National News

Pope: Creation, evolution beliefs can co-exist

Posted October 29, 2014 4:32 p.m. EDT
Updated October 29, 2014 6:35 p.m. EDT

Pope Francis said this week that the Big Bang theory and the evolution of man do not contradict the role that Catholics believe God played in the creation of humankind.

Speaking to the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope said, "The Big Bang, which nowadays is positioned as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve."

Theologians say Pope Francis is trying to help bridge the gap between science and the church.

It's a gap that dates to the persecution of early scientists whose work was thought to belie the myths and power of the church.

In 1616, the Catholic Church condemned astronomer Galileo and ordered him to retract his claims that the Earth rotated around the sun.

In recent years, many of Pope Francis' predecessors, including Pope John Paul the Second, described evolution as a valid concept.

"I think that everything Pope Francis has had to say about those subjects is consistent with what popes have said about them in the past," said Rick Martin, a theology teacher at Raleigh's Cardinal Gibbons High School.

"Any scientific theory, including evolution, presumes that the world is intelligible," Martin said, "and in order for that to be the case, one explanation is that there's an intelligence behind it."

The difference comes, Martin said, in the teachings of some evangelical Christian churches that advocate a view of creation through a literal interpretation of the Bible -- that the Earth was formed in a matter of days.

That's a new understanding, Martin said.

"Prior to the last few centuries, the assumption that the Bible had to be taken as a literally, historical, accurate description of something to be true really didn’t exist," he said.

"Science is designed to tell you how the universe works. Religion is designed to tell you why, why is there a universe," Georgetown University professor Chester Gillis said.

Martin agrees.

"What makes us unique as humans is something we come to know about ourselves and about God that's not strictly through science, but through philosophy, theology and what's revealed about our nature through sacred scripture," he said. "Religion and science can very much be seen as compatible."