Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Pope Francis Popularizes Church’s Stance on Science

Pope Francis reminded Catholics that the theories of evolution and Big Bang are indeed consistent with the notion of a Creator at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, where he said Genesis misleads us into believing God is a “magician with a magic wand,” according to The Independent.

While not the first pope to welcome scientific theories, as a Catholic, this statement was exciting to me because it puts to rest the pseudo-theories of creationism and intelligent design for confused Catholics—the latter of which Pope Benedict XVI has been mistaken to endorse. In reality, Francis’ declaration is not breaking news for the Church, but rather, providing a refreshing reminder:

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” he said, while unveiling a statue of his predecessor, Benedict. “He created human beings and let them develop according to internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.”

Pope Pius XII welcomed the Big Bang theory and evolution in 1950, and, Pope John Paul II went even further in 1996 by saying it was “more than a hypothesis” and “effectively a proven fact.” Yet with other Christian denominations fighting these theories, the Catholic Church has somehow been lumped into the category of “anti-science” despite its very clear position, with media pointing at rather ancient accounts when investigating the Church—such as Galileo’s excommunication for suggesting the Earth revolved around the sun. John Paul II, however, put this matter to rest when he declared in 1992 that the 17th-century theologians who condemned Galileo did not recognize the distinction between the Bible and its interpretation. They were merely working with the knowledge they had.

Despite the scientific evidence available to us and the Catholic Church’s expressed support for these theories, this topic still remained divisive among Catholics, primarily in the U.S.: as some preferred these theories to Creationism, others clung to the literal words of Genesis. So why is it different this time around with Francis, who’s essentially repeating decades-old ideas?

So far in Francis’ papacy, he’s been regarded as “progressive,” despite not having changed any Catholic doctrine or public teachings regarding social issues. But what is different with him is his incredible outreach to youth and media: publications who once happily criticized the Church now find themselves quoting Francis’ works with smiling headlines, and issues that were never fuzzy within Catholicism yet fuzzy to onlooking non-Catholics (such as the Church “condemning” homosexuals) are finally gaining attention without spin. For whatever reason, his words are more celebrated, which is good news for the Church.

“The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

This statement does not blanket all Christian beliefs. But the Catholic Church—its largest denomination—is (and has been) spoken for, only this time with a more effective megaphone.

Image by Emil Nolde, licensed under Creative Commons.