The Pontiff’s Puzzle

"Pope Says We Descend From Monkeys," screamed banner headlines across Italy. The New York Times accorded the story a prestigious location on page one, above the fold--a space usually reserved for the most important story of the day. The cause of all the fuss was the Pope's recent statement about the origins of human life. Evolution, the Pope was widely quoted as saying, is "more than just a theory." According to the New York Times the Pontiff stated, "Fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis." But did John Paul II really endorse evolution? You might think so, judging by press accounts, so let me explain. In Catholic anthropology, saying that humans are created in the image of God means that we have a soul. The soul is our spiritual aspect, which accords us our special dignity in Christ. In other words, being human isn't a matter of our DNA, our skeletal structure, or even our brain. The characteristic of humanity is that our body and soul together form a "profound union," analogous to the union of the human and the divine in Christ--a union that enables us to partake of the life of God. That's why the Pope was so careful to stress that there are many different theories of evolution, and that "theories of evolution . . . which consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter . . . are incompatible with the truth about man." In other words, the Pope insisted that there are intellectual and spiritual faculties unique to human beings--and that they are directly created by God. And he decisively rejected all theories of evolution that reduce humans to mere products of nature. In short, the Pope was taking a firm stand against the completely naturalistic forms of evolution advanced by establishment scientists and taught in public schools. All of their explanations refer to natural causes acting by chance--including their explanation of the unique characteristics of humans. Indeed, most prominent evolutionists, like Steven Gould of Harvard or Richard Dawkins at Oxford, would insist that humans don't even have souls. This is why we need to help our neighbors understand what the Pope really said. Misleading headlines are being applauded for all the wrong reasons by those who see the Pontiff's statement as a concession to mainstream evolutionary teaching. But that's not what John Paul II said. While respecting what is science, he holds to Christianity's clear teaching about humanity being more than a product of nature. This teaching inevitably brings our faith into conflict with a naturalistic science advocated by Gould and Dawkins and taught in our schools. Though the Pope tried to sound a note of harmony, there's an inherent conflict between naturalistic evolution and Christianity--a conflict we cannot ignore. If human beings were created in the image of God, as the Bible teaches, then evolutionary theory as advocated by Gould, Dawkins, and others is false. And that's the real story behind headlines about monkeys. If you read the Pope's statement carefully, you will find that he teaches that you and I are not the creation of nature--but the creation of a holy God.


Chuck Colson


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