Do Catholics believe in evolution?

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No is the wrong answer to the question, Do Catholics believe in evolution?; while yes is too small a response. What Catholics believe is a matter of creed and doctrine. The church teaches as doctrine that God is the Creator, but the how of creation is not doctrinally determined. The church doesn’t uphold evolution as an element of faith: i.e., believe it or walk the plank. Catholic teaching allows that God may have chosen to create the world through the process of evolution. We believe truth has integrity; there can be no contradiction between scientific truth and the religious kind. Theology and science are not in competition but are complementary adventures in understanding. So if a thing is true, it’s naturally true for people of faith.

CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882) published
On the Origin of Species by Means
of Natural Selection
in 1859.

The church is more emphatic on matters like creationism. This position claims evolution is completely incompatible with divine creation literally described in Genesis. Scientific creationism, an offshoot, goes so far as to say that biblical truth is the only science acceptable to Christians. Catholic theologian John Haught replies that not only does this stance deprive science of its legitimacy, but such ideas trivialize the Bible by reducing it to a biology lesson.

The church’s view of evolution has itself evolved. In 1950 Pope Pius XII affirmed that evolution did not contradict faith so long as the immediate creation of the human soul by God was not at issue. Pope John Paul II showed similar caution about the soul becoming a “simple epiphenomenon” of living matter—a result of the physical body, not something supernatural and infused in the body by God.

Pope Benedict XVI did not hesitate. Before his papacy in 2004, he stated: “While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of the first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5-4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.” In 2009 the pope also said God was “not only involved in the origins of the universe but continually sustains the development of life and the world” and “is the cause of every being and all becoming.”

• Genesis chs. 1-2; Proverbs 8:22-36; Wisdom 7:17-22; John 1:1-5; Acts 17:24-28; 1 Timothy 4:4-5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 11:3

“Evolution and God: Darwin and Theology 150 years after The Origin of the Species by Aloysious Mowe, S.J., Woodstock Report, June 2009

Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life by John F. Haught (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010)
Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration by Jack Mahoney (Georgetown University Press, 2011)

• Theologian and biological scientist Dr. Celia Deane-Drummond of the University of Notre Dame will deliver the 2012 Albertus Magnus Lecture on “Human Uniqueness Reconsidered: Human Evolution and the Image of God,” Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. in the Auditorium of the Priory Campus of Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois just west of Chicago. More information . . .

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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  1. Max 11 year ago

    Thank you, thank you, for your very insightful article concerning the Church and its approach to evolution. To be honest, when I saw the subject in the contents to be discussed, my heart sank and I thought, "Oh no -- not my Church too!" For some time now, I have a personal theory about evolution: "Does the Bible have to spell out every aspect of nature and its ability to have ever been a part of God's "master plan"for the evolution of His creation?" I wrongly thought that you would offer me the short message of my 2 eldest brothers' church: "If it ain't spelled out exactly as the Bible is presented, it cannot be true." I always found this odd because they are teaching to God that if God didn't mention it, forget it (and be humiliated in the process)." I feel very affirmed this evening that the Roman Catholic Church, on issues like evolution, do not limit God on how He does things and what He has to say! Thank you very much for helping me out as to understanding better God's plan.

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