Theistic Evolution vs. Six-Day Creation: Reply to Robert Sungenis

Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam"Reply to Sungenis on Theological Issues (Part 1)

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Pius XII and John Paul II on Evolution
The Church and Catechism on Creation
Evolutionary Creation / Theistic Evolution
Theological Questions on Adam/Eve

This article is a reply to "six-day creationist" Catholic Robert Sungenis and his article "Dialogue on Evolution vs. Creationism" in response to me (P), a "theistic evolutionist" Catholic. The primary purpose is to present once again the scientific data for the age of the earth and evolution, especially where these have been misunderstood or ignored by Bob. I don't claim to know a whole lot about radiometric dating, but I do read the sources (Dalrymple) carefully and enjoy learning what geology and biology I can. Just so you know my background, I am not a geologist or biologist but have a mere B.S. in Computer Science. Please check and verify any information below with the recognized authoritative scientific sources and knowledgeable experts in the pertinent fields.

And note I still appreciate and recommend Bob's apologetics and theology books Not By Faith Alone, Not By Scripture Alone, and Not By Bread Alone (minus the young-earth stuff near the end of the latter book). This is not meant to take anything away from these still excellent books. But when it comes to "not by science alone" we have our strong disagreements. The following is divided into several sections.

also Reply to Sungenis on Science Issues: Age of the Earth (Part 2)
also Reply to Sungenis on Science Issues: Evolution (Part 3)

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Sungenis: There are two things to consider in reading the pope's statements to the Pontifical Academy of Science. First, they hold no binding authority on any Catholic, but are simply statements of pastoral of advice to the PAS, mainly because the PAS is made up of scientists, many of them either agnostic or atheist. Second, the speeches to the PAS are usually not written by the pope himself, but are drafted by the PAS president, and then given to the pope to read. Hence, they often contain scientific assertions that reflect the status quo of modern science as understood by the PAS (which is almost invariably bent toward evolutionary theory). We should not expect the Academy to say anything differently to the pope, since all 80 of them, which elect their own members without reference to 'race or religious creed,' are evolutionists, with not a single Creationist permitted in their ranks. That being the case, we can understand Archbishop Luigi Barbarito when he spoke for John Paul: 'About this body I would say that it has no authority in matters of faith and doctrine and expresses only the views of its own members who belong to different religious beliefs.'

I would agree that the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has no binding authority on Catholics, and indeed is not infallible. Science itself is not infallible, and the Catholic Church only claims infallibility in certain restricted instances on issues of faith and morals only, not science. A Catholic is permitted to believe in a flat earth, a non-moving earth and geocentric universe (as Sungenis does), a young earth 10,000 to 15,000 years old (as Sungenis does), and that life on that earth was created fully-formed from nothing in six literal 24-hour days a short time ago (as Sungenis does). The question is whether any modern Catholic today should believe those things. "Truth Cannot Contradict Truth" and science and faith do not conflict according to the Catechism (paragraphs 159, 283-284) and Pope John Paul II (Statement from October 1996 "Truth Cannot Contradict Truth"). All I am concerned about is how good is the science of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. One might ask the question why there is not a single Creationist in their ranks? Maybe it has something to do with the quality of the "science" of those Creationists? A little background on the academy might help. This is taken from this PDF available from the site.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has its origins in the Accademia dei Lincei ("Academy of Lynxes") established in Rome in 1603, under Pope Clement VIII by the learned Roman Prince, Federico Cesi (1585-1630) who was a young botanist and naturalist. Cesi wanted his Academicians to create a method of research based upon observation, experiment, and the inductive method. He thus called this Academy "dei Lincei" because the scientists which adhered to it had to have eyes as sharp as lynxes (the lynx is a large cat) in order to penetrate the secrets of nature, observing it at both microscopic and macroscopic levels. The leader of the first academy was the famous scientist Galileo Galilei. It was dissolved after the death of its founder and re-created by Pope Pius IX in 1847 and given the name Accademia Pontificia dei Nuovi Lincei ("Pontifical Academy of the New Lynxes"), and was re-founded in 1936 by Pope Pius XI and given its current name. Pope Paul VI in 1976 and Pope John Paul II in 1986 subsequently updated its statutes.

Since 1936 the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has been concerned both with investigating specific scientific subjects belonging to individual disciplines and with the promotion of interdisciplinary co-operation. It has progressively increased the number of its Academicians and the international character of its membership. The Academy is an independent body within the Holy See and enjoys freedom of research. From the statutes of 1976:

"The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has as its goal the promotion of the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences, and the study of related epistemological questions and issues."

Since the Academy and its membership is not influenced by factors of a national, political, or religious character it represents a valuable source of objective scientific information which is made available to the Holy See and to the international scientific community. Today the work of the Academy covers six main areas: (a) fundamental science, (b) the science and technology of global questions and issues, (c) science in favor of the problems of the Third World, (d) the ethics and politics of science, (e) bioethics, (f) epistemology. The disciplines involved are sub-divided into nine fields: the disciplines of physics and related disciplines; astronomy; chemistry; the earth and environmental sciences; the life sciences (botany, agronomy, zoology, genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, the neurosciences, surgery); mathematics; the applied sciences; and the philosophy and history of sciences.

The new members of the Academy are elected by the body of Academicians and chosen from men and women of every race and religion based on the high scientific value of their activities and their high moral profile. They are then officially appointed by the Roman Pontiff. The Academy is governed by a President, appointed from its members by the Pope, who is helped by a scientific Council and by the Chancellor. Initially made up of 80 Academicians, 70 who were appointed for life, in 1986 John Paul II raised the number of members for life to 80, side by side with a limited number of Honorary Academicians chosen because they are highly qualified figures, and others who are Academicians because of the posts they hold, including: the Chancellor of the Academy, the Director of the Vatican Observatory, the Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, and the Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archive.

During its various decades of activity, the Academy has had a number of Nobel Prize winners amongst its members, many of whom were appointed Academicians before they received this prestigious international award. These include:

  • Lord Ernest Rutherford (Physics, 1908)
  • Guglielmo Marconi (Physics, 1909)
  • Alexis Carrel (Physiology, 1912)
  • Max von Laue (Physics, 1914)
  • Max Planck (Physics, 1918)
  • Niels Bohr (Physics, 1922)
  • Werner Heisenberg (Physics, 1932)
  • Paul Dirac (Physics, 1933)
  • Erwin Schroedinger (Physics, 1933)
  • Sir Alexander Fleming (Physiology, 1945)
  • Chen Ning Yang (Physics, 1957)
  • Rudolf L. Mossbauer (Physics, 1961)
  • Max F. Perutz (Chemistry, 1962)
  • John Eccles (Physiology, 1963)
  • Charles H. Townes (Physics, 1964)
  • Manfred Eigen and George Porter (Chemistry, 1967)
  • Har Gobind Khorana and Marshall W. Nirenberg (Physiology, 1968)
  • Christian de Duve (Physiology, 1974)
  • Werner A. G. E. Palade (Physiology, 1974)
  • David Baltimore (Physiology, 1975)
  • Aage Bohr (Physics, 1975)
  • Abdus Salam (Physics, 1979)
  • Paul Berg (Chemistry, 1980)
  • Kai Siegbahn (Physics, 1981)
  • Sune Bergstrom (Physiology, 1982)
  • Carlo Rubbia (Physics, 1984)
  • Rita Levi-Montalcini (Physiology, 1986)
  • John C. Polanyi (Chemistry, 1986)
  • Jean-Marie Lehn (Chemistry, 1987)
  • Joseph E. Murray (Physiology, 1990)
  • Gary S. Becker (Economics, 1992)
  • Paul J. Crutzen (Chemistry, 1995)
  • Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (Physics, 1997)
  • Ahmed H. Zewail (Chemistry, 1999)
  • among other eminent Academicians including Padre Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959), founder of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and President of the Academy after its re-foundation until 1959, and Mons. George Lemaitre (1894-1966), one of the fathers of contemporary cosmology who held the office of President from 1960 to 1966

The goals and hopes of the Academy were expressed by Pope Pius XI in the Motu Proprio which brought about its re-foundation in 1936:

"Amongst the many consolations with which divine Goodness has wished to make happy the years of our Pontificate, I am happy to place that of our having being able to see not a few of those who dedicate themselves to the studies of the sciences mature their attitude and their intellectual approach towards religion. Science, when it is real cognition, is never in contrast with the truth of the Christian faith. Indeed, as is well known to those who study the history of science, it must be recognized on the one hand that the Roman Pontiffs and the Catholic Church have always fostered the research of the learned in the experimental field as well, and on the other hand that such research has opened up the way to the defense of the deposit of supernatural truths entrusted to the Church....We promise again that it is our strongly-held intention, that the 'Pontifical Academicians' through their work and our Institution, work ever more and ever more effectively for the progress of the sciences. Of them we do not ask anything else, since in this praiseworthy intent and this noble work in that service in favor of the truth that we expect of them." (Pius XI)

Forty years later (10 November 1979), John Paul II once again emphasized the role and goals of the Academy, on the 100th anniversary (centenary) of the birth of Albert Einstein:

"...the existence of this Pontifical Academy of Sciences, of which in its ancient ancestry Galileo was a member and of which today eminent scientists are members, without any form of ethnic or religious discrimination, is a visible sign, raised amongst the peoples of the world, of the profound harmony that can exist between the truths of science and the truths of faith.....The Church of Rome together with all the Churches spread throughout the world, attributes a great importance to the function of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The title of 'Pontifical' given to the Academy means, as you know, the interest and the commitment of the Church, in different forms from the ancient patronage, but no less profound and effective in character....How could the Church have lacked interest in the most noble of the occupations which are most strictly human -- the search for truth? ....Both believing scientists and non-believing scientists are involved in deciphering the palimpsest of nature which has been built in a rather complex way, where the traces of the different stages of the long evolution of the world have been covered over and mixed up. The believer, perhaps, has the advantage of knowing that the puzzle has a solution, that the underlying writing is in the final analysis the work of an intelligent being, and that thus the problem posed by nature has been posed to be solved and that its difficulty is without doubt proportionate to the present or future capacity of humanity. This, perhaps, will not give him new resources for the investigation engaged in. But it will contribute to maintaining him in that healthy optimism without which a sustained effort cannot be engaged in for long." (John Paul II)

At the time of the Pope's infamous October 1996 Statement on Evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 26 of the 80 members (nearly one-third) of the Academy were holders of the Nobel Prize. That should tell you something of the quality of the science of the Academy, and maybe why Creationists are not to be found among its ranks.

Sungenis: To show the bias of the Pontifical Academy of Science, in 1982 it made a general statement to the public: '...we are convinced that masses of evidence render the application of the concept of evolution to man and other primates beyond serious doubt.'

The statement is not a "bias" -- it's simply true based on the good scientific evidence for human evolution, in particular the legitimate hominid fossils that have been unearthed the past 100 years, and the more recent molecular genetics evidence discovered the past several decades:

see Hominid Species by Jim Foley
also Plagiarized Errors and Molecular Genetics by Edward Max

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences Vatican site
History of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences 2003 PDF

Pope Pius XII and Evolution

Pius XII Humani Generis 1950 encyclical Vatican site
Pius XII Humani Generis 1950 encyclical New Advent site
Pius XII Humani Generis 1950 encyclical EWTN

Sungenis: Here is the first indication that someone slipped wording into the PAS address that Pius XII did not say. Pius XII did not say that evolution was a 'serious hypothesis' and neither did he say that a six-day Creation (the only other option) was an 'opposing hypothesis.' The only time Pius XII uses the word 'hypotheses' is in a caution against allowing the assumptions of science to determine truth. He writes in Humani Generis:

Sungenis: Pius XII neither said that evolution is 'worthy of investigation' or 'in-depth study,' since those words are not found in the encyclical Humani Generis. He simply said 'Church does NOT FORBID that...research and discussions...take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution. He did not encourage it, or consider it 'worthy' or require an 'in-depth study,' but simply allowed those who wished to investigate it to do so.

First, six-day Creation is not the only other option opposing (theistic) evolution, since there are several others: progressive or old-earth creationism, and various forms of "intelligent design." Second, I'll repeat what I summarized the last time from Pius XII:

(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.

(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 [that there were many Adams and Eves].

I don't think we disagree on the understanding of Humani Generis. The above summary is from an EWTN article on evolution. Some theologians try to interpret Pius XII as not excluding polygenism explicitly or altogether. The relevant sentence is this:

'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.' [Pius XII, Humani Generis, 37 and footnote refers to Romans 5:12-19; Council of Trent, Session V, Canons 1-4]

So Pius XII may be saying he does not see how polygenism and the truths of faith could be reconciled, but perhaps he is leaving this question open for a possible future reconciliation. For example, from The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church (1996 edition), on Humani Generis the authors / editors Fr. Neuner and Dupuis, S.J. state:

"In the context of other errors, Pius XII treats two questions regarding the origin of the human person. Firstly, the human being's origin through evolution from other living beings: while formerly evolution was rejected as irreconcilable with the biblical account of creation (which was interpreted in too literal a sense), and as implying a materialistic conception of the human being, the question is now left open to scholarly investigation, provided that the creation of the soul by God is maintained. Secondly, monogenism or polygenism, i.e. the question whether the human race must be conceived as descending from a single couple or can be considered to originate from several couples: polygenism is rejected because 'it does not appear' [or 'it is not at all apparent'] to be reconcilable with the doctrine of original sin inherited by all from Adam. Recent theology, however, is seeking explanations of original sin under the supposition of polygenism, and so tries to remove the reason for its rejection." (J. Neuner, J. Dupuis, The Christian Faith [1996], page 169, emphasis added)

See also the EWTN article "The Credo of Paul VI: Theology of Original Sin and the Scientific Theory of Evolution" by Roberto Masi:

"....according to the opinions of the above mentioned exegetes and theologians, it results that Revelation and Dogma say nothing directly concerning Monogenism or Polygenism, neither in favour nor against them. Besides, these scientific hypotheses are per se outside the field of Revelation. Within this context, different combinations of the scientific theory of evolution are therefore hypothetically possible or compatible with the doctrine of original sin. One can nevertheless consider biological monogenism together. Humanity has its origin in a single couple; this couple committed the sin against God and as a result of this all their children are born in original sin. This is the classical doctrine. Or it is possible to admit a biological polygenism and a theological monogenism. Evolution brought about not a single couple but many men, who constituted the primitive human population. One of these, who may be considered the leader, rebelled against God. This sin passed on to all men, his contemporaries, not by imitation, but by real propagation (Council of Trent Session V, DS. 1513), that is by a real solidarity already existing in this primordial human population. In them actual sinful humanity has its origin. It is also possible to combine biological and theological polygenism: all the primitive human population rebelled concordantly against God and from them are born the other sinful men. These hypotheses are only suppositions which many think are not contrary to Revelation and the bible. Even if we accept as valid the scientific theory of evolution and polygenism, it can still be in accordance with the dogma of original sin in the various manners indicated." (Roberto Masi, from L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See, weekly edition in English, 17 April 1969)

Sungenis: In fact, Pius XII said, if one is going to do an investigation, he must reveal the evidence for AND against evolution. Is this what we see today in Catholic circles? Not anything close. Evolution is accepted as fact among most 'investigators,' yet it doesn't have any proof.

Sungenis: Unfortunately for Mr. P.'s appeal, most Catholics who believe in evolution and teach in our seminaries and universities believe in polygenism.

That might be true, however let's try to stick with what the magisterium actually teaches. I agree many theologians do try to incorporate polygenism into their theology, and that seems (I say seems) to be disallowed by Pope Pius XII (along with the Catechism, see below), and this was discussed somewhat later by Pope Paul VI :

"It is evident that you will not consider as reconcilable with the authentic Catholic doctrine those explanations of original sin, given by some modern authors, which start from the presupposition of polygenism which is not proved, and deny more or less clearly that the sin which has been such an abundant source of evils for humankind has consisted above all in the disobedience which Adam, the first man and the figure of the future Adam, committed at the beginning of history. Consequently, these explanations do not agree either with the teachings of Holy Scripture, sacred Tradition and the Church's magisterium, which says that the sin of the first man is transmitted to all his descendents by way of propagation, not of imitation, that it is 'proper to each,' and is 'the death of the soul,' i.e. the privation and not merely the absence of holiness and justice, even in new-born infants [cf. 509, 510].

"As to the theory of evolutionism, you will not consider it acceptable if it is not clearly in agreement with the immediate creation of human souls by God and does not regard the disobedience of Adam, the first universal parent, as of decisive importance for the destiny of humankind [cf. 509]. This disobedience should not be understood as though it had not caused in Adam the loss of the holiness and justice in which he was constituted [cf. 508]." (Pope Paul VI Address to Theologians at the Symposium on Original Sin [1966], from The Christian Faith [1996] by Neuner / Dupuis, page 189)

There is definitely some tension here between biological evolution (which seems to imply polygenism) and Catholic doctrine (which seems to exclude polygenism), but perhaps this can be worked out in the future (see the end of this article for possible solutions). Before we look at John Paul II again, I want to quote something that this Pope wrote about his predecessor Pius XII to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

"Thirty years ago, on 22 November 1951, my predecessor Pope Pius XII, speaking about the problem of the origin of the universe at the Study Week on the subject of microseisms organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, expressed himself as follows: 'In vain would one expect a reply from the sciences of nature, which on the contrary frankly declare that they find themselves faced by an insoluble enigma. It is equally certain that the human mind versed in philosophical meditation penetrates the problem more deeply. One cannot deny that a mind which is enlightened and enriched by modern scientific knowledge and which calmly considers this problem is led to break the circle of matter which is totally independent and autonomous -- as being either uncreated or having created itself -- and to rise to a creating Mind. With the same clear and critical gaze with which it examines and judges the facts, it discerns and recognizes there the work of creative Omnipotence, whose strength raised up by the powerful fiat uttered billions of years ago by the creating Mind, has spread through the universe, calling into existence, in a gesture of generous love, matter teeming with energy' " ( Pope John Paul II, 10/3/1981 to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, "Cosmology and Fundamental Physics")

It looks like Pius XII clearly accepted a universe that is billions of years old, not a six-day creation that is a mere thousands of years old.

Pius XII Humani Generis 1950 encyclical Vatican site
Pius XII Humani Generis 1950 encyclical New Advent site
Pius XII Humani Generis 1950 encyclical EWTN

Pope John Paul II and Evolution

John Paul II 1996 Statement on Evolution EWTN
John Paul II 1996 Statement on Evolution translated from the French (Jimmy Akin site)
John Paul II 1996 Statement on Evolution CIN

'Today, almost half a century after the publication of the [Pope Pius XII Humani Generis] Encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of more than a hypothesis in the theory of evolution. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.' (Pope John Paul II, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 1996)

Sungenis: Unfortunately, the pope didn't specify what 'new knowledge' he has been told by his advisors that makes evolution 'more than a hypothesis.'

Sungenis: It makes little difference, since there is no 'new evidence' that makes evolution 'more than a hypothesis.' A 'hypothesis,' according to the dictionary is: 'something assumed because it seems likely to be a true explanation.' So if evolution is MORE than a hypothesis, that means it is a definition even closer to fact than a hypothesis. As such, what other level of supposition is there between a hypothesis and a fact? And what other 'new evidence' has pushed evolution out of the hypothetical realm and either into or closer to the factual realm? Would Mr. P. care to tell us?

I sure would. The new knowledge and new evidence in the fifty years since Pius XII's encyclical has come from genetics (DNA studies), many new discoveries in paleontology (the fossil record), and many fields of science. See Part 3. So we don't get confused, let's define the words "hypothesis" and "theory" as generally used in the sciences. These are from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and an online dictionary.


A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. In common usage at present, a hypothesis is a provisional idea whose merit is to be evaluated. A hypothesis requires more work by the researcher in order to either confirm or disprove it. In the hypothetico-deductive method, a hypothesis should be falsifiable, meaning that it is possible that it be shown to be false, usually by observation. Note that if confirmed, the hypothesis is not necessarily proven, but remains provisional. What makes a statement a scientific hypothesis, rather than just an interesting speculation? It must meet two requirements:

  • A scientific hypothesis must be testable.
  • A scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable.


In the sciences, a theory is a model or framework for understanding. In physics, the term theory generally is taken to mean mathematical framework derived from a small set of basic principles capable of producing experimental predictions for a given category of physical systems. An example would be "electromagnetic theory," which is usually taken to be synonymous with classical electromagnetism, the specific results of which can be derived from Maxwell's equations. For a given body of theory to be considered part of established knowledge, it is usually necessary for the theory to characterize a critical experiment, that is, an experimental result which cannot be predicted by any established theory.

There are two other uses of the word theory; a supposition which is not backed by observation is known as a conjecture, and if backed by observation it is a hypothesis. Most theory evolves from hypotheses, but the reverse is not true: many hypotheses turn out to be false and so do not evolve into theory. Theories can become accepted if they are able to make correct predictions and avoid incorrect ones. Theories which are simpler, and more mathematically elegant, tend to be accepted over theories which are complex. Theories are more likely to be accepted if they connect a wide range of phenomena. The process of accepting theories, or of extending existing theory, is part of the scientific method.

In common usage a theory is often viewed as little more than a "guess" or a hypothesis. But in science and generally in academic usage, a theory is much more than that. A theory is an established paradigm that explains all or many of the data we have and offers valid predictions that can be tested. In science, a theory can never be "proven true," because we can never assume we know all there is to know. Instead, theories remain standing until they are disproven, at which point they are abandoned altogether or slightly modified.

Some examples of theories that have been disproved are Lamarckism and the geocentric universe theory (much to Bob Sungenis chagrin). Sufficient evidence has been described to declare these theories false, as they have no evidence supporting them and better explanations have taken their place.

see and


In science, "fact" as defined by Stephen Jay Gould (somewhat facetiously) means "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent." (Evolution as Fact and Theory, Discover magazine 1981). Facts can also be considered "well-confirmed observations."

We now continue with the John Paul II statement on evolution.

'Furthermore, while the formulation of a theory like that of evolution complies with the need for consistency with the observed data, it borrows certain notions from natural philosophy. And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of theology.' (Pope John Paul II, Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 1996)

Sungenis: If there are 'several theories of evolution,' then evolution cannot be 'more than a hypothesis,' since the latter would require one theory that has ascended above all the rest and to which neither the word 'theory' or 'hypothesis' can be used to describe it.

The biological theory of evolution is the best scientific explanation of natural history that we have today. So it has ascended to the top of the list. It is the only contender in science. It is "more than a hypothesis" according to John Paul II since after succeeding as a hypothesis, evolution becomes a scientific theory, which means a model or framework for understanding, or "an established paradigm that explains all or many of the data we have and offers valid predictions that can be tested." As for "several theories of evolution," what the Pope is clearly referring to are not only the proposed mechanisms, but the various materialist, reductionist, spiritualist, or theistic understandings. The biological or scientific theory of evolution is separate from whether one accepts a purely "materialist" or "theistic" interpretation of the biological theory. Biology itself would be silent on the existence of a Creator (i.e. methodological naturalism which I discuss later).

"Often the statement 'Well, it's just a theory,' is used to dismiss controversial theories such as evolution, but this is largely due to confusion between the scientific use of the word theory and its more informal use as a synonym for 'speculation' or 'conjecture.' In science, a body of descriptions of knowledge is usually only called a theory once it has a firm empirical basis, i.e. it is consistent with pre-existing theory to the extent that the pre-existing theory was experimentally verified, though it will often show pre-existing theory to be wrong in an exact sense, is supported by many strands of evidence rather than a single foundation, ensuring that it probably is a good approximation if not totally correct, has survived many critical real world tests that could have proven it false, makes predictions that might someday be used to disprove the theory, and is the best known explanation, in the sense of Occam's Razor, of the infinite variety of alternative explanations for the same data. This is true of such established theories as evolution, special and general relativity, quantum mechanics (with minimal interpretation), plate tectonics, etc." (see, emphasis added)

In summary, let's define again scientific hypothesis and contrast with scientific theory:

Hypothesis (or plural Hypotheses) as defined variously by the online dictionaries and used in science is

  • a tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation.
  • a tentative explanation that accounts for a set of facts and can be tested by further investigation.
  • a proposition tentatively assumed in order to draw out its logical or empirical consequences and test its consistency with facts that are known or may be determined <"it appears, then, to be a condition of the most genuinely scientific hypothesis that it be...of such a nature as to be either proved or disproved by comparison with observed facts" -- J. S. Mill> <"most of the great unifying conceptions of modern science are working hypotheses" -- Bernard Bosanquet>
  • 1: a proposal intended to explain certain facts or observations; 2: a tentative theory about the natural world; a concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena; "a scientific hypothesis that survives experimental testing becomes a scientific theory"; "he proposed a fresh theory of alkalis that later was accepted in chemical practices"

Theory as defined variously by the online dictionaries and used in science is

  • a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.
  • a systematically organized body of knowledge applicable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances, especially a system of assumptions, accepted principles, and rules of procedure devised to analyze, predict, or otherwise explain the nature or behavior of a specified set of phenomena.
  • a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain natural phenomena <a theory of organic evolution> -- see Atomic Theory, Cell Theory, Germ Theory
  • a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; "theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses"; "true in fact and theory" 

John Paul II 1996 Statement on Evolution EWTN
John Paul II 1996 Statement on Evolution translated from the French (Jimmy Akin site)
John Paul II 1996 Statement on Evolution CIN

The Catechism and Evolution

The most relevant paragraphs are 159, and 283-284 which I have already quoted:

159. Faith and science: "...methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are." [Vatican II GS 36:1]

283. The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers....

284. The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin....

Sungenis: That's right. True science will never conflict with theology, but that just begs the question, does it not? Whether evolution is true science is the question at issue.

Evolution is true science, and is a true scientific theory, since it explains the data, has been observed (at least small scale), makes predictions, has confirmed those many predictions and hypotheses with tons of evidence, and evolutionary theory and common descent is the best explanation of all the facts of natural history, biology, geology, paleontology, genetics, and the related sciences that we have today. Creationism is not science since it explains none of the data, has not and cannot be observed (today or in the past), makes no predictions that are testable, forms no hypotheses that are falsifiable since they would involve the supernatural, and there is no testable or falsifiable hypothesis or comprehensive scientific "theory of creationism" ever offered. Classic six-day Creationism (including "Flood Geology") explains nothing scientifically, simply attacks evolutionary science, offers no alternative scientific theory, and hasn't been considered science for at least 150 years. Even Henry Morris and Duane Gish, two of the young-earth creationist "pioneers" of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, have plainly admitted that classic six-day "creationism" is not science:

"Creation. By creation we mean the bringing into being by a supernatural Creator of the basic kinds of plants and animals by the process of sudden, or fiat, creation....We do not know how the Creator created, what processes He used, for He used processes which are not now operating anywhere in the natural universe. This is why we refer to creation as Special Creation. We cannot discover by scientific investigation anything about the creative processes used by the Creator." (Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Say No!, page 40, emphasis added)

"Stephen Jay Gould states that creationists claim creation is a scientific theory. This is a false accusation. Creationists have repeatedly stated that neither creation nor evolution is a scientific theory (and each is equally religious)." (Gish, letter to editor of Discover magazine, July 1981, emphasis added)

" is...quite impossible to determine anything about Creation through a study of present processes, because present processes are not creative in character. If man wished to know anything about Creation (the time of Creation, the duration of Creation, the order of Creation, the methods of Creation, or anything else) his sole source of true information is that of divine revelation. God was there when it happened. We were not there...Therefore, we are completely limited to what God has seen fit to tell us, and this information is in His written Word. This is our textbook on the science of Creation!" (Henry Morris, Studies in the Bible and Science, page 114, emphasis added)

[ above citations taken from Judge Overton's landmark decision in the "Arkansas Creationist" Trial from 1981-82 ]

In the classic six-day, young-earth Creationists' own words, "creationism" is not science, and can be neither a scientific hypothesis much less a scientific theory. It might be divine revelation, it is definitely religion, but it is not science. Philip Kitcher, professor of philosophy and zoology, in his demolition of Creationism twenty years ago, writes:

"...'scientific' Creationism fails to be a science not because of what it says...about a Divine Creator, but because of what it does not say about the natural world. The theory has no infrastructure, no ways of articulating its vague central idea, so that specific features of living forms can receive detailed explanations." ...."Creation 'science' is spurious science. To treat it as science we would have to overlook its intolerable vagueness. We would have to abandon large parts of well-established sciences (physics, chemistry, and geology, as well as evolutionary biology, are all candidates for revision). We would have to trade careful technical procedures for blind guesses, unified theories for motley collections of special techniques. Exceptional cases, whose careful pursuit has so often led to important turnings in the history of science, would be dismissed with a wave of the hand. Nor would there be any gains. There is not a single scientific question to which Creationism provides its own detailed problem solution. In short, Creationism could take a place among the sciences only if the substance and methods of contemporary science were mutilated to make room for a scientifically worthless doctrine." (Philip Kitcher, Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism [MIT Press, 1982], pages 126, 164)

Evangelical geologist Keith Miller has similarly written, from a Christian perspective:

"The doctrine of creation really says nothing about 'How' God creates. It does not provide a basis for a testable theory of the mechanism of change. If it does not address this issue, then it does not contribute anything to a specifically scientific description of the history of life. I believe that all of creation is designed by God and has its being in God, but that does not give me any insights into the processes by which God brought that creation into existence. That is the role of scientific investigation, a vocation in which I find great excitement and fulfillment....It is the continuing success of scientific research to resolve previous questions about the nature and history of the physical universe, and to raise new and more penetrating ones, that drives the work of individual scientists. For the theist this simply affirms that, in creating and preserving the universe, God has endowed it with contingent order and intelligibility, and given us as bearers of the divine image the capability to perceive that order." (Keith Miller, Perspectives on an Evolving Creation [Eerdmans, 2003], pages 13,14)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states in so many words that evolution is true science (which has splendidly enriched our knowledge of the origins and age of the earth and cosmos, the development [read: evolution] of life, and the appearance of man) and does not conflict with orthodox faith. The scientists have given us the clear data and evidence for an ancient earth and biological evolution, now it is up to the theologians to do their job reconciling this with Catholic faith.

The Church and Creation

Sungenis: But now let us look at what the Church has said before the statement 'evolution is more than a hypothesis' was uttered to the PAS in 1996.

Sungenis: Lateran Council IV and Vatican Council I assure us that all things, visible and invisible, were created in the six days of Creation week, and there is nothing being created by God at the present time.

Neither the words "six days" nor the "creation week" appear in these Council documents. On the contrary, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite explicit:

337. God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity, and order. Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine "work," concluded by the "rest" of the seventh day. On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation, permitting us to "recognize the inner nature, the value, and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God." [Vatican II LG 36] (see also paragraphs 339, 342, 345 which refer to the "six days")

And since the Catechism endorses the findings of modern science (paragraphs 159, 283-284) and even quotes the Fourth Lateran Council and the First Vatican Council on creation (see paragraphs 293 and 327) we can be quite sure that a "symbolical" (as opposed to a literal) understanding of the "six days" of "creation week" in Genesis 1 is an acceptable and orthodox Catholic understanding of the text. Let's examine some of these statements:

All the Documents of the Ecumenical Councils can be found here

Sungenis: Lateran IV says: Firmly we believe and we confess simply that the true God is one alone, eternal, immense, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and ineffable, Father and Son and Holy Spirit: indeed three Persons but one essence, substance, or nature entirely simple. The Father from no one, the Son from the Father only, and the Holy Spirit equally from both; without beginning, always, and without end; the Father generating, the Son being born, and the Holy Spirit proceeding; consubstantial and coequal and omnipotent and coeternal; one beginning of all, creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual, and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body. For the devil and other demons were created by God good in nature, but they themselves through themselves have become wicked. But man sinned at the suggestion of the devil.

Sungenis: Vatican Council I says: If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing, or, shall have said that God created not by a volition free of all necessity, but as necessarily as He necessarily loves Himself, or, shall have denied that the world was created to the glory of God: let him be anathema.

Sungenis: In 1441, the Council of Florence stated in its decrees: " the creator of all things visible and invisible, who, when he wished, out of his goodness created all creatures, spiritual as well as corporal; good, indeed...since they were from nothing..."

Neither the Fourth Lateran Council, nor the First Vatican Council, nor the Council of Florence says when God did the creating, how long that creating took, nor by what processes God did the creating. Nothing is mentioned about taking the "six days" of "creation week" literally. Reading the short excerpts from these Councils that Sungenis provides above, they do not imply a "young earth," and that is not Catholic dogma. The question of the age of the earth is of course a matter for science to discover and does not fall under the "faith" or "morals" that is the domain of the Catholic magisterium. What we do find above are the following points:

  • God is the Creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and the corporal (material)
  • By God's omnipotent power He created all the creatures from nothing, the angelic, mundane, and human, both spirit and body
  • The world and all spiritual and material things concerning their whole substance were produced by God from nothing
  • God created all things because He loves Himself and us
  • The world was created to the glory of God

The main point here is that God is ultimately the Creator of all things. Even six-day creationists do not believe God created by direct-special creation ALL the species that exist on earth today. There are estimated to be around 1.5 to 2 million currently known species, another 10 million that haven't been discovered yet. And six-day creationists accept microevolution -- which they define as variation within the Genesis "kinds" -- as set up, overseen, directed, and "willed" by God. In fact, they believe that in less than 6000 years since the worldwide Flood of Noah, the "two" of each "kind" of animal brought aboard Noah's Ark, by normal reproduction and microevolution processes, produced the geographical distribution of the hundreds of thousands or millions of species that exist today, i.e. without God's help of direct-special creation, since all "creation" supposedly ended on "day six" around 10,000-15,000 years ago. That affirms a much more rapid and efficient evolution than even staunch "Darwinists" like Richard Dawkins or Michael Ruse would accept! In short, young-earth creationists believe all this evolution occurred in just a couple thousand years since the Flood.

Theistic evolutionists also believe God set up the natural laws and processes that allowed this earth to be populated by all the species of plants, animals, and man we have today. They accept macroevolution set up, overseen, directed and "willed" by God and that fits better the fossil record, the biogeographical evidence, the immensity and diversity of existing species, along with the "deep time" of our planet (c. 4.5 billion years old) and universe (c. 15 billion years old).

So creation "from nothing" (according to six-day creationists or theistic evolutionists) does not require that everything that exists or has existed in the history of this planet were direct-special creations, only that God ultimately is the Creator of all things from nothing. More examples could be mentioned: the development of babies bodies in the wombs of their mothers, other biological, chemical, or geological processes, the "creation" of music, art, literature, and other human "creations" etc. All of these good things God is ultimately responsible for even though these do not involve direct-special creations by a supernatural Creator, but consist of natural processes set up by God, or human beings made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) participating in God's creation and cooperating in God's creative work (Psalm 139:13-16; 1 Cor 3:9-15; Hebrews 3:3-4; etc). Direct-special creation of all things from nothing is not required for all good things to be ultimately attributed to, derived from, and created by God.

Ludwig Ott in his authoritative (even for traditionalists) Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (TAN Books, 1974, orig 1952) affirms these points (De Fide are infallible dogmas "of Catholic faith").

  • All that exists outside God was, in its whole substance, produced out of nothing by God. (De Fide)

Ott points out that what is in view here by the First Vatican Council are those heresies of ancient pagan and gnostic-manichean dualism (where God is not responsible for the entire created world, since mere "matter" is evil not good, etc), along with modern materialism or pantheism (Ott, page 79). Biological evolution is not in view here. Further:

  • God was moved by His Goodness to create the world. (De Fide)
  • The world was created for the Glorification of God. (De Fide)
  • The Three Divine Persons are one single, common Principle of the Creation. (De Fide)
  • God created the world free from exterior compulsion and inner necessity. (De Fide)
  • God has created a good world. (De Fide)
  • The world had a beginning in time. (De Fide)
  • God alone created the world. (De Fide)
  • God keeps all created things in existence. (De Fide)
  • God, through His Providence, protects and guides all that He has created. (De Fide)

These are the specific De Fide statements found in Ott on "The Divine Act of Creation," pages 79-91 and both Catholic six-day creationists and theistic evolutionists would have no problem with these statements. The various Councils (Lateran IV, Vatican I, Florence, and others), the traditional statements of the Saints, Doctors, Fathers, and Scriptures are cited by Ott to document the Catholic dogma that God is ultimately the Creator of all things however He chose to do the creating (Genesis 1; Colossians 1:15ff; Hebrews 3; Psalm 19; etc)

The next section, "The Divine Work of Creation," pages 92-122 which covers the "biblical hexahemeron" (the "six days" of creation), the creation of man, Adam/Eve, original sin and the Fall, etc is where we might have some disagreements, or at least different interpretations. Ott gives the following comments on the "science" of Genesis and the Fathers, and the compatibility of biological evolution and Catholic faith:

" the hagiographers in profane things make use of a popular, that is, a non-scientific form of exposition suitable to the mental perception of their times, a more liberal interpretation, is possible here. The Church gives no positive decisions in regard to purely scientific questions, but limits itself to rejecting errors which endanger faith. Further, in these scientific matters there is no virtue in a consensus of the Fathers since they are not here acting as witnesses of the Faith, but merely as private scientists....Since the findings of reason and the supernatural knowledge of Faith go back to the same source, namely to God, there can never be a real contradiction between the certain discoveries of the profane sciences and the Word of God properly understood." (Ott, page 92)

"As the Sacred Writer had not the intention of representing with scientific accuracy the intrinsic constitution of things, and the sequence of the works of creation but of communicating knowledge in a popular way suitable to the idiom and to the pre-scientific development of his time, the account is not to be regarded or measured as if it were couched in language which is strictly scientific....The Biblical account of the duration and order of Creation is merely a literary clothing of the religious truth that the whole world was called into existence by the creative word of God. The Sacred Writer utilized for this purpose the pre-scientific picture of the world existing at the time. The numeral six of the days of Creation is to be understood as an anthropomorphism. God's work of creation represented in schematic form (opus distinctionis -- opus ornatus) by the picture of a human working week, the termination of the work by the picture of the Sabbath rest. The purpose of this literary device is to manifest Divine approval of the working week and the Sabbath rest." (Ott, page 93, cf. Exod 20:8)

"The doctrine of evolution based on the theistic conception of the world, which traces matter and life to God's causality and assumes that organic being, developed from originally created seed-powers (St. Augustine) or from stem-forms (doctrine of descent), according to God's plan, is compatible with the doctrine of Revelation. However, as regards man, a special creation by God is demanded, which must extend at least to the spiritual soul [creatio hominis peculiaris Denz 2123]. Individual Fathers, especially St. Augustine, accepted a certain development of living creatures.....The question of the descent of the human body from the animal kingdom first appeared under the influence of the modern theory of evolution. The Biblical text does not exclude this theory. Just as in the account of the creation of the world, one can, in the account of the creation of man, distinguish between the per se inspired religious truth that man, both body and soul, was created by God, and the per accidens inspired, stark anthropomorphistic representation of the mode and manner of the Creation. While the fact of the creation of man by God in the literal sense must be closely adhered to, in the question as to the mode and manner of the formation of the human body, an interpretation which diverges from the strict literal sense, is, on weighty grounds, permissible." (Ott, pages 93-94, 95)

At least the following points, among others, are accepted by Ludwig Ott. If anyone is familiar with the dogmatic sources he is, and he sees no necessary conflicts between modern science and Catholic dogma:

  • the creation of the world and the biblical hexahemeron (the "six days" of creation) of Genesis need not be taken literally or scientifically
  • the Fathers who spoke on the "six days" were acting as private scientists, not passing on infallible dogmas on faith and morals
  • both the Fathers and the Bible authors wrote in a pre-scientific age and need not be taken literally when speaking on science matters
  • theistic evolution as guided by God is not opposed to the biblical text nor Catholic faith
  • the creation of man can be seen in a symbolical or non-literal sense concerning the mode and manner of the formation of the human body
  • reason (science) and faith (doctrine) cannot conflict since God is the source of both

Sungenis: In 1860, the Council of Cologne condemned the idea of human evolution in very straightforward words: "Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that...those from spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith.'

This appears to be a local response to a "materialist" theory of evolution, but a theistic conception of the theory is not incompatible with the faith. Man did not emerge by "spontaneous" change, but a change set up, overseen, directed and "willed" by God from the beginning of time. That would not be opposed to Sacred Scripture or the Catholic faith. Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species and his earlier years accepted both a Creator and an "intelligent design" brought about by natural processes set up by the Creator. There are at least seven references to a divine "Creator" in Darwin's classic, including this final sentence of the final chapter, and maintained from the second to the sixth and final edition of 1872:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." (Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, chapter 14, last sentence)

See evangelical Denis Lamoureux's informative article Charles Darwin and Intelligent Design.

Sungenis: Pope Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, remarks how the theory of biological evolution has infected theological studies: "First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must in fact change, and in this way they pass to what may be said to be the chief of their doctrines, that of Evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject - dogma, Church worship, the books that we receive as sacred, even faith itself..."

Again, this has nothing to do with biological evolution, but concerns the heresy known as "Modernism" which arose in the late 19th, early 20th century. There is nothing here about the "six days" of "creation week." The "evolution" condemned here involves an essential change in revelation or dogma, although there is an allowed development of doctrine (as Cardinal Newman explained in his 1845 work on the subject), which means a fuller theological explanation or understanding of revelation or dogma.

The heresies of the Modernist crisis at the turn of the 20th century involved: (1) agnosticism, both in natural theology and in the symbolic, nonobjective approach to dogmatic content; (2) vital immanence, an exclusive immanence of the divine and a consequent natural vital evolution of revelation; (3) total emancipation of exegesis from dogma and of political-religious movements from ecclesiastical authority. See the articles in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) on Modernism (volume 9, page 991ff), Pius X (volume 11, page 408ff), Lamentabili (volume 8, page 350), and Pascendi (volume 10, page 1048) which contain a brief history and description of Modernism and the heretics to whom Pope St. Pius X directed his encyclicals. Lamentabili sane exitu lists 65 condemned propositions of Modernism in summary form, for example:

(4) Even by dogmatic definitions the Church's Magisterium cannot determine the genuine sense of the Sacred Scriptures.

(9) They display excessive simplicity or ignorance who believe that God is really the author of the Sacred Scriptures.

(11) Divine inspiration does not extend to all of Sacred Scriptures so that it renders its parts, each and every one, free from every error.

(12) If he wishes to apply himself usefully to Biblical studies, the exegete must first put aside all preconceived opinions about the supernatural origins of Sacred Scripture and interpret it the same as any other merely human document.

None of these 65 condemned propositions have to do with biological evolution, nor about taking the "six days" of the "creation week" in a literal sense.

The Catechism and Creation

Sungenis: Pope Leo XIII, in Providentissimus Deus in 1893 stated: "The commentator...must carefully observe the rule...not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires, a rule to which it is the more necessary to adhere strictly in these times, when the thirst for novelty and unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger of error most real and proximate."

Sungenis: Accordingly, the 1994 Catholic Catechism, in quoting St. Thomas Aquinas from the Summa Theologica, says in paragraph 116: "The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and... 'all other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.'"

Sungenis: Pope Leo also explained in the same encyclical: "Moreover, the literal sense itself frequently admits other senses, adapted to illustrate dogma or to confirm morality."

I can assume by this that Sungenis believes the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994, 1997) endorses a literal six-day creation. That is totally wrong. I will quote this paragraph again which refers to the six-day "creation week" as symbolical not literal:

337. God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity, and order. Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine "work," concluded by the "rest" of the seventh day. On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation, permitting us to "recognize the inner nature, the value, and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God." [Vatican II LG 36] (see also paragraphs 339, 342, 345 which refer to the "six days")

338. Nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when God's word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all human history are rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time begun. [footnote refers to St. Augustine, De Genesi adv Man 1, 2, 4: PL 34, 175]

The point is that everything that exists owes its existence to God, however He chose to do it, whether by direct-special creation in six days a short time ago as Sungenis believes, or by secondary natural causes set up, overseen, directed, and "willed" by God billions of years ago as theistic evolutionists like myself would accept. There are other paragraphs that imply at least some of the language in Genesis 1-3 is figurative or symbolical, for example:

362. The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolical language when it affirms that "then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." [Genesis 2:7] Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.


369. Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. "Being man" or "being woman" is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator. [cf. Genesis 2:7, 22] Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity "in the image of God." In their "being-man" and "being-woman," they reflect the Creator's wisdom and goodness.


375. The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original "state of holiness and justice." [cf. Council of Trent (1546): DS 1511] This grace of original holiness was "to share in....divine life." [cf. Vatican II LG 2]


390. The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.


396. God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God. The prohibition against eating "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" spells this out: "for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die." [Genesis 2:17] The "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" [Genesis 2:17] symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom.

This brings us to the next point. I think it is fairly clear the Catechism does teach a literal, historical Adam/Eve from which we inherited original sin. At the same time, the Catechism fully supports modern science (paragraphs 159, 283-284), the same Catechism seems to support Adam/Eve as real people. The clear references to Adam/Eve as "our first parents" and existing as a literal, historical couple include paragraphs 359 (two literal, historical men: Adam and Christ),  375-377 ("our first parents, Adam and Eve," "the first couple," "the first man"), 379 ("our first parents"), 388 ("we must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin"), 390-392 ("our first parents"), etc. See paragraphs 355ff on the creation of man and woman, and paragraphs 385ff on the Fall. Here is a summary from this latter section:

416. By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings.

417. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called "original sin."

418. As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called "concupiscence").

419. "We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, "by propagation, not by imitation" and that it is... 'proper to each'" (Paul VI, CPG : 16).

Evolutionary Creation / Theistic Evolution

Sungenis: There are many more such cases in anthropology, archeology, radiometrics and geology, but this one example will suffice for the present. It wouldn't be so bad, except that the evolutionists have admitted their presuppositions and that they will not change their tactics or their minds when confronted with contrary evidence to their theory of evolution. Here are a few example of their hubris: In 1929, evolutionist D. M. S. Watson, stated: 'The theory of evolution is universally accepted not because it can be proven true, but because the only alternative is special creation by God, which is clearly incredible' (Nature, Vol. 123, 1929).

Sungenis: Similarly, geneticist Richard Lewontin stated: 'We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concept that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.' ('Billions and Billions of Demons,' The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, pp. 28, 31).

This quote from Lewontin of a review of Carl Sagan's (the noted atheist astronomer) book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is a seemingly "shocking" statement to Christians (the evangelical anti-evolutionist lawyer Phillip E. Johnson has referred to it several times in his writings, etc), but there is something to be said for the difference between methodological naturalism vs. metaphysical naturalism or "materialism."

When scientists such as Dawkins or Lewontin insist on or imply metaphysical naturalism / materialism they are indeed treading outside science and into philosophy. However, Lewontin could also be referring simply to methodological naturalism, that is, doing science without invoking supernatural or "divine" causes to explain things. When scientists study the workings of nature, they don't conclude "God did it" since that would be outside the purview of the natural sciences. Only "material" causes can be invoked when scientists do science, whether they be Christian scientists or atheist scientists. Science done correctly and honestly says nothing for or against the existence of God. When understood this way as referring to the methodological naturalism of science, Lewontin is correct and his statement need not be shocking or offensive to Christians.

"Methodological naturalism is simply a recognition that scientific research proceeds by the search for chains of cause and effect and confines itself to the investigation of natural entities and forces. Science does not 'assume away' a creator -- it is simply silent on the existence or action of God. Science restricts itself to proximate causes, and the confirmation or denial of ultimate causes is beyond its capacity. Methodological naturalism places boundaries around what science can and cannot say, or what explanations or descriptions can be accepted as part of the scientific enterprise. Science is self-limiting, and that is its strength and power as a methodology. Science pursues truth within very narrow limits. Our most profound questions about the nature of reality, while they may arise from within science, are theological or philosophical in nature and their answers lie beyond the reach of science." (Keith Miller, Evangelical geologist from Kansas State, in "Design and Purpose Within an Evolving Creation," page 112-113, from Darwinism Defeated? see below)

Evangelical geologist Keith Miller has no problems with methodological naturalism, and agrees with Lewontin on the strong evidence for an old earth and evolution. See Keith Miller's compilation of essays Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (Eerdmans, 2003) and Lewontin's intro statement from Scientists Confront Creationism (W.W. Norton, 1983) that I quote near the end of Part 3.

The following is not so much a response to Sungenis but a survey of several scientists and others who accept theistic evolution or evolutionary creation, have written substantially on the topic, and present how they attempt to reconcile the theory of evolution with their own Christian faith. In its most basic definition, theistic evolution or evolutionary creation is simply "God using evolution as His main method of creation." Technically, theistic evolution is not "intelligent design" (see William Dembski, Intelligent Design [1999], page 109-114), but I would include all Christian folks who accept both God and macroevolution as believing in some form of theistic evolution, even if they might belong to the intelligent design (e.g. Mike Behe) or Darwinist (e.g. Ken Miller) camps. There are many evangelicals and Catholics who represent various shades of this position.


Denis Lamoureux (biologist)

Evangelical Denis Lamoureux of St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta (Canada), who has Ph.D.'s in both biology and theology, is one such person. He states in an article titled "Evolutionary Creation":

"Evolutionary creation claims the Father, Son and Holy Spirit created the universe and life through an evolutionary process. This position fully embraces both the religious beliefs of conservative Christianity and the scientific theories of cosmological, geological and biological evolution. It contends that God ordains and sustains the laws of nature, including the mechanisms of evolution. More specifically, evolution is 'teleological,' and features plan, purpose and promise. In particular, this view of origins asserts that humanity evolved from primate ancestors, and during this natural process the Image of God arose and sin entered the world. Evolutionary creationists experience God's presence and action in their lives. They contend that the Lord meets men and women in a personal relationship, which at times involves both dramatic and subtle miraculous signs and wonders." (Lamoureux, essay on "Evolutionary Creation")

Lamoureux also notes: "Evolutionary creation best describes the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, though it is often referred to in this tradition as 'theistic evolution.'" This essay affirms that evolutionary creation:

  • believes in a personal Creator and the evolution of the world
  • upholds the foundational principles of conservative Christianity and modern science
  • and rejects the 'God-of-the-Gaps'

Lamoureux comments that Genesis chapters 1-11 features three main characteristics: (1) a Divine Theology (that is God as Creator), (2) an ancient science (a flat earth and geocentric universe), (3) an ancient poetry (especially the "chiasm" in the Flood account of Genesis 6-9). God used the "science of the day" to communicate to His people His message of creation and salvation. I won't go into any interpretations of Genesis here, this is simply laying out the various views. For a full explication of his position, see his debate with Phillip E. Johnson titled Darwinism Defeated? The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate on Biological Origins (Regent College, 1999) which includes essays by several contributors from the "intelligent design" and evolutionary creation perspectives.

Darrel Falk (biologist)

Biologist Darrel Falk, an evangelical Christian who teaches at a Nazarene university, in his wonderful book Coming to Peace with Science (Intervarsity Press, 2004) has stated:

"The fact is that Christianity has core beliefs that are not accessible to the scientific method....The resurrection, existence of the Holy Spirit and immortality are all beyond the realm of scientific testability. Even testing the power of prayer will probably not bring scientists to their knees. The history of life on earth, however, is in a much different category. It has been possible to explore this using scientific methods....For the past century and a half, thousands of scientists from disciplines as diverse as physics, geology, astronomy and biology have amassed a tremendous mass of data, and the answer is absolutely clear and equally certain. The earth is not young, and the life forms did not appear in six twenty-four-hour days. God created gradually....We now know more about the nature of divine action. We now know a little about how God created life, and any time we understand something new about the activity of God, it brings us one step closer to God." (Falk, Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith and Biology, page 213, 214, emphasis added)

Dr. Falk is quite sure the evidence for an old earth and evolution from various branches of the sciences is overwhelming, and he presents that evidence in a comprehensive yet non-technical way. He also notes that some things are beyond the domain and testability of the natural sciences (such as the core beliefs of Christians and miracles in general). I heartily recommend his book to folks who have questions about this topic.

Keith Miller (geologist)

Evangelical Christian and geologist Keith Miller's view is that "all natural processes are the personal, purposeful act of a creator God." In an essay in the book Darwinism Defeated? (1999), Miller goes on to give his "confessional statement" on God's creative action as follows:

  • God is the creator of all things.
  • All things were created through the Word who is Christ the crucified (John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-20).
  • God is both transcendent over creation, and immanent in creation.
  • God's creative power is continually at work, even to the present day (Psalm 104:29-30).
  • God is as active in natural events as in miraculous ones.
  • God is intimately and actively involved in what we perceive as natural or law-governed processes (Amos 4:6ff).
  • God is in control of random or chance events (1 Kings 22:17-38; Acts 1:21-26).
  • God is revealed in the present creation (Job 38-41).
  • God is active in the world, providing for the needs of its creatures (Job, Psalm 104, Matt 6:25-30).

He then concludes: "If one accepts the above theological statements, then it seems to me that a completely seamless evolutionary history of life would be entirely acceptable theologically." (Keith B. Miller, essay "Design and Purpose within an Evolving Creation," from Darwinism Defeated? page 111). See also the book edited by him titled Perspectives on an Evolving Creation (Eerdmans, 2003) with essays by many evangelicals on evolution and Christian faith.


Michael Behe (biochemist) and Kenneth Miller (biologist)

Two of the more popular opponents in the whole "intelligent design" vs. evolution "controversy" (at least in the public mind) today, Kenneth Miller ("orthodox Darwinist" and Catholic) and Michael Behe ("intelligent design" and Catholic), while they have their spirited disagreement and debate, they do agree on some things concerning theistic evolution:

Miller on Behe:

"Behe, for example, accepts the reality of evolutionary change to an extent that even his supporters find surprising. In a 1995 debate [meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation at Montreat College in North Carolina], I presented him with molecular evidence indicating that humans and the great apes shared a recent, common ancestor, wondering how he would refute the obvious. Without skipping a beat, he pronounced the evidence to be convincing, and stated categorically that he had absolutely no problem with the common ancestry of humans and the great apes. Creationists around the room -- who had viewed him as their new champion -- were dismayed. Behe's views stand in opposition to those of Phillip Johnson, who reject any notion of a common ancestry for humans and other animals; and in bold contradiction to young-earth creationists like Henry Morris and Duane Gish, who reject common ancestry altogether and maintain that all species were separately created.

"Johnson and Behe also accept what geologists tell us about the age of the earth, what astronomers tell us about the age of the universe, and what paleontologists tell us about the sequential appearance of species in the fossil record. The young-earth creationists reject all of this, and they view such concessions as logically fatal to their cause." (Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution [Cliff Street Books, 1999], page 163-164, emphasis added)

Dr. Behe (at least according to Ken Miller) seems to have no problem at all with human evolution, that we are related by descent with modification to the chimps and great apes. Behe also accepts the great age of the universe and earth, universal common descent (the macroevolution of plants, animals, and mankind), and says that Darwin's mechanism of "natural selection" does explain many things (see Darwin's Black Box, page 5), although not at a molecular level (e.g. the "bacterial flagellum"). Now we turn to Behe's comments on Miller.

Behe on Miller:

"Although I think my arguments [on intelligent design] are nothing short of compelling, some other Catholic academics have disagreed with me and have published other views. Brown University biology professor Ken Miller describes himself as 'an orthodox Catholic and an orthodox Darwinist.' In his 1999 book 'Finding Darwin's God' Miller defends the standard view that, despite the unexpected complexity uncovered at the molecular level, natural selection is the best explanation for life. While admitting that Darwinian explanations currently don't exist for many molecular systems, he expresses confidence that explanations will be forthcoming as science progresses.

"Nonetheless, in his book he argues that the universe was indeed designed, using the fine-tuning of cosmological constants as his primary evidence. He also finds scope for God's action in quantum indeterminacy and argues that miracles can occur, but that science can say nothing about them... [a section on John Haught and "God After Darwin" skipped]...

"The point I'm trying to drive home here by discussing my own work as well as the work of Miller and Haught, is that a very wide range of views about the mechanism of evolution is consistent with Catholic teaching, from the natural selection defended by Miller, to the intelligent design I have proposed, to the animated, information-suffused universe that John Haught sees. Those mechanisms are all proposed by persons who attach the same bottom-line philosophy to their ideas that Pope John Paul described: that 'it is the God of Israel who acts' and that 'it is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend, and who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.' Indeed, the range of possibilities that are available under a Catholic viewpoint is much wider than under a materialistic viewpoint." (Michael Behe, from "A Catholic Scientist Looks at Darwinism" in Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing edited by William Dembski [2004], page 143-144, emphasis added)

Dr. Ken Miller (according to Behe) accepts design built into the universe in the sense of the fine-tuning we find in the cosmos. And as Behe says, a wide range of views can be accepted within the Catholic theological tent when trying to reconcile with biological evolution (or "Darwinism" to use the detractors term). The Church leaves that open as long as we confess our faith in the God of Israel, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creator who runs the whole show. Indeed, I am still working on my own understanding of the Fall, original sin, and Adam/Eve in an evolutionary context.

John Haught (theologian) or CLICK HERE for short interview clips

John Haught, the philosopher-theologian from Georgetown University, has written a book answering many questions on God and evolution. Some traditionalist minded Catholics might say he takes a more "liberal" or modernist view. Nevertheless, he is an important Catholic theologian today writing much on these important issues. In answer to the specific question on whether evolution rules out the existence of a distinctly human soul, he points out the difference between the "souls" or "animating principle" that animals have, and the human or "rational soul" that we homo sapiens have (a distinction he notes also made by St. Thomas Aquinas). Here is what Haught says:

"Perhaps, then, Darwinian science compels us now to reconsider what we mean by the 'soul.' ..... But even in a scientific age it is not too speculative to attribute an interior aspect to each living being. Maybe all living organisms have an aspect of 'subjectivity' hidden from scientific objectification. In each of us this interiority would be associated with a distinctively human soul. But other living beings may possess a hidden 'subjectivity' -- widely varying in the degree of experiential awareness -- where they are intimately touched by and participate in the divine Spirit whom we may refer to as Life-Itself. Once we allow for this broader understanding of soul, we may interpret evolution as the momentous story of soul-emergence. Evolution is the adventure of life gradually becoming more conscious, centered, free and capable of love -- but also capable of great evil. This understanding allows us to move beyond the artifice of thinking that God abruptly 'injects' prefabricated 'souls' into our species or into our bodies at certain artificially defined points in evolution or embryogenesis. Instead we may understand the Spirit of God as present in all of life, animating each species in a manner proportionate to its characteristic mode of organic or informational complexity. The emergence of the human soul, then, would not be a glaring exception to this animating process, but instead a most intense exemplification of a general aspect of creation and evolution." (Haught, Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution [Paulist Press, 2001], question 19, page 27-28)

I'm not sure what all this means, but to me it sounds too much like pantheism (God is all), or the "evolution of the soul" idea that Pius XII condemns. But perhaps I'm too simplistic and not sophisticated enough to understand him. Here is what Professor Haught says on original sin:

"One of the reasons some Christians have had such a difficulty with evolutionary biology is that it seems to contradict the idea that we inherit from Adam some kind of 'original sin.' In fact, though, it merely contradicts a skin-deep biblical literalism and not the substance of Christian teaching regarding sin and redemption. An awareness of the scientific notion of evolution may even help us arrive at a deeper and more meaningful understanding of original sin than we had before." (Haught, question 58, page 80)

All right, if not a skin-deep biblical literalism, how should one interpret the text? Haught next responds to what he sees as the "fundamentalist" Protestant view of the Fall, and why many fundamentalists seek to deny evolution. However, I see this as the orthodox Catholic understanding of the Fall as well, and what I believe to be the position presented in the Catechism (paragraphs 416-419 above):

"I've often heard fundamentalist preachers declare that if evolution is true, then there could have been no 'fall' of humanity. And if there was no fall, then what need is there for a savior? Wasn't the whole meaning of Jesus' life and death to undo what Adam had done? But if Darwin is right, the argument goes, there could have been no actual Adam. So the coming of a savior would have been pointless. Consequently, in order to preserve the fundamentals of Christian teaching we should repudiate evolution. Here Darwin himself gets demonized as one more carrier of the sinfulness from which Christ must save us." (Haught, question 58, page 80, emphasis added)

Okay, good -- Dr. Haught is not going to repudiate evolution (since the scientific evidence is strong), and (I hope) he's not going to repudiate original sin from Adam (since that's orthodox Catholic teaching), and he's going to answer this objection directly. However, in attempting an answer, Haught re-defines original sin, and (strangely) says that original sin is something that hasn't been clearly defined by the Church. Has he not read the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 355ff, and 416-419 above?

"However, most theologians today would consider such an interpretation of sin and redemption extremely shallow. What exactly 'original sin' means, moreover, has never been made perfectly clear in the first place....[sentences on Augustine skipped]...Original sin, according to contemporary theological interpretation, refers not to a specific act committed by a parental couple in the remote past, but to the general state of our present human estrangement from God, from each other and from the natural world as well. We are all born into a world that is already deeply flawed, in great measure by human greed and violence. We have indeed 'inherited' environments, cultures and habits of being which mix bad with good. Thus the notion of 'original' sin points to the fact that, simply by virtue of our being born into this ambiguous world, we are conditioned not only by what is life-affirming, but also by a whole history of evil and opposition to life. The notion of original sin, in this sense, is important for constantly reminding us not only of our shared estrangement from our true Origin and Destiny, but also of our human incapacity to save ourselves from this state of affairs. It helps us realize that only God can rescue us, and that efforts toward self-salvation are futile. Thus the need for a savior is in no way diminished by our recent evolutionary knowledge. There is no contradiction between evolution and a realistic notion of original sin." (Haught, question 58, page 80-81, emphasis added)

I would really like to see his definition of original sin in the Catechism, but I'm sorry I don't see it.  My summary of the contrast here:

Haught: Original sin is not a specific act committed by a literal historical couple Adam/Eve, but refers to our general state of present human estrangement from God, from each other, and from the world. We have not inherited anything from a literal Adam/Eve, but rather have inherited environments, cultures, habits, and a whole history filled with evil and opposition to life.

Catechism: By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called "original sin." As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the domination of death; and inclined to sin (This inclination is called "concupiscence.") "We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, 'by propagation, not by imitation' and that it is...'proper to each'" [citing Pope Paul VI, CPG 16]. (See Catechism paragraphs 355ff, and the summary I have just quoted verbatim in Catechism 416-419).

Will the real "fundamentalists" please stand up? Aside from these two (in my opinion) questionable interpretations from Haught on the soul and original sin, much of what Dr. Haught says in his book is quite useful and helpful. He does an excellent job reconciling the science of biological evolution with orthodox Catholic faith (for the most part). To be fair, everyone wondering about these questions should buy his fuller books that cover these subjects in more depth, God After Darwin (2000) and Deeper Than Darwin (2003). I don't have these books so I can't comment further on Haught's views.

Other prominent Catholics could be mentioned including physicist Fr. Stanley Jaki, author of Genesis 1 Through the Ages and many other books, and astronomer Fr. George Coyne of the Vatican Observatory, as well as all the priests, Catholic scientists (i.e. the ones who would consider themselves Catholic, not the atheists or agnostics of course), and theologians involved with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences who are all theistic evolutionists. Also, I'll mention two prominent conservative apologists:

Father Mateo, the pen-name of a priest-apologist who frequently answered questions on various issues of doctrine and theology for the Catholic Information Network, had this to say:

"Your message is particularly welcome because it gives me an opportunity to remind all our readers that most Christians do NOT hold fundamentalist creationism. Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants reject the strictly literal interpretation of Genesis. Of all Christians, fundamentalists are a distinct minority, though they are the loudest. The physical age of the universe is a matter for scientists to study. Philosophy and theology (including biblical theology) study something else: that God makes and sustains this universe and His revealed purpose in doing so. God is truth. All truth flows from Him and mirrors Him. Truth and truths cannot contradict one another. Seeming contradictions are or ought to be invitations to us to continue our studies in science, history, theology, philosophy, and every other discipline." (Father Mateo, from the Ask Father forum of CIN, 1/31/1993)

While not answering the specific question on how we are to understand Adam/Eve and the Fall, Father Mateo makes the obvious point that Catholics are not classic six-day creationist "fundamentalists."

Jimmy Akin, the senior apologist for Catholic Answers, and very knowledgeable in all aspects of Catholic doctrine, dogma, and liturgy, wrote this on evolution and the Magisterium:

"When the Catechism speaks of 'many scientific studies' splendidly enriching our knowledge of 'the development of life-forms and the appearance of man,' [CCC 283-284] it is thinking of mainstream science. It is not thinking of studies done by the Institute for Creation Research or similar places. If the Catechism did have such groups in mind, it would be pastorally irresponsible to speak in such a manner, for the average reader of the Catechism would be certain to think that mainstream science was being referred to. In fact, one would be certain to regard this as some kind of positive comment regarding the theory of evolution -- which it is....Until such time as the magisterium would either reverse its twentieth-century finding that human evolution is not precluded by the deposit of faith or would make a new finding that it is required by the deposit, human evolution as a matter that is free with respect to the sources. It is a matter that must stand or fall on its own scientific merits; it is not a matter of Catholic teaching." (Jimmy Akin, Evolution and the Magisterium, This Rock, January 2004, emphasis added)

Akin makes a couple points that bear repeating: (1) the Catechism (283-284) when talking about "scientific studies" is referring to mainstream science, not ICR, Answers In Genesis, the Kolbe Center for Creation, or other fringe pseudo-science organizations; (2) the Catechism (283-284)  is making a positive comment on the theory of evolution; (3) human evolution is free with respect to orthodox Catholic sources; it is a matter that stands or falls based on the scientific evidence, and is not a matter of Catholic teaching.

Living Tradition, the traditionalist Catholic magazine, has written a series of articles on theistic evolution. While they favor direct-special creation, these traditionalists admit that theistic evolution is not necessarily opposed to orthodox Catholic doctrine, although there is much tension involved in trying to reconcile the apparent contradictions. I quote some excerpts from Fr. John F. McCarthy's article dealing with theistic evolution (November 1997 issue).

"The pertinent question is, therefore, whether there can be a theory of evolution of the human body that is not incompatible with the teaching of Sacred Scripture....Any theory of biological evolution admitting an upward transformation of species from non-living to living to man, even from molecule to man, but in accordance with a divine plan and potency either placed in matter by God from the beginning or instilled by subsequent creative interventions, is known as theistic evolutionism. The idea of theistic evolution is not contrary in itself to the notion of creation by God and was held tentatively in certain aspects by St. Augustine of Hippo...." (John F. McCarthy, "Evolution and the Truth About Man," emphasis added)

"Nevertheless, in any study of a possible compatibility of evolutionary theory with the teaching of Sacred Scripture, certain established points must be kept in mind, including the following...." (John F. McCarthy, "Evolution and the Truth About Man")

These points are (which both direct-special creationists and theistic evolutionists would agree on) :

  • (a) God created the world and everything in it;
  • (b) every angel has been created directly out of nothing;
  • (c) God created the original matter of the universe out of nothing;
  • (d) God creates the spiritual soul of every man out of nothing;
  • (e) the description of the creation of man in Gen 1-3 is an historical account....however they may allow themselves to be interpreted;
  • (f) the separate events described in Gen 1-3 have real historical meaning both on a non-technical level and on any technical level that might be definitely ascertained;
  • (g) therefore, no technical discovery can rule out the truth and validity of the popular description as a popular description.

"Do these words [Genesis 1:24; 2:19] necessarily exclude a graduated process over a long period of time or even a concatenated upward development from species to species? The fact that several Fathers of the Church read these words as depicting a kind of bursting forth of animals from the active power of the elements would seem to indicate that the Scriptures do not per se exclude a graduated process....The idea of theistic evolution, taken to mean an upward development of biological species as planned by God, and allowing for creative divine interventions during the process, has been left open by the Magisterium of the Church for the serious study of competent persons. Many Catholic exegetes and other theologians favor the idea of theistic evolution on the ground that it does not seem to be excluded by the teaching of Sacred Scripture or of the Fathers of the Church...." (John F. McCarthy, "Evolution and the Truth About Man," emphasis added)

So even this traditionalist Catholic magazine recognizes at least the possible compatibility of theistic evolution with Catholic dogma. Below are some of the better articles from the issues of Living Tradition. While I think the theological content and objections contained here are quite good and challenging, in my opinion much of the "science" in these and other "traditionalist" articles is based on the same poor scholarship and pseudo-science of typical fundamentalist Protestant young-earth creationists (ICR, Answers In Genesis, "DrDino" Kent Hovind, etc). For example, McCarthy seems to endorse a young earth including the discredited (even by creationists) "moon dust" argument -- see his March 1996 article "Anti-Darwinism Today" which is a positive review of Walt Brown's young-earth creationist and error-riddled book In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood -- and suggests all ape-men hominids are frauds: "Pius XII was referring especially to speculation on the origin of the human body, and, in this regard it is noteworthy that all of the major 'missing links' that have been claimed since 1895 have in the meanwhile been discarded as errors, misconceptions, or shameful hoaxes." (from Evolution and the Truth About Man below). I'm sorry that's simply not the case and here are some prominent hominid species.

Evolution and the Truth About Man by John F. McCarthy
Theistic Evolution: A Vain Search for Spontaneous Generation by John F. McCarthy
Did the Human Body Evolve Naturally? by Brian W. Harrison
The Evolution of Original Sin by Joseph H. Gehringer

Finally, the famous Harvard evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould has proposed the NOMA (the non-overlapping magisteria) idea, and does not see why there has to be a conflict between modern science and religion.

" gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, and religion how to go to heaven." And "I also do not understand why the two enterprises should experience any conflict. Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values -- subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve." (Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of Ages, page 6, 4)

This simply echoes what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (representing the Catholic magisterium) teaches: 

283. The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers....

284. The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin....

A more detailed explication of a "theistic evolutionary" position within Catholic faith was made by the International Theological Commission:

"With respect to the evolution of conditions favorable to the emergence of life, Catholic tradition affirms that, as universal transcendent cause, God is the cause not only of existence but also the cause of causes. God's action does not displace or supplant the activity of creaturely causes, but enables them to act according to their natures and, nonetheless, to bring about the ends he intends. In freely willing to create and conserve the universe, God wills to activate and to sustain in act all those secondary causes whose activity contributes to the unfolding of the natural order which he intends to produce. Through the activity of natural causes, God causes to arise those conditions required for the emergence and support of living organisms, and, furthermore, for their reproduction and differentiation. Although there is scientific debate about the degree of purposiveness or design operative and empirically observable in these developments, they have de facto favored the emergence and flourishing of life. Catholic theologians can see in such reasoning support for the affirmation entailed by faith in divine creation and divine providence. In the providential design of creation, the triune God intended not only to make a place for human beings in the universe but also, and ultimately, to make room for them in his own trinitarian life. Furthermore, operating as real, though secondary causes, human beings contribute to the reshaping and transformation of the universe." (paragraph 68 [see also 62, 63, 64 below], "Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God" by the International Theological Commission headed by Cardinal Ratzinger)

Pope John Paul II wrote to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on cosmology and Genesis over two decades ago:

"Cosmogony and cosmology have always aroused great interest among peoples and religions. The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven." (Pope John Paul II, 10/3/1981 to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, "Cosmology and Fundamental Physics")

The important parts to notice here, according to John Paul II: (1) the Bible is not a scientific treatise; (2) the main point of Genesis 1 is that God is our Creator; (3) the Scripture uses the cosmology in use at the time of the writer (not a modern cosmology); (4) the Bible wishes to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how the heavens were made; (5) any other teaching about the origin and nature of the universe is alien to the intentions of the original biblical authors.

Theological Questions on Adam/Eve and the Fall

The main theological objection to the concept of biological evolution is how to reconcile with the story of Adam/Eve, the Fall, and original sin, as we read in Genesis chapters 1-3 (and the Catechism paragraphs 355ff, see above). I won't pretend to have any comprehensive answers to these objections, although I have thought about this quite a bit. However, here are some possible answers I took from an old discussion list (I think evangelical Protestant) on creation-evolution. Someone on the list asked how to reconcile evolution with original sin, and (11) possible answers are given. First here is the question and classic theological objection:

"The whole traditional theology that is taught in our seminaries and churches is based on some basic principles. One of the most important is the principle of the Fall. The theology considers the existence of a definite point in space and time where the man, by his own will, decided to sin. This principle has a lot of theological consequences, as the Original Sin Theology, etc. This point of view is very comfortable for the YEC's [young-earth creationists], since this has nothing against their assumptions. But I, like many of you, do not believe in the evidences presented by the YEC's (I would be very thankful if anyone could give me a name of a scientist who believes in a young earth and is not a Christian).

"Considering the current scientific evidences, I am a evolutionist. That puts me in a very comfortable position in relation to the current science, but certainly also puts me in a very uncomfortable position in relation to theology. How can I consider the notion of the Fall in the 'paradigm' of evolutionary creationism [or theistic evolution] ? When, and how did the man become a real man, in the theological view? What feature makes him a real man? Please, give me your opinions."

Possible Theological Answers

-- from a post by Loren Haarsma, department of physics and astronomy at Calvin College (see also his contributions to Perspectives on an Evolving Creation edited by Keith Miller)

This is a very important question. Even though a number of people have thought and written about this question, it's difficult to find material. The Christian books, magazines, and e-mail groups which might discuss this question are pretty obscure.

For now, I'll quickly summarize 11 ideas which I've encountered in various books and articles. All of them are suggestions for dealing with the biological and paleontological evidence while maintaining the doctrine of Original Sin and the need for a Savior. For this post, I'll just list the ideas and won't comment on which ones I believe probable or improbable, acceptable or unacceptable, or the scientific and/or theological problems faced by each idea. Maybe others in this group will want to start that discussion.

  • (1) God used evolutionary creation of plants, animals, and some hominids; followed by special creation of Adam & Eve, the parents of all modern humans, in a literal Garden of Eden several tens of thousands of years ago.
  • (2) God used evolutionary creation, including modern homo sapiens; followed by special creation of Adam & Eve, as representatives of all existing and future humanity, in a literal Garden of Eden.
  • (3) God used evolutionary creation, including modern homo sapiens; followed by special selection of Adam & Eve, as representatives of all existing and future humanity, in a literal Garden.
  • (4-6) The same as 1-3 above, except the Garden of Eden story is an allegorical re-telling of some other historical event. The historical details of The Fall are unknown, but it involved revelation from God, choice, and rebellion.
  • (7) Same as #1 above, but occurring 5 million years ago with the Genesis flood (a local flood) corresponding to the filling of the Mediterranean basin; Abraham (Genesis 12) is a modern person.
  • (8) God used evolutionary creation, including modern homo sapiens. The story of Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden is an allegorical version of some actual historical event, in the distant past, where God revealed Himself to a group of humans (perhaps more than two), and the humans rebelled. The Fall was not inevitable, but a choice. Original sin "spread" from this group who received the first "revelation" outward to eventually include all humans.
  • (9) Same as #8, but the story of the Fall is a telescoping of multiple events of revelation and rebellion in human pre-history.
  • (10) Same as #9, but taking into account the slow development of hominid intelligence and self-awareness over time. Analogous to the gradual development from the ordinary self-centeredness of an infant into the sinful selfishness of a toddler.
  • (11) Same as #10, but the eventual sinful state of humanity was inevitable, given the number of opportunities for it to happen.

That seems a fairly exhaustive list, though I've probably missed a few.

-- from a post by Loren Haarsma on an old creation-evolution discussion board I found

Perhaps any of these can be acceptable from an "orthodox" Catholic perspective (positions 8 to 11 are a little shaky since they imply polygenism, etc) that affirms a theistic evolutionary (or "evolutionary creationist") view of natural history, and thus accepts modern science without resorting to the pseudo-science of young-earth creationism. More needs to be said in reply to the specific theological objections to the evolution of man, and maybe I will answer these in more depth in the future once I work out my own "hypothesis" solving the apparent problems. Again, these are very difficult questions I will admit.

A recent book that looks promising (I don't have it yet) written from an orthodox Catholic perspective is Origin of the Human Species by Dennis Bonnette (Sapientia Press, 2003, 2nd edition), forward by Intelligent Design advocate Michael Behe.

Another important document is from the International Theological Commission (plenary sessions held in Rome 2000-2002, document published July 2004) and signed off by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), the President of the Commission and head of doctrine in the Catholic Church. The document is titled

COMMUNION AND STEWARDSHIP: Human Persons Created in the Image of God

Here are some relevant excerpts from paragraphs 62, 63, 64 and 69 which covers "intelligent design" and "theistic evolution."

Science and the Stewardship of Knowledge

62. The endeavor to understand the universe has marked human culture in every period and in nearly every society. In the perspective of the Christian faith, this endeavor is precisely an instance of the stewardship which human beings exercise in accordance with God's plan. Without embracing a discredited [scientific] concordism, Christians have the responsibility to locate the modern scientific understanding of the universe within the context of the theology of creation. The place of human beings in the history of this evolving universe, as it has been charted by modern sciences, can only be seen in its complete reality in the light of faith, as a personal history of the engagement of the triune God with creaturely persons.

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.

64. Pope John Paul II stated some years ago that "new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge" ("Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Evolution" 1996). In continuity with previous twentieth century papal teaching on evolution (especially Pope Pius XII's encyclical Humani Generis), the Holy Father's message acknowledges that there are "several theories of evolution" that are "materialist, reductionist and spiritualist" and thus incompatible with the Catholic faith. It follows that the message of Pope John Paul II cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe. Mainly concerned with evolution as it "involves the question of man," however, Pope John Paul's message is specifically critical of materialistic theories of human origins and insists on the relevance of philosophy and theology for an adequate understanding of the "ontological leap" to the human which cannot be explained in purely scientific terms. The Church's interest in evolution thus focuses particularly on "the conception of man" who, as created in the image of God, "cannot be subordinated as a pure means or instrument either to the species or to society." As a person created in the image of God, he is capable of forming relationships of communion with other persons and with the triune God, as well as of exercising sovereignty and stewardship in the created universe. The implication of these remarks is that theories of evolution and of the origin of the universe possess particular theological interest when they touch on the doctrines of the creation ex nihilo and the creation of man in the image of God.

69. The current scientific debate about the mechanisms at work in evolution requires theological comment insofar as it sometimes implies a misunderstanding of the nature of divine causality. Many neo-Darwinian scientists, as well as some of their critics, have concluded that, if evolution is a radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation, then there can be no place in it for divine providential causality. A growing body of scientific critics of neo-Darwinism point to evidence of design (e.g., biological structures that exhibit specified complexity) that, in their view, cannot be explained in terms of a purely contingent process and that neo-Darwinians have ignored or misinterpreted. The nub of this currently lively disagreement involves scientific observation and generalization concerning whether the available data support inferences of design or chance, and cannot be settled by theology. But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence. Divine causality and created causality radically differ in kind and not only in degree. Thus, even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God's providential plan for creation. According to St. Thomas Aquinas: 'The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow, but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity happens infallibly and of necessity; and that happens from contingency, which the divine providence conceives to happen from contingency' (Summa theologiae, I, 22,4 ad 1). In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science. Divine causality can be active in a process that is both contingent and guided. Any evolutionary mechanism that is contingent can only be contingent because God made it so. An unguided evolutionary process -- one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence -- simply cannot exist because 'the causality of God, Who is the first agent, extends to all being, not only as to constituent principles of species, but also as to the individualizing principles....It necessarily follows that all things, inasmuch as they participate in existence, must likewise be subject to divine providence' (Summa theologiae I, 22, 2).

The theme of "man created in the image of God" was submitted for study to the International Theological Commission. The preparation of this study was entrusted to a subcommission whose members included: Very Rev. J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., Most Reverend Jean-Louis Brugues, Msgr. Anton Strukelj, Rev. Tanios Bou Mansour, O.L.M., Rev. Adolpe Gesche, Most Reverend Willem Jacobus Eijk, Rev. Fadel Sidarouss, S.J., and Rev. Shun ichi Takayanagi, S.J. As the text developed, it was discussed at numerous meetings of the subcommission and several plenary sessions of the Commission held at Rome during the period 2000-2002. The present text was approved in forma specifica, by the written ballots of the Commission. It was then submitted to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the President of the Commission, who has given his permission for its publication.

See also the TalkOrigins God and Evolution FAQ

Now we move to the actual evidence for an old earth, the radiometric dating methods, why they are reliable, and the pathetic creationist responses to these.

next Reply to Sungenis on Science Issues: Age of the Earth (Part 2)
also Reply to Sungenis on Science Issues: Evolution (Part 3)


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