Vatican Gives Darwin a Big Birthday Hug, Leaving Creationists on the Fringes

By Eliza Strickland | February 11, 2009 5:09 pm

Pope DarwinSome religious leaders may take issue with Charles Darwin and what he represents, but the Vatican has announced that it is officially on board with evolution. A leading official declared yesterday that Darwin’s theory of evolution was compatible with Christian faith, and could even be traced to St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. “In fact, what we mean by evolution is the world as created by God,” said Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi [Times Online]. Both St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas recognized that life changes slowly over time, Ravasi said, and that was a step towards comprehending evolution.

The Vatican’s effort to show that science is not incompatible with religion will culminate in a conference on evolution next month, organized to mark the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s landmark publication, On the Origin of Species. The Vatican has backed away slightly from its original proposal to completely ban discussion of intelligent design at the event, which organizers called “poor theology and poor science”. [Instead,] Intelligent Design would be discussed at the fringes of the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, but merely as a “cultural phenomenon”, rather than a scientific or theological issue, organisers said [Times Online]. 

The Catholic Church was certainly hostile to Darwin’s ideas when they were new. But Ravasi pointed out that the Church had never formally condemned Darwin, and he noted that in the last 50 years a number of Popes had accepted evolution as a valid scientific approach to human development [The Register]. A recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that Catholics joined mainline Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and the “unaffiliated” in accepting evolution as the best explanation for the origin of human life on earth. The strongest opponents of evolution were Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and evangelical Christians (76 per cent of whom opposed evolutionary theory.) U.S. Muslims were almost evenly divided on the question [Vancouver Sun].

Although evangelical Christians are unlikely to seek common ground between their religious views and Darwin’s theory, many other religious groups are actively promoting that reconciliation. This coming weekend, 929 churches in 14 countries will be holding special services to celebrate the compatibility of Christianity and evolution at “Evolution Weekend” events launched in 2005 by an organisation called the Clergy Letter Project [New Scientist]. The Clergy Letter argues that the Bible should not be taken literally, as its “purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.”

A group of prominent scientists and religious leaders also signed their names to a letter last weekend calling for an end to fights over Darwin and evolution, and asking both sides to scale down their rhetoric. They argued that militant atheists are turning people away from evolution by using it to attack religion while they also urge believers in creationism to acknowledge the overwhelming body of evidence that now exists to support Darwin’s theory [Telegraph].

Related Content:
DISCOVER: DISCOVER Does Darwin: Special Section on Evolution
DISCOVER: How to Teach Science to the Pope
80beats: Vatican’s New Bioethics Rules Grapple With 21st Century Medical Advances
80beats: Anglican Church Owes Darwin an Apology, Senior Clergyman Says

Images: Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins, Living World
  • Rollo1

    My issue with Darwin is not so much how the Church views Darwin/Evolution as good or bad, but how Darwinists and their allies view religion in a very restrive and likely negative manner.

    It’s really more of a philosophical and political problem than a scientific or religious one ; some Marxists and Nazis (and Socio-Positivists + Materialists) are equally likely to believe that evolution is compatible with their dangerous ideologies.

    Also, Evolution should not be the sole and exclusive foundation of Morality and Society, in that Evolution would become a total social subsitute for religion, as it has in the past (in Nazi Germany and the Societ Union). This is probably the fundamental issue that is at stake.

  • Bruce Voigt

    O U R S U N (god)

    Like every cell, molecule, quark, planet, moon or star incorporates a black hole at its nucleus. Instigated reactions to a black hole produce its atomic reactions.

    INSTIGATED REACTION is the black hole’s intake or its nutritional feeding of Bruce’s Stuph.

    Like all cells etc. our Sun spews its info cells or atomic energy. This energy atomically interacts creating heat, creating light with most of what it encounters, the smallness of Bruce’s Stuph (dark matter) being one exception.

    From this encounter or collision, created light feeds on the Aura or Info Cells (Bruce’s Stuph) of what it has come in contact with. Using this continuous magnetic energy connection, info cells of Earth are affectively transported to the sun to be used as nutrition or fuel of its black hole. This of course means we’re no longer #1 on the food chain!

    Our sun is a cold, cold activated black hole. It appears to us as being hot and bright but it is not. What we observe as a fiery object is in fact collision or reaction between the force emitting from this black hole and the accumulation of packed STUPH – the sun’s digestive system if you like.

    When you stand back from a fire you no longer feel its heat. The sun being no exception; we do not receive heat and light from the sun’s outer fire!

    If we could see into the center of the Earth it would appear to us as being hollow (black hole). It’s the same for all cells of matter.

    The Earth’s digestive system is that of the sun’s, the difference being size, speed and quantity. To explain these statements multiply the heat and light of just one meteor (shooting star).

    Go out on a dark, starry night; every star that you can see is producing food (dark matter) that feeds our Earth’s black hole! The energy created from this food is like any other cell and spews from its poles. Our Earth’s atmosphere, including everything out from its black hole, has and is being created from this energy! A black God if you like!


    It is of GREAT IMPORTANCE to establish a constant monitoring system for Canada’s North Magnetic Pole Movements. — WOBBLING of the EARTH

  • JustDon

    Rollo1, evolution has nothing to do with “morality.” I have never heard any “evolutionist” refer to Darwin’s theory as a moral construct of any kind. On the contrary, it is creationists who have that hang-up, always assuming that there is no morality without the silliness of old superstitions (religion). Morality can be taught just fine without the children’s stories created to scare and control the masses back in an age when most lacked the ability to even read, much less weigh logical theories. Funny how religious types tend to project their own ways of logical fallacy on those they disagree with.

  • George

    * Secrets of the Vatican – UFO’s in the Ancient Art…
    * Jacques Vallee: FATIMA EVENT WAS UFO – More seriously, the description made at Fatima, Portugal, OF ASILVERY DISK WHICH FLEW THROUGH THE SKY, WAS SEEN BY SEVENTY THOUSAND WITNESSES AND WAS PHOTOGRAPHED AS IT MANEUVERED, deserves a place in our resume of the ‘flying saucer’ legend:
    * The Genesis of the Monkey People and the Genesis of the Anunnaki People:

  • Remi

    “rollo1″‘s message was selected by “discover”‘s team to be the first reply put here on their site ; from stances of people such “rollo1”, for which “materialism” is just something as bad and horrible as nazism, to deserve such a negative connotation reflected in his message, one can imagine what kind of readership has this magazine and, unfortunatelly, in general the english language periodicals.

    “creationism” is more of a problem in english language countries of the western world, especially the U.S., a country still too deep marked by christian religion.

    when americans too will get finally, e.g., swedish mentalities (only to consider another protestant country) in what concerns religion and science, cretionism and evolution, their protestantism will cease to mutilate the american perception of such “hot” issues like atheism or materialism.

    americans succeded recently to elect “a nigger” as president ; that’s really showing us there is an … evolution there ; who knows, maybe after another 200 years the Bible will fail to scare so much people and to make them fear and dispise someone only for not believing in gods, angels or spirits….
    and btw, one doesn’t need science or darwin for knowing that religion is bullshit ; in my opinion philosophy, or minimal logic, is more than enough.

  • Earl Wajenberg

    JustDon wrote: “I have never heard any “evolutionist” refer to Darwin’s theory as a moral construct of any kind” and accuses “religious types” of projecting their own moralizing habits on evolutionists. I think he misunderstands the objection. Evolution is not being used to teach morality; it is being used to explain and lay foundations for moral systems.

    In the nineteenth century, people latched on to phrases like “survival of the fittest” to legitimize political ideas like “social Darwinism” according to which weak organizations and groups _deserved_ to fail and die out because “survival of the fittest” is Nature’s way. And of course “weak” was “those competitors we have managed to overpower.”

    Darwin himself, and Huxley, solidly opposed that mis-use of their ideas, but it happened anyway.

    In the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries, evolutionary theory is being used to explain why we have a moral sense at all. I have seen several articles on the subject in just the last few months.

    To some people, that will give even more legitimacy to our moral sense, but to others, the reaction may well be, “I see, people have been naturally selected to feel this way about right and wrong, so that means that they could be _artificially_ selected to feel otherwise about right and wrong,” and proceed to back plans to manipulate moral sense according to their own agendas, since, after all, there is nothing behind the natural selection process but what features give greater reproductive success, not anything transcending our lives and fundamental to reality.

    Since Darwin and Huxley were moral _despite_ the temptations to ruthlessness in evolution, and if plenty of religious persecutors have acted ruthless despite clear directives against that in their own doctrines, then it certainly looks like people on all sides are merely looking for excuses in their various beliefs when they want to behave badly.

    People of good will on both sides must knock those excuses out of their hands.

  • EVO

    Ruthless, unethical behavior did not arise with the theory of evolution.

  • Thomas Mangan

    If the Vatican can accept that Darwin’s theory of evolution is compatible with Christian faith, anyone can. All it takes is a reasonable attempt by each human being to use reason to analyze the scientific facts the world presents to us, rather than bringing a preconceived solution with you and ignoring the facts.

    As a Catholic, who attended Catholic schools from the first grade until I graduated from college, I realize the difficulties that need to be overcome to mesh science and religion.

    As Catholics, we have used reason to justify abandoning Biblical dictates on slavery and even animal sacrifice. It’s time to abandon Biblical dictates about creation too. It simply didn’t happen the way Genesis describes it.

    Happy Darwin’s 200th birthday.

  • J

    Bruce, do you smoke your breakfast?

  • JustDon

    Hi Earl, you wrote:

    “I think he misunderstands the objection. Evolution is not being used to teach morality; it is being used to explain and lay foundations for moral systems.”

    I really do understand the objection. The people who will use evolution to explain or lay foundations for moral systems are the same as the people who twist religious doctrine to justify hatred and violence. As you point out, Darwin never wanted his theories to be used beyond their intent as biological explanation of life on Earth. One who is intent on justifying something with unrelated theory will always find a theory to use – no matter how badly they need to twist.

  • Eliza Strickland

    @ Bruce and George:

    We don’t mind if comment threads go off topic, but we ask that the discussion remain within the realm of what 80beats and DISCOVER are all about: science.

    We don’t cover UFOs or Bruce’s Stuph, whatever that may be. Please refrain from posting on such topics in the future.

  • Jim – Child of God

    Macro-evolution – it’s only a theory. There is no proof. If you repeat something over and over, soon people will believe it. Someday we’ll all laugh about how foolish we were to believe in another half baked, man made theory instead of believing the divine word of God. There is a God. He created you as man and woman. He is reaching out to you. Instead of acting like you know what you’re talking about, why don’t you pick up a Bible and read it. At least, you will have some credibility. At most you will meet the Lord who knew you before you were born.
    However, I must say that “Remi” certainly resembles a member of the monkey family in his views.

  • Mark


    Lots of people read the bible each day. Isn’t it strange how not two of them can agree on what it means? And all around the world, people believe the weirdest things just because they’ve been told to believe them. Some of them dare to take a look at WHAT they’ve been told. Some of them grow up and find that the things they’ve been told, like the very things spelled out in black and white in the bible, contradict themselves and are just convenient lies to keep the peasants down and friendly by replacing respect and honesty with pre-made non-answers that sound good when spelled from a pulpit. Some don’t.

    Perchance, if you read something ELSE than the bible, you’d notice that there’s no difference between “evolution” and “macro-evolution”. And that “half-baked” is not the right word for something that stood up to scrutiny again and again, like “just-a-theory” of evolution did.

    In less words: I disagree with what you said.

  • Meh

    Gravity is also “just-a-theory”, Jim. You can test it to your heart’s content.

  • Ian

    A great article and welcome news indeed. BTW you say “The Catholic Church was certainly hostile to Darwin’s ideas when they were new.” Can you provide any links for that please?

    I only ask becaus eit my understanding the Cathoic Church was the least rocked by the proposal of evolution because it believes in revaltion through scipture and tradition, not sola scriptura … As John Hardon, S.J. says in his Catholic Catechism, “Charles Darwin (1809-82) undoubtedly sparked a new era in anthropology and allied sciences, but Darwinism as such had only minimal impact in Catholic thought, whereas it struck many believers in evangelical Protestantism like a tornado.”

  • Ian

    Apologies for the spelling mistakes above – lousy keyboard!

  • Ian

    Just to address some of the comments on evolution’s impact on morals – is it possible to agree with Natural Selection & Survival of the Fittest and give to charity?

  • Mirco

    As a Christian formed by Catholic thinking, I believe that science and religion need to be compatible. If there is a conflict between science and religion, there is something wrong with how we understand science and religion.

    And I suppose that evolution can teach how interpret the religious teaching.
    If we understand correctly the spiritual teachings, we will also prosper and we could evolve as better beings. If we understand wrongly the spiritual teaching, we will not prosper and will not evolve as better beings.

    We could study any religion as a meme complex in a complex habitat, competing with many other meme complexes (other religions).
    But we can study the evolution and see the religion as something that select for the right types of people to prosper and the wrong type of people to be extincted.

  • Eliza Strickland

    Hi, Ian —

    the Times article says that Archbishop Ravasi conceded “that the Church had been hostile to Darwin because his theory appeared to conflict with the account of creation in Genesis.” But I think you’re right that the Catholic Church didn’t kick up nearly as much of a fuss as the Anglican Church.

  • Louis Arthur

    people who say the bible contradicts itself have obviousley never studied it. They have only taken things out of context or gone by what they have been told.
    It is the one book that has NEVER been proven wrong.
    Without a belief in God their would be no basis for morality.
    Their would be no absolute wrong or right.

  • Avinash Machado

    The Catholic church seems to be capitulating towards modern trends like belief in evolution. It is an institution in decline and needs to keep itself up with the times in order to retain members

  • Gerry

    Genesis is how the earth was created but explained in simplistic terms. The seven days are not actual days as per 24hrs, but each day represents a time frame such as a billion years. The author at the time had no way to convey these amount of years to the general masses.
    The author was trying to convey a form of evolution and creation so that everyone could understand it, but all of it did come from God. Yes, God created life and in it he created a mechanism to adapt to it’s surroundings and evolve.
    Do I as a Catholic believe in the complete theory that Darwin brought forth, no. Some of his theories have been proven incorrect. Do I believe that evolution takes place, yes.
    I also believe many things will remain a mystery no matter how much we dig or how hard we try to come up with theories and that includes the evolution of man.
    No scientific proof or fact has been discovered (just theory)to 100% connect us to any past pre homo sapient species or other life forms. In other words where is the missing link. Even the lowly chicken has been linked to the dinosaur age but there is no link for us.

  • Ian

    @Eliza – Thanks for for the clarification.

    @Avinash – I’m not so sure the Catholic Church is giving in to modern trends. Remember it believes in revelation through scripture and tradition and as such recognises theology as a study that develops (or evolves!). The Church also has a very strong belief in accepting truth from any source.

    @Gerry – You may also be interested in Scott Hahn’s book – A Father Who Keeps His Promises – which offers a different description of the Genesis creation narratives.

  • JustDon

    Hi Louis Arthur, you wrote: “It (the Bible) is the one book that has NEVER been proven wrong”

    Wow, where does one start. How about Noah’s Arc, the Earth could not possibly have EVER been completely covered by rain water. It is an impossibility. I don’t need to go on, but I could.

    It is your kind of blind faith espoused without inspection or analysis that stuns me. It is beyond ridiculous for us to debate the “factual” basis of the Bible. It is a collection of stories edited by men with politics and agendas. THAT is a fact acknowledged by the Catholic Church and every other Christian denomination. Google the “Council of Nicaea” if you dispute my assertion.

  • Jonathan CHM

    Genesis 1:27, “So God made man in his own image”.
    Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.”
    Genesis 2:21-22, “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, …the Lord had taken from man, made he a woman, & brought her unto the man”.
    From the biblical verses above, it is obvious that God created man/woman directly instead of transforming from apes.

  • chris

    I find it humorous those that try to tell us how god created us/ the universe.

    It is as much hubrus as those that try to tell you that god does not exist.

    I think the only realization you can make is that it is beyond our capabilities to understand the motivations and actions of a being known as god.

    The church will of course appear to modernize over time, you could consider this changing of doctrine or you could consider that modern people become the leaders of the church.

  • Michael VanDeMar

    Ian, I am not sure if you are subscribed to the comments, or whether or not you will see a (very) late comment or not, but just in case… you asked:

    Just to address some of the comments on evolution’s impact on morals – is it possible to agree with Natural Selection & Survival of the Fittest and give to charity?

    Those concepts describe a system and processes of ‘why’, not of ‘should or should not’. Natural Selection tells us that if it benefits the species and it is done then the species will prosper. It does not tell us in any way shape or form that we will be able to judge what the long term outcome of an action or environmental impact or trait will be, so therefore we should act in a certain manner.

    For instance, acting charitably for many helps improve self esteem and self worth, which of course could offset effects of depression. Happy people live longer, and are probably more likely to attract a mate. It is very possible therefore that ‘being charitable’ could develop as a genetic trait, being passed on by those happy people who wind up propagating, whereas those miserable self serving SOB’s who never get laid wind up dying out. However, this does not mean that Natural Selection ‘tells us’ to be charitable. It merely describe and helps to explain why a species is the way it is. It is always in retrospect, and it can change, because what is beneficial at one point on the evolutionary ladder might very well fatal on another.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar