God Rolls the (Loaded) Dice

April 1997By James F. Tynen

James E. Tynen is an Assistant Director of Student Activities at the University of Pittsburgh.

In a statement to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on October 22, 1996, the Pope said that "new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis." John Paul II seemed merely to be acknowledging that evolution has been a useful idea in the sciences.

He went on to state clearly, however, that acceptance of evolution as a factor in biology does not mean acceptance of it as an all-embracing explanation that would eliminate the need for a theological understanding of the world. Evolution and the teachings of the Church can coexist; the material does not crowd out the spiritual. "If the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God," the Pope said. "Rather than the theory of evolution," he continued, "we should speak of several theories of evolution."

Plainly, John Paul was not endorsing the theory of evolution that states that the entire universe was created solely by pointless and random agglutinations of events and objects. What the Pope did do was to reaffirm the existing Catholic teaching that there is no fundamental, ultimate conflict between scientific truth and religious truth. Catholic schools teach the theory of evolution, and the Church has never condemned the theory of evolution, though Pope Pius XII did raise concern about the misuse of Darwinism.

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