But first, some context:
Recently, I received a rude letter from a Catholic high school teacher, demanding to know how I could hold beliefs at odds with the Church.
Doubts about the quality of the cargo of our harbour garbage scow, the SS Darwin, put me on the wrong side of the Church, he claims.
Well, as observant Catholics often say, the Church is more often defamed from within than without. And this guy’s letter is a good example. News for him: When something stinks, an observant Catholic is free to say so. More of us should do that more often, really.
“Of course, Catholics may share many of these fundamentalist beliefs [i.e. six day creationism, the world is only 10,000 years old] as their personal opinions. The point is they are not required to.”
If you open the Google search engine and type, “What does the Catholic Church teach about evolution?”, one of the more reliable items on the first page of results is from Eternal Word Television Network (Catholic TV): In “Evolution: a Catholic Perspective”, James B. Stenson provides the essential information:
It comes as a surprise to many Catholics to learn how little the church teaches in this area–how few tenets are established as true beyond doubt, and therefore how much latitude is left to Catholics for their personal judgment. The Church has not been concerned with evolutionary questions as such, but rather with their possible implications for Catholic belief.
In 1950, Pope Pius XII addressed the question of man’s origins more specifically in his encyclical Humani Generis. With a few terse paragraphs, he set forth the Church’s position, which we may summarize as follows:
1. 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.
2. 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.
[Richard Dawkins has picked up on this and denounced the Church for it, revealing how little true meeting of minds there could ever between Catholicism and Darwinism.]
3. 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.
It would be interesting to ask Catholic Darwinists to comment on this one.
“With the exception of the few matters mentioned above, Catholics may hold whatever scientific positions seem reasonable and intellectually convincing.”
So, from the Catholic point of view, the scientific questions of evolution are largely left open to debate. Evolutionary hypotheses which attempt to explain the development of living things may be accepted except where they conflict with these few explicit truths.
Of course, Catholics may share many of these fundamentalist beliefs [i.e. six day creationism, the world is only 10,000 years old] as their personal opinions. The point is they are not required to. With the exception of the few matters mentioned above, Catholics may hold whatever scientific positions seem reasonable and intellectually convincing.
In short, if a Catholic believes in young Earth creationism (I do not and am never likely to) in good faith and in charity, he is not at odds with Church teachings.
Another thing, it is of zero significance that a tenure bore somewhere is a Catholic Darwinist or that a pop science writer has “made peace with Darwin” (or something) while she was meditating in the Endangered Quackgrass Conservation Area. The Church did not survive 2000 years listening to people like them. And you shouldn’t either. When evaluating what the Church says, go with the evidence.
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