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Evolution and the Pope

by Henry M. Morris

Founder and former President of the Institute of Creation Research

According to the Vatican Information Service in a news release on October 23, 1996, Pope John Paul II was reported as saying that evolution is "more than just a theory." This seems to mean, despite the tenuous wording, that he now considers evolution a scientific fact. His written message to his science advisers, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, speaks of "a series of discoveries made in different spheres of knowledge" which have convinced him to make this bold statement supporting evolution and suggesting that his millions of followers do the same.

One cannot help suspecting that the recent spate of events and media articles "puffing" evolution is being orchestrated somewhere to combat the modern resurgence of creationism around the world. The facts are so trivial but the propaganda has been so high and mighty. There was that widespread furor, for example, about the lone Colorado student who had the temerity to ask his local school to tone down its dogmatic teaching of the naturalistic origin of life.

And what about the sudden media announcement that a small rock found in Antarctica has now "proved" that life has evolved all over the universe? There is also the widespread publicity about Bill Moyer's series of public telecasts rethinking Genesis. And a new series of anti-creationist articles in such establishment journals as Time, Harper's, Life, Scientific American, Newsweek, and others.

Now comes the Pope with his "surprise" announcement that it is acceptable for Catholics to believe and teach evolutionism. He did include the small proviso that they should still allow God to create each human soul. Atheism thus remains inappropriate for Catholics, and that's a relief to know!

As a matter of fact, this public papal evolutionism is hardly a surprise to anyone who has followed the pronouncements of the last four popes, or who is familiar with the teachings of the various Catholic colleges and seminaries in this country. Even the last true conservative pope, Pius XII, in his famous 1950 encyclical, Humani Ceneris, while not promoting evolutionism and still seeming to lean toward special creation, did make a point of allowing Catholics to study and accept evolution as a scientific theory of origins, again with the limitation that God created the soul, and that all men are descendants of Adam, along with the doctrine of original sin as inherited from Adam.

The freedom to study and teach evolution with this constraint seemed very quickly to result in the widespread acceptance of theistic evolutionism in Catholic institutions and churches everywhere. As far as the present pope, John Paul II, is concerned, he has been an evolutionist in this sense probably since his youth. Despite this sudden supposed surprising pontificating, it is nothing new to his personal beliefs.

Pope John Paul II was Karol Wojtyla, Cardinal of Krakow when he was named pope in 1978. He had earlier been an actor and was apparently quite comfortable as a government-approved ecclesiastic in Communist Poland. When he was elected pope, his election was enthusiastically endorsed by Poland's Communist Party and by World communism in general. Since his election, he has seemingly been promoting a syncretistic agenda, not only with Protestants but also with Hindus, Lamaists, and others. In any event, he is not a recent convert to evolutionism, as the media have implied.

Perhaps the most influential evolutionist among Catholic theologians was the Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin, now considered in effect to be almost the "patron saint" of the New Age movement with his strong pantheistic evolutionism. Teilhard was involved in the controversial discoveries of both Piltdown Man and Peking Man, and vigorously promoted total evolutionism all his life, greatly influencing such leading secular evolutionists as Theodosius Dobzhansky, George Gaylord Simpson, and Sir Julian Huxley. His books were banned at one time by the Catholic church but have apparently become respectable, and even very influential among Catholics during the reigns of the recent more liberal popes.

There have been many other leading evolutionary scientists in the domain of Catholicism, and this description would certainly apply to most of the scientists of the Pontifical Academy. On the other hand, we need to recognize that there are many strong creationists, not only among lay Catholics, but also among Catholic scientists as well. We could mention Dr. Guy Berthault of France, for example, whose studies on sedimentation have been profoundly significant in refuting geological uniformitarianism. Two Italian creationists, Dr. Roberto Fondi (paleontologist) and Dr. Giuseppe Sermonti (geneticist) have published important scientific books and papers refuting evolution. There are many others.

In this country, Dr. Wolfgang Smith, born in Austria but educated in this country (at Cornell, Purdue, and Columbia, in physics and mathematics) and having served since 1968 as Professor of Mathematics at Oregon State, after previous faculty positions at M.I.T. and U.C.L.A., has written a devastating critique of de Chardin's teachings and evolutionism in general. In this book, he says that the doctrine of macroevolution "is totally bereft of scientific sanction" (Teilhardism and she new Religion. Tan Books, 1988, p. 5; emphasis his.) He then adds that "there exists to this day not a shred of bona f de scientific evidence in support of the thesis that macroevolutionary transformations have ever occurred." (Ibid., p. 6.)

It is too bad that Pope John Paul II (who is not a scientist) did not consult such real Catholic scientists as Wolfgang Smith before glibly stating, as he did, that "new knowledge leads us to recognize in the theory of evolution more than a hypothesis." Just what new knowledge would that be, Pope John Paul II? Possibly the Mars rock? Or the fantasy of a walking whale?

One wonders whether he might be thinking of Teilhard's famous definition of evolution when he says it is more than a hypothesis. Here is what Teilhard said:

Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all systems, all hypotheses must bow.... Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow. (The Phenomenon of Man. Harper and Row 1965, p. 219.)

Evolution was, to all intents and purposes, Teilhard's "god," and his goal was globalism, a unified world government, culture, and religion, with all religions merged into one.

There are more and more signs that such globalism is also the aim of Pope John Paul II and other modern liberal Catholics. If so, this publicized commitment to evolutionism would contribute substantially to such a goal. All world religions—including most of mainline Protestantism, as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, and the rest—except for Biblical Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, and Fundamentalist Islam, have embraced some form of evolutionism (either theistic, deistic, or pantheistic) and rejected or allegorized the true record of origins in Genesis. The pope has participated in important meetings with leaders of Communism, Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Lamaism, and others, as well as the World Council of Churches, the Trilateral Commission, the B'nai B'rith of liberal Judaism, and a wide assortment of still others. He has traveled to India, Australia, the United States, and all over the world in his bullet-proof "popemobile," speaking to immense crowds everywhere.

All cults and movements associated with the "new world order" of the so-called New Age Movement have two things in common—evolutionism as their base and globalism as their goal. It is disturbing now to see even many large evangelical movements (e.g., Promise Keepers, charismatic ecumenism) inadvertently drifting into the same orbit while eulogizing this evolutionist pope.

The pope insists, of course, that Catholic evolutionists must still believe that God started the universe with its Big Bang and still creates each human soul. The scientific establishment, however, will never be content ultimately with anything less than total evolutionism.

The man who is believed by many to be the world's greatest living scientist, Stephen W. Hawking, has an insightful comment regarding his own audience with the pope, in his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time (Bantam Books, 1988). He had been a speaker at a high-level papal scientific conference on cosmology. After which he describes his encounter thus:

At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the pope. He told us it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the Big Bang, but we should not inquire into the Big Bang itself because that was the moment of creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference—the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation (p. 116).

That being the case, according to his cosmological mathematics, he concludes: "What place, then, for a Creator?" (p. 140). Hawking's book refers frequently to God, but he ends up concluding in his heart: "There is no god." And such must inevitably be the ultimate logical conclusion of any consistent evolutionism.

Among the most poignant verses in the Bible, with its reality coming more and more into focus these days, are the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 18:8:

"When the son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

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The text of the Address of Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (October 22, 1996)

Truth Cannot Contradict Truth

WITH GREAT PLEASURE I address cordial greeting to you, Mr. President, and to all of you who constitute the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, on the occasion of your plenary assembly. I offer my best wishes in particular to the new academicians, who have come to take part in your work for the first time. I would also like to remember the academicians who died during the past year, whom I commend to the Lord of life.

1. In celebrating the 60th anniversary of the academy's refoundation, I would like to recall the intentions of my predecessor Pius XI, who wished to surround himself with a select group of scholars, relying on them to inform the Holy See in complete freedom about developments in scientific research, and thereby to assist him in his reflections.

He asked those whom he called the Church's "senatus scientificus" to serve the truth. I again extend this same invitation to you today, certain that we will be able to profit from the fruitfulness of a trustful dialogue between the Church and science.

2. I am pleased with the first theme you have chosen, that of the origins of life and evolution, an essential subject which deeply interests the Church, since revelation, for its part, contains teaching concerning the nature and origins of man. How do the conclusions reached by the various scientific disciplines coincide with those contained in the message of revelation? And if, at first sight, there are apparent contradictions, in what direction do we look for their solution? We know, in fact, that truth cannot contradict truth (cf. Leo XIII, encyclical Providentissimus Deus). Moreover, to shed greater light on historical truth, your research on the Church's relations with science between the 16th and 18th centuries is of great importance. During this plenary session, you are undertaking a "reflection on science at the dawn of the third millennium," starting with the identification of the principal problems created by the sciences and which affect humanity's future. With this step you point the way to solutions which will be beneficial to the whole human community. In the domain of inanimate and animate nature, the evolution of science and its applications give rise to new questions. The better the Church's knowledge is of their essential aspects, the more she will understand their impact. Consequently, in accordance with her specific mission she will be able to offer criteria for discerning the moral conduct required of all human beings in view of their integral salvation.

3. Before offering you several reflections that more specifically concern the subject of the origin of life and its evolution, I would like to remind you that the magisterium of the Church has already made pronouncements on these matters within the framework of her own competence. I will cite here two interventions.

In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points.

For my part, when I received those taking part in your academy's plenary assembly on October 31, 1992, I had the opportunity with regard to Galileo to draw attention to the need of a rigorous hermeneutic for the correct interpretation of the inspired word. It is necessary to determine the proper sense of Scripture, while avoiding any unwarranted interpretations that make it say what it does not intend to say. In order to delineate the field of their own study, the exegete and the theologian must keep informed about the results achieved by the natural sciences (cf. AAS 85 1/81993 3/8, pp. 764-772; address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, April 23, 1993, announcing the document on the The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church: AAS 86 1/81994 3/8, pp. 232-243).

4. Taking into account the state of scientific research at the time as well as of the requirements of theology, the encyclical Humani Generis considered the doctrine of "evolutionism" a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study equal to that of the opposing hypothesis. Pius XII added two methodological conditions: that this opinion should not be adopted as though it were a certain, proven doctrine and as though one could totally prescind from revelation with regard to the questions it raises. He also spelled out the condition on which this opinion would be compatible with the Christian faith, a point to which I will return. Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. [Aujourdhui, près dun demi-siècle après la parution de l'encyclique, de nouvelles connaissances conduisent à reconnaitre dans la théorie de l'évolution plus qu'une hypothèse.] It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.

What is the significance of such a theory? To address this question is to enter the field of epistemology. A theory is a metascientific elaboration, distinct from the results of observation but consistent with them. By means of it a series of independent data and facts can be related and interpreted in a unified explanation. A theory's validity depends on whether or not it can be verified; it is constantly tested against the facts; wherever it can no longer explain the latter, it shows its limitations and unsuitability. It must then be rethought.

Furthermore, while the formulation of a theory like that of evolution complies with the need for consistency with the observed data, it borrows certain notions from natural philosophy.

And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of theology.

5. The Church's magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man: Revelation teaches us that he was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:27-29). The conciliar constitution Gaudium et Spes has magnificently explained this doctrine, which is pivotal to Christian thought. It recalled that man is "the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake" (No. 24). In other terms, the human individual cannot be subordinated as a pure means or a pure instrument, either to the species or to society; he has value per se. He is a person. With his intellect and his will, he is capable of forming a relationship of communion, solidarity and self-giving with his peers. St. Thomas observes that man's likeness to God resides especially in his speculative intellect, for his relationship with the object of his knowledge resembles God's relationship with what he has created (Summa Theologica I-II:3:5, ad 1). But even more, man is called to enter into a relationship of knowledge and love with God himself, a relationship which will find its complete fulfillment beyond time, in eternity. All the depth and grandeur of this vocation are revealed to us in the mystery of the risen Christ (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22). It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei"; "Humani Generis," 36). Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.

6. With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry? Consideration of the method used in the various branches of knowledge makes it possible to reconcile two points of view which would seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure the multiple manifestations of life with increasing precision and correlate them with the time line. The moment of transition to the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection, while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator's plans.

7. In conclusion, I would like to call to mind a Gospel truth which can shed a higher light on the horizon of your research into the origins and unfolding of living matter. The Bible in fact bears an extraordinary message of life. It gives us a wise vision of life inasmuch as it describes the loftiest forms of existence. This vision guided me in the encyclical which I dedicated to respect for human life, and which I called precisely "Evangelium Vitae."

It is significant that in St. John's Gospel life refers to the divine light which Christ communicates to us. We are called to enter into eternal life, that is to say, into the eternity of divine beatitude. To warn us against the serious temptations threatening us, our Lord quotes the great saying of Deuteronomy: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Dt 8:3; cf. Mt 4:4). Even more, "life" is one of the most beautiful titles which the Bible attributes to God. He is the living God.

I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings upon you and upon all who are close to you.


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