“Ask the Deacon” features three Transitional Deacons who will be ordained June 3 to the priesthood in the Diocese of Providence — Deacons Brian Morris, Joseph Brice and Stephen Battey — who respond to questions about the faith from Rhode Island Catholic readers.
Q. Does the theory of evolution contradict the Bible?
The theory of evolution, that the human bodies that we have today are the result of millions of years of growth in nature, does not contradict the Bible or the faith on its own. Where we run into problems is when someone claims that we are the result of random chance, also known as “atheistic evolution” or “evolutionism.” The story found in Genesis of God creating the universe in seven days, is not meant to be a literal telling of creation. After all, there are actually two different versions, and they both can’t be true! Instead it is a story meant to pass on fundamental truths about the creation of the universe. Those truths include that it was created by the one, true God, who created it out of love and out of nothingness.
There are some Christians who do take the story literally, they are called “fundamentalists” or “creationists.” The Church frowns upon this as well because it denies our ability to discover the imprint of God’s actions in the world around us, which is a gift from God. It is important to realize that Science and Theology cover different areas of knowledge. Science cannot tell us that there is no God or that He doesn’t love us just at theology has no ability to tell us how exactly nature works. This is why for Catholics theology and science, or faith and reason, need to work together, they need to complement each other. In 1997, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote a wonderful encyclical called “Fides et Ratio” (Faith and Reason) describing the proper relationship between the two.
Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Academy of Science about this issue and said: “The Big Bang theory, which is proposed today as the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of a divine creator but depends on it. Evolution in nature does not conflict with the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings who evolve.”
After he gave that speech all the news pundits and websites lit up with joy proclaiming that Pope Francis has finally pulled the Catholic Church out of the Dark Ages and accepted evolution! This couldn’t be further from the truth. Pope Saint John Paul II said pretty much the same thing when he spoke at the Academy in 1996.
In fact, the scientist who originally proposed the Big Bang theory in 1927, which has more to do with the evolution of the universe than the human body, was a Catholic Priest named Msgr. Georges Lemaître. In 1950, Pope Pius XII encouraged research into the theory of evolution in his encyclical Humani Generis. In the letter, he said that it is perfectly acceptable to research the evolution of the human body. However, he also emphasized that our human souls cannot be a product of evolution, but are an immediate gift from God. This is where we need to be careful when looking at evolutionary theories. We must always remember that the fact that we have a rational soul cannot be accounted for by scientific theories.
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