Big Bang theory and evolution in nature “do not contradict” the idea of creation, Pope Francis told an audience at the Vatican, saying God is not “a magician with a magic wand.”
The Pope’s remarks, delivered on Monday to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, appeared to represent a significant rhetorical break from his predecessor Benedict XVI, a strong exponent of creationism.
“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,” the pope said during a plenary meeting dedicated to evolving concepts of nature.
“The Big Bang, that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God; on the contrary, it requires it,” the Roman Catholic pontiff said. “Evolution in nature is not in contrast with the notion of [divine] creation because evolution requires the creation of the beings that evolve.”
Francis described a vision in which living beings evolve naturally, “in accordance with the internal laws” ascribed by God.
The Catholic Church has long had a reputation for being anti-science – most famously when Galileo faced the inquisition and was forced to retract his “heretic” theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun.
It is important to note, as the report from the Religion News Service emphasized, that this is not exactly a theological breakthrough: “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.”
When it comes to Christian hostility towards modern biology, most of the opposition comes by way of Evangelical Protestants, not Roman Catholics. Still, Francis’ remarks are welcome for supporters of science in light of his immediate predecessor.
As Daniel Berger explained in an msnbc report, “The language was a significant departure from Benedict XVI and his close advisers, who had voiced support for the idea that intelligent design underpins evolution. In 2005, close Benedict associate Cardinal Schoenborn wrote a New York Times op-ed in which he declared, “evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense – an unguided, unplanned process – is not.”
The Religion News Service report noted that 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 descendants from the Big Bang that created the universe. Evolution came from creation.”