NEWS/FWD: Pope Accepts Theory of Evolution

Alexander Chislenko (
Thu, 24 Oct 1996 20:52:03 -0400

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Pope Accepts Theory of Evolution
4:54pm EDT, 10/24/96

VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II has lent his support to
the theory of evolution, proclaiming it compatible with
Christian faith in a step welcomed by scientists but likely
to raise howls from the religious right.

The Pope's recognition that evolution is "more than just
a theory" came in a written message he sent Wednesday to
a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a body
of experts that advises the Roman Catholic Church on
scientific issues.

It broke new ground by acknowledging that the theory of
the physical evolution of man and other species through
natural selection and hereditary adaptation appeared to
be valid.

Though the Pope made clear he regarded the human soul as
of immediate divine creation, and so not subject to the
process, his remarks brought banner headlines in the
Italian press.

"Pope says we may descend from monkeys," the conservative
newspaper Il Giornale said on its front page. La Repubblica
said the Pope had "made peace with Darwin."

The theory of evolution, most notably expounded by 19th
century English naturalist Charles Darwin, had until
now been viewed by the Catholic Church as serious and
worthy of discussion but still an open question.

"It is indeed remarkable that this theory has progressively
taken root in the minds of researchers following a series of
discoveries made in different spheres of knowledge," the Pope said.

"The convergence, neither sought nor provoked, of results of
studies undertaken independently from each other constitutes
in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory."

The theories of Darwin and other evolutionists about man's
origins were for long anathema to theologians, who saw a
conflict with the biblical account of creation in the Book
of Genesis and the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Most theologians no longer believe that the doctrine that God
created the world and made man in his own image and the theory
of evolution stand in each other's way.

But fundamentalist Christians who take a literal approach to
Genesis, known as "creationists," have recently reopened the
controversy, especially in the southern United States.

In Tennessee, where teacher John Scopes was famously fined
$100 by a court in 1925 for teaching evolution in his class
in what became known as the Monkey Trial, a bill that would
have banned teaching evolution as fact was only narrowly voted
down in the state legislature earlier this year.

The Vatican's first substantive response to the theories of
evolution was contained in an encyclical, Humani Generis,
written in 1950 by the Pope Pius XII.

It cited no objection to discussing evolution while cautioning
that the theory played into the hands of communists eager to cut
God out of the equation.

Pope John Paul II has previously endorsed the 1950 document.
He said Wednesday its essential point was that "if the human
body has its origin in living material which pre-exists it,
the spiritual soul is immediately created by God."

But he also said: "Today, nearly half a century after appearance
of the encyclical, fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the
theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis."

The Pope's acknowledgement was welcomed as a significant advance
by scientists, even though some said it had come late.

"It will allow many Catholic scientists, who have been engaged
for some time in research on human evolution, to continue their work
without any censure or difficulty," said Francesco Barone, a
leading Italian scientific philosopher.

Alexander Chislenko <>
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