It is NOT a scientific explanation. You are not talking to a fundamentalist zuma I have no beef with your volcano stuff. Neither does the Genesis account. Don’t spend a lot more typing zuma or cutting and pasting. You’re barking up the wrong tree you’re crusading against a straw man.

  39. If “Genesis is speaking poetically” then when did sin enter the world? Were Jesus and Paul mistaken when they refer to a literal-historical Adam?

    1. This is a very old article so I don’t really know what you are referring to here. But the bottom line is that poetry does not mean “unreal” For example, If I say, In 1492, Columbus Stated the Ocean Blue.” In this I am stating a fact, something that actually happened. Though, to be sure I soak artistically and not every detail is equal. 1492 is very factual and literal. But “ocean blue” is imagery. The ocean is not actually blue, it just looks blue as it reflects the sky. Further, Columbus did nit sail the ocean, but a rather a part of the ocean. However, the fundamental facts remain in place despite poetic description of some of the details. As for Adam he WAS an historical figure. Sin comes from his actual sin. To say some things are described poetically (e.g. 7 days need not be literal periods of 24 earth hours), but “day” could stand for an indeterminate period), does not mean they did not happen. If I tell you there must have been a million people there, I do not indicate I actually counted heads, but that there were a lot of people there, that is a fact. Language requires some sophistication in terms of how it is used.

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