Many religious organizations accept evolutionary theory, though their related theological interpretations vary. However, individuals or movements within such organizations may not accept evolution.
Evolution contradicts a literalistic interpretation of Genesis; however, according to Roman Catholicism and most contemporary Protestant Churches, biblical literalism in the creation account is not mandatory. Christians have considered allegorical interpretations of Genesis since long before the development of Darwin’s theory of evolution, or Hutton’s principle of uniformitarianism. A notable example is St. Augustine (4th century), who, on theological grounds, argued that everything in the universe was created by God in the same instant, and not in six days as a plain reading of Genesis would require.
9.1.1 Contemporary Christian denominations
Many Christian denominations support or accept theistic evolution. For example, on 12 February 2006, the 197th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth was commemorated by “Evolution Sunday” where the message that followers of Christ do not have to choose between biblical stories of creation and evolution was taught in classes and sermons at many Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Unitarian, Congregationalist, United Church of Christ, Baptist and community churches.
The National Council of Churches USA said that it “assists people of faith to experience no conflict between science and their faith and to embrace science as one way of appreciating the beauty and complexity of God’s creation.”
Although Anglicans (including the Episcopal Church in the USA, the Church of England and others) believe that the Bible “contains all things necessary to salvation,” nonetheless “science and Christian theology can complement one another in the quest for truth and understanding.” Specifically on the subject of creation/evolution, Anglicans view “Big Bang cosmology” as being “in tune with both the concepts of creation out of nothing and continuous creation.”
9.1.3 Church of the Nazarene
The Church of the Nazarene, an evangelical Christian denomination, sees “knowledge acquired by science and human inquiry equal to that acquired by divine revelation,” and, while the church “believes in the Biblical account of creation” and holds that God is the sole creator, it allows latitude ‘regarding the “how” of creation.'”
9.1.4 Eastern Orthodox Church
The Eastern Orthodox Church is divided in two large categories, which might be labelled as compatibilism and incompatibilism.
a- On the one hand, compatibilists hold that science and theology are compatible and view them as complementary revelations of God. The contradictions must be merely apparent and a resolution possible which is faithful to the truth of God’s revelation.
b- On the other hand, incompatibilists hold that science can be incompatible with faith. They usually argue either that science is philosophically based on a kind of naturalism, or that God’s specific revelation is infallible and therefore overrules the findings of human reason in the case of any conflict between them.
9.1.5 Roman Catholic Church
The Church does not argue with scientists on matters such as the age of the earth and the authenticity of the fossil record, seeing such matters as outside its area of expertise. The official Church’s position remains a focus of controversy and is fairly non-specific, stating only that faith and the origin of man’s material body “from pre-existing living matter” are not in conflict, and that the existence of God is required to explain the spiritual component of man’s origin. Catholic schools teach the facts of evolution and the scientific theory of its mechanisms.
9.1.6 Popes’ views
188.8.131.52 Pope Pius IX
Darwin’s “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. The council has a section on “Faith and Reason” that includes the following:
“9. Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.” (Vatican Council I)
“10. Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.” (Vatican Council I)
On God the Creator, the Vatican Council was very clear. The definitions preceding the “anathema” signify an infallible dogma of Catholic faith (De Fide):
- On God the creator of all things
- If anyone denies the one true God, creator and lord of things visible and invisible: let him be anathema.
- If anyone is so bold as to assert that there exists nothing besides matter: let him be anathema.
- If anyone says that the substance or essence of God and that of all things are one and the same: let him be anathema.
- If anyone says 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.
- If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God; or holds that God did not create by his will free from all necessity, but as necessarily as he necessarily loves himself; or denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema.
184.108.40.206 Pope Pius X
The Pontifical Biblical Commission issued a decree ratified by Pope Pius X on June 30, 1909 that “special creation” only applied to man, not to the other species.
220.127.116.11 Pope Pius XII
The Church, beginning in 1950 with Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis, took up a neutral position with regard to evolution.
Pope Pius XII’s teaching can be summarized as follows:
- The question of the origin of man’s body from pre-existing and living matter is a legitimate matter of inquiry for natural science. Catholics are free to form their own opinions, but they should do so cautiously; they should not confuse fact with conjecture, and they should respect the Church’s right to define matters touching on Revelation.
- Catholics must believe, however, that the human soul was created immediately by God. Since the soul is a spiritual substance it is not brought into being through transformation of matter, but directly by God, whence the special uniqueness of each person.
- All men have descended from an individual, Adam, who has transmitted original sin to all mankind. Catholics may not, therefore, believe in “polygenism,” the scientific hypothesis that mankind descended from a group of original humans (that there were many Adams and Eves).
18.104.22.168 Pope John Paul II
In an October 22, 1996, address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II updated the Church’s position to accept evolution of the human body. He also rejected any theory of evolution that provides a materialistic explanation for the human soul.
22.214.171.124 Pope Benedict XVI
The Church has deferred to scientists on matters such as the age of the earth and the authenticity of the fossil record. Papal pronouncements, along with commentaries by cardinals, have accepted the findings of scientists on the gradual appearance of life. The Church’s stance is that any such gradual appearance must have been guided in some way by God.
But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence. Divine causality and created causality radically differ in kind and not only in degree. Thus, even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan for creation.
In a commentary on Genesis authored as Cardinal Ratzinger titled “In the Beginning”… Benedict XVI spoke of “the inner unity of creation and evolution and of faith and reason” and that these two realms of knowledge are complementary, not contradictory.
On September 2-3, 2006 at Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict XVI conducted a seminar examining the theory of evolution and its impact on Catholicism’s teaching of Creation. The essays presented by his formers students, including natural scientists and theologians, were published in 2007 under the title “Creation and Evolution. Pope Benedict’s own contribution states that “the question is not to either make a decision for a creationism that fundamentally excludes science, or for an evolutionary theory that covers over its own gaps and does not want to see the questions that reach beyond the methodological possibilities of natural science.`”
In commenting on statements by his predecessor, he writes that “it is also true that the theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory.” Though commenting that experiments in a controlled environment were limited as “we cannot haul 10,000 generations into the laboratory,” he does not endorse creationism or Intelligent Design. He defends theistic evolution, the reconciliation between science and religion already held by Catholics. In discussing evolution, he writes that “The process itself is rational despite the mistakes and confusion. This inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science….where did this rationality come from?” to which he answers that it comes from the “creative reason” of God.
9.1.7 Catholic teaching and evolution
Concerning the doctrine on creation, Ludwig Ott in his “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” (originally published in 1952 in German) identifies the following points as essential beliefs of the Catholic faith (“De Fide”):
- All that exists outside God was, in its whole substance, produced out of nothing by God. (De Fide)
- God was moved by His Goodness to create the world. (De Fide)
- The world was created for the Glorification of God. (De Fide)
- The Three Divine Persons are one single, common Principle of the Creation. (De Fide)
- God created the world free from exterior compulsion and inner necessity. (De Fide)
- God has created a good world. (De Fide)
- The world had a beginning in time. (De Fide)
- God alone created the world. (De Fide)
- God keeps all created things in existence. (De Fide)
- God, through His Providence, protects and guides all that He has created. (De Fide)
The various Councils (Lateran IV, Vatican I, Florence, and others), the traditional statements of the Saints, Doctors, Fathers, and Scriptures are cited by Ott to document the Catholic dogma that God is ultimately the Creator of all things however he chose to do the creating (Genesis 1; Colossians 1:15ff; Hebrews 3; Psalm 19).
9.1.8 Catholic schools and evolution
In the United States, Catholic schools teach evolution, not theistic evolution, as part of their science curriculum. They teach the fact that evolution occurs and the modern evolutionary synthesis, which is the scientific theory that explains why evolution occurs. This is the same evolution curriculum that secular schools teach. Catholic schools do teach theistic evolution in their religion classes though. Bishop DiLorenzo of Richmond, chair of the Committee on Science and Human Values in a December 2004 letter sent to all U.S. bishops: “…Catholic schools should continue teaching evolution as a scientific theory backed by convincing evidence. At the same time, Catholic parents whose children are in public schools should ensure that their children are also receiving appropriate catechesis at home and in the parish on God as Creator. Students should be able to leave their biology classes, and their courses in religious instruction, with an integrated understanding of the means God chose to make us who we are.”
9.1.9 Unofficial catholic organizations
There have been several organizations composed of Catholic laity and clergy which have advocated positions supporting evolution and opposed to evolution. For example:
- The Kolbe Centre for the Study of Creation operates out of Mount Jackson, Virginia and is a Catholic lay apostolate promoting Young Earth creationism (including biblical literalism and flood geology).
- The “Faith Movement” was founded by Catholic Fr. Edward Holloway in Surrey, England, and “argues from Evolution as a fact, that the whole process would be impossible without the existence of the Supreme Mind we call God.”
- The “daylight Origin Society” was founded in 1971 by John G. Campbell (d.1983) as the “Counter Evolution Group”. Its goal is “to inform Catholics and others of the scientific evidence supporting “Special Creation as opposed to Evolution”, and that the true discoveries of Science are in conformity with Catholic doctrines.”
9.1.10 Post Vatican II and Polygenism
Some modern theologians do not necessarily see a conflict between polygenism and Catholic teaching on original sin. The Church has not yet clarified the question of monogenism versus polygenism.
In a January 16, 2006 article in L’Osservatore Romano, Fiorenzo Facchini states: “The spark of intelligence was lighted in one or more hominids when, where and in the ways God willed it.”