VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis on Monday (Oct. 27) waded into the controversial debate over the origins of human life, saying the big bang theory did not contradict the role of a divine creator, but even required it.
The pope was addressing the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which gathered at the Vatican to discuss “Evolving Concepts of Nature.”
“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said.
“He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.”
Francis said the beginning of the world was not “a work of chaos” but created from a principle of love. He said sometimes competing beliefs in creation and evolution could co-exist.
“God is not a demigod or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” the pope said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
Unlike much of evangelical Protestantism in the U.S., Catholic teaching traditionally has not been at odds with evolution. In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed there was no opposition between evolution and Catholic doctrine. In 1996, St. John Paul II endorsed Pius’ statement.
Some wondered if Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wanted to change that when he and some acolytes seemed to endorse the theory of intelligent design, the idea that the world is too complex to have evolved according to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, a close associate of Benedict, penned a widely noticed 2005 op-ed in The New York Times that said “Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense — an unguided, unplanned process … is not.”
Giovanni Bignami, a professor and president of Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics, welcomed Francis’ comments, saying he had buried the “pseudo theories” of creationists.
“The pope’s statement is significant,” Bignami told Italian news agency Adnkronos. “We are the direct descendents from the Big Bang that created the universe. Evolution came from creation.”
Giulio Giorello, professor of the philosophy of science at Milan’s University degli Studi, said he believed Francis was “trying to reduce the emotion of dispute or presumed disputes” with science.
Francis made his speech while unveiling a bust in honor of Benedict, his predecessor, at the Vatican.
“Benedict XVI was a great pope: great for the power and penetration of his intellect, great for his significant contribution to theology, great for his love of the church and of human beings, great for his virtue and piety,” he said.