The Vatican, Science, and Origins

Pope Pius XII

Papal astronomer, Guy Consolmagno, is keen on aliens and atheists, but if you are a Christian scholar who argues for evidence of intelligent design in the universe, he has no time for you.

The Guardian reports, “Aliens might have souls and could choose to be baptised if humans ever met them, a Vatican scientist said today. The official also dismissed intelligent design as “bad theology” that had been “hijacked” by American creationist fundamentalists” (“Pope’s astronomer says he would baptize an alien if it asked him,” Alok Jha, guardian.co.uk, September 17, 2010).

The article also notes, however, that Stephen Hawking, the atheist physicist, is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. When asked to comment on this oddity, Consolmagno said, “Steven Hawking is a brilliant physicist and when it comes to theology I can say he’s a brilliant physicist.” When I was at Boston College, the theology department included a witch, Mary Daly.

In what seems to me a related article, as it pertains to the Roman Catholic view of the origin or origins of all things, something Evangelicals find puzzling when they think of it at all, The Wall Street Journal published this notice on the 60th anniversary of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Humani Generis, which is the textus receptus of Roman catholic views on Darwin and evolutionary biology (“Catholics and the Cosmos,” August 27, 2007).

But it was another encyclical that earned Pius XII a chapter in the annals of the history of science. “Humani Generis” (Of the Human Race) laid out the Catholic Church’s accommodation with Darwinian evolution—provided Christians believed the individual soul was not the product of purely material forces, but a direct creation by God. This remains the position of the Catholic Church, one which was affirmed by the late Pope John Paul II in his celebrated 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. …

While Pius was willing to concede that there was reason to believe the human body was the product of evolution, he was adamant that the special status of Adam as the father of the human race should not be a matter of question. “For the faithful,” he wrote, “cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.”

Albert Mohler, the present of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, gives his thoughts on this article in “‘Prettifying’ Darwin–a Timely Look at a Losing Strategy.”

Papal encyclicals are, by definition, official and authoritative statements of the Catholic magisterium. They often signal significant changes in Catholic theology and teaching. By any measure, Humani Generis was a statement of true historical significance. Pope Pius XII did indeed state that there is no intrinsic conflict between Catholic teaching and evolution. He did not lay claim upon a biblical authority for this verdict, but instead presented the document as a statement of papal authority. From 1950 forward, the Roman Catholic Church has been presented as being at peace with the theory of evolution, and this is often thrown in the face of evangelicals in public argument.

But Mohler points out what Farrell does not stress, viz. Pius’s insistence that there be an historical Adam from whom the whole human race is descended.

When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

Yet Roman Catholic theologians are dashing down the Darwinian boulevard without any regard for the theological consequences except to conform theology to the higher authority of current biological science. Farrell cites Karl Rahner and Georgetown’s John Haught, author of Making Sense of Evolution. “Darwin has altered our understanding of almost everything that concerns theology.”

In the end, Mohler addresses fellow Evangelicals with this timely caution: “The Catholics will sort out their theological questions for themselves. For evangelicals, the direct lesson is that any accommodation to evolutionary theory comes with huge and inescapable theological costs. There is no way to affirm an historical Adam while holding to any mainstream model of evolution, and there is no way to affirm the Gospel without an historical Adam.” (Emphasis mine.)

— D.C. Innes, Associate Porfessor of Politics, The King’s College, New York City.

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