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April 20, 2005

Benedict XVI & evolution

There has been some talk about the new Pope and evolutionary theory. I certainly haven't read In the Beginning...: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, a book that is a collection of five of Ratzinger's homilies from the early 1980s, but the online references seem to suggest plain vanilla theistic evolutionism, not the fleshy hopeful monster that is Intelligent Design (you can use Amazon's "search inside" feature to read much of the text. There are some portions where Ratzinger's usage of terms, or, more properly the translation from German, resembles typical Intelligent Design cant. But, reading earlier portions of the homily in question makes me skeptical that he was speaking in a specific and precise fashion as opposed to a general assertion of the salience of Design in a Thomistic fashion. And of course, the homilies were composed over a decade before ID emerged). Nevertheless, this document, titled Human Persons Created in the Image of God has some material about evolution in it, and it states:

...The present text was approved in forma specifica, by the written ballots of the International Theological Commission. It was then submitted to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the President of the Commission, who has give his permission for its publication.

Below is an interesting excision, but, I suggest you click through and skip down to paragraph 62 (they are numbered) and read the whole section "Science and the stewardship of knowledge." I don't agree with Benedict XVI on many things, but, I am also not one who dreads the possibility that somewhere out there dwell monstrous beings who not only disagree with me on important issues, but holds opinions I find highly objectionable. To be offended is to be human, to respond is only natural.

63. According to the widely accepted scientific account, the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the “Big Bang” and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life. While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of this first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5-4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution. While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage. However it is to be explained, the decisive factor in human origins was a continually increasing brain size, culminating in that of homo sapiens. With the development of the human brain, the nature and rate of evolution were permanently altered: with the introduction of the uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom and creativity, biological evolution was recast as social and cultural evolution.


70. With respect to the immediate creation of the human soul, Catholic theology affirms that particular actions of God bring about effects that transcend the capacity of created causes acting according to their natures. The appeal to divine causality to account for genuinely causal as distinct from merely explanatory gaps does not insert divine agency to fill in the “gaps” in human scientific understanding (thus giving rise to the so-called "God of the gaps”). The structures of the world can be seen as open to non-disruptive divine action in directly causing events in the world. Catholic theology affirms that that the emergence of the first members of the human species (whether as individuals or in populations) represents an event that is not susceptible of a purely natural explanation and which can appropriately be attributed to divine intervention. Acting indirectly through causal chains operating from the beginning of cosmic history, God prepared the way for what Pope John Paul II has called “an ontological leap...the moment of transition to the spiritual.” While science can study these causal chains, it falls to theology to locate this account of the special creation of the human soul within the overarching plan of the triune God to share the communion of trinitarian life with human persons who are created out of nothing in the image and likeness of God, and who, in his name and according to his plan, exercise a creative stewardship and sovereignty over the physical universe.

Stripping away the theological verbiage much of the above commentary about human evolutionary origins in particular almost resembles a "Great Leap Forward" narrative.

Posted by razib at 08:52 PM