According to the Church, the biological evolution of organisms from simpler to more complex forms is compatible with the Catholic understanding of Creation because God could easily have designed what He created to operate in this way. However, it is not possible that the human soul should have evolved out of matter or that humankind should be descended from more than one initial couple.The seemingly continual conflict between evolutionary theory and faith, therefore, has not generally been a conflict of legitimate principles so much as one of exaggerated claims. Thus, for example, when fundamentalists insist that the Genesis story of creation be taken literally, they push well beyond revelation and create a false conflict. Similarly, when scientists adopt the philosophical presupposition that evolution somehow rules out God, they push well beyond science and create another false conflict.In 1997, John Paul II indicated the Magisterium's interest in the question of evolution in a brief address.For the past several years, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has taken the lead in urging a proper approach to the question of human origins on the part of both theologians and scientists.In 2004, the Pontifical International Theological Commission issued an important document which deals with the question of evolution in greater detail, along with many other important issues which touch on human personhood.
If you only have time to look at three things, LOOK AT THESE.
- John Paul II: The Magisterium's Interest in Evolution
- Cardinal Schönborn: Creation and Evolution
- The International Theological Commission on Human Origins
And if you've got more time...
While the Catholic position on evolution has been clear and consistent from the first, as evidenced by the early twentieth century Catholic Encyclopedia entry Catholics and Evolution, it was not magisterially articulated until Pius XII issued the encyclical Humani Generis in 1954.
The ongoing discussions sparked by Cardinal Schönborn in our own day illustrate the complexity of the philosophical ideas surrounding evolutionary theory as well as the care with which scientists must treat the theory if they wish to stay within the capabilities of their craft. See, for example:
- Schönborn, Finding Design in Nature
- Stephen Barr, The Design of Evolution
- Schönborn, Reasonable Science, Reasonable Faith
Many other discussions of evolutionary theory may be found by searching our library on the term evolution.