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Author Topic:   Pope John Paul II address to the Papal Academy of Sciences
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Message 1 of 16 (74326)
12-19-2003 3:57 PM

The Papal Address

A. Introduction

On October 22,1996, both scientists and theologians were shocked and confused by Pope John Paul II’s address to the Papal Academy of Sciences. In his address, he was viewed as giving his support to the Theory of Evolution.

The initial feedback was incredible. The Pope was portrayed as a relatively enlightened religious leader; a leader willing to adjust his own faith beliefs in order that they might agree with scientific facts. He was portrayed in sharp contrast to the intolerant, Protestant fundamentalists. (Why I include the word ‘intolerant,’ I know not, for it may seem superfluous given that the term ‘fundamentalist’ has such a negative connotation that it easily extends to include the intolerant). The praises continued the next day in which various headlines read: “Pope enlists Darwin,” “Evolution agrees with Faith,” “Science applauds the Pope,” “After Galileo, Rehabilitation and Man’s Animal Origins,” and finally, “Pope: ‘Evolution More than a Hypothesis’.”
The fanfare eventually ended and the Pope went back to being continually criticized in the press. Eight years later some important questions remain unanswered. Did the Pope embrace evolution? Did he come out and accept Darwin’s theory? Does the Roman Catholic Church now admit that man is a descendant of apes?

B. What did the Pope say?

The Pope began by exchanging some pleasantries. He then extended an invitation to all to take part in what could be a fruitful and trustful dialogue between science and religion. (No 1).

The Pope then expressed a certain amount of pleasure over the chosen subject, the origin of life and evolution, because he stated that it interested the Church due to its mention of general Revelation. He then said that truth could not contradict truth, meaning I believe, that a correct understanding of both science and religion should lead to the same conclusion. (No 2).

The he reminded his listeners that Pius XII already made pronouncements in Humani Generis, that there is no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of faith so long as both sides do not lose sight of several indisputable points. (No 3).

The Pope cites Pius XII in Humani Generis as saying that general themes of evolution are serious hypothesizes worthy of investigation, as well as studies are of opposing views. He quotes Pius XII as setting two conditions. First, Pius XII stated that his own opinions not be considered certain and second is that Pius XII insisted that there is no room in the Catholic faith for those wishing to embrace any of the materialistic theories of evolution.

The Pope then states that 50 years after Humani Generis evolution is no more a mere hypothesis. He expresses amazement that so many researchers in various fields of knowledge have accepted the theory of evolution. Such convergence, he adds, is in itself an argument in favor of evolution. But he then warns that the theory of evolution’s validity depends entirely on whether or not it can be verified. He goes on to state that a theory shows its limitations and unsuitability when it cannot explain the facts. When such happens, a theory needs to be rethought.

The Pope then clarifies by saying that rather than talking about one Theory of Evolution, one should speak of various theories of evolution for different theories arise due to disagreements over both the mechanisms and philosophies inspiring them. To prove this he mentions the fact that there are materialist, reductionist, as well as spiritualist interpretations. (No 4).

The Pope then repeats the importance of the question of evolution, because it includes the conception of man. The Pope explains that Revelation teaches that man was created in the image and likeness of God, and so any notion that man can be subordinated as a pure means or instrument either to society of species, in unacceptable.

The Pope reminds us that Pius XII theoretically did concede that even if man’s body did take it’s original form from pre-existent matter; the spiritual soul was still immediately created by God. John Paul II then both warns and reminds his listeners that certain theories, which are based on the philosophies inspiring them that consider the mind as having emerged from the forces of living matter, are incompatible with truth, nor do they truly reflect the dignity of man. (No 5).

To conclude, the Pope credits the Bible with giving an extraordinary message of life. He credits it with giving a wise version in as much as it describes the ‘loftiest forms of existence.’ (No 7).

C. Analysis

Why did I summarize the Pope’s statement by noting almost everything he said? Because to just take what I felt were important statements would put me in the same boat as those individuals who, either in their newspaper headlines or opinion pieces, wrote such phrases as ‘Pope enlists Darwin’ or other statements implying that the Pope lent his support to Darwin or evolution. It would be good to deal with some of those misconceptions.

1. Pope Enlists Darwin

Charles Darwin, who was criticized even by his own wife for his lack of faith, believed that all beings evolved from casual mutations. The purpose of this paper is not to discredit Darwin but I cannot help but ask, can anyone except an atheist really believe that man is a product of mere chance?

Interestingly the Pope’s message contains no specific recognition of Darwin or even of his theories. The headline, ‘Pope enlists Darwin’ likely surprised both the recruiter as well as the recruit.

2. Evolution is more than a Hypothesis

Much of the media’s attention focused in on the quote, “More than a half a century after this encyclical, new evidence has led us to recognize in the theory of evolution more than a hypothesis.”
Whether there was a translation error, or whether a Catholic creationist took offence at what seemed to be an endorsement of evolution, a new translation did appear in the English edition of the Vatican’s L’osservatore Romano. It read, “Today, almost a half a century after the publication of the Encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of more than one hypothesis in the theory of evolution.

Obviously the translation is important so we must determine whether it should be ‘more than a hypothesis’ or ‘more than one hypothesis.’ It does little good, however, to state that which was intended if one is unable to see the difference between the two. If evolution is ‘more than a hypothesis’ then the Pope is implying that it is somewhat true in the scientific community. But if there ‘is more than one hypothesis’ then the Pope is merely stating what is common knowledge among all, that there is more than one scientific theory.
Having dealt with the differences we must now deal with which interpretation is correct.

The address, which was given in French, reads, “Aujourd’hui, pres d’un semi-siecle après la parution de l’encyclique, de nouvelles connaissances a reconaitre dans la theorie de l’evolution plus qu’une hypothese.” (My apologies: I was unable to discover how to insert French accent marks over the appropriate letters. If any administrators know feel free to edit this part).

Possessing a certain familiarity with the French language, I can comfortably read and understand the above sentence. Ask me though, whether the second last word ‘qu’une’ refers to ‘a’ or ‘one,’ and I am unable to respond with any authority. According to James Akin, who wrote ‘What the Pope really Said,’ the vast majority of non-native French speakers are unable to differentiate between the two, while all native French speakers are agreed that in the Pope’s address, ‘une’ translates to ‘a.’

If any doubt remains, then it should have been cleared up shortly after the papal address. On November 19,1996 a Catholic News Service story dealt with this issue, and the ‘more than a hypothesis’ interpretation was confirmed. That same day Father Robert Dempsey, who is the editor and chief of the English edition of L’osservatore Romano, stated that his paper had translated an overly literal interpretation that had obscured the real meaning of the text. Having established that the Pope did say that evolution was more than a hypothesis, we must now ask…

3. Does that mean that the Pope endorsed Evolution?

Many cite a phrase in this same quote as evidence that the Pope does support evolution. It is the same touchy quotation. “Today almost half a century… had led us to realize that the theory is more than a hypothesis.”

I must again appeal to the appropriate authority when I state that native French speakers have stated that had the Pope wanted to include him among those who supported evolution then French idiom would have required a different construction. Native French speakers state that the English translation of this speech should not read ‘led us to recognize’ which would imply that the Pope also recognized it. Instead it should read ‘has led to the recognition,’ which implies nothing about who recognizes it. These translators say that the wording in this line is such that the Pope quite deliberately sidesteps the question of whether or not he believes.

All he is doing is merely stating a fact about how the theory is regarded in the scientific community.

Another line is also seen as evidence of the Pope's support of evolution. "It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge." Does this show an endorsement? No, for he is only stating that the general acceptance of the scientific community is remarkable. Indeed it is, given the amount of evidence. Saying something is remarkable is often just a positive and polite way of saying something without committing yourself to it. Nonetheless, he is right in saying that when such a consensus arises after research, then it does constitute as an argument in favor.

4. If the Pope does not Endorse Evolution, Then does he attack it?

The Pope does not attack the Theory of Evolution. It does not seem to be the general theme of his address. The main point of the address was not for the Pope, a theologian, to criticize scientific theories. Rather it was to warn scientists to be wary of the theologically unacceptable versions of the theory. For one who is a believer, he may accept evolution, so long as he ponders the following points. First, he must not accept evolution as though it were a certain, proven, doctrine that one could totally take from Revelation and find answers to the questions that arise. The second requirement is that the theory of evolution must be reconcilable with the Biblical fact that 'man was made in the image and likeness of God,' and that God also creates the soul.

5.Neither Sought Nor Fabricated

Much has been made of the line, "There convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the works that were conducted..."
Many have questioned this and asked for a clarification as to whether the Pope believes that there have been no examples of dishonesty or bad science. I think to ask for such a clarification, shows a general misunderstanding at best, and an attempt to distort one quote in an attempt to discredit the Pope at worst. I am quite sure that that Pope is well aware of the dishonesty and bias that is demonstrated at times in the scientific community, as it is in every other human quest for knowledge.

5. Evolution May Be a False Hypothesis

The Pope asks, "What is the significance of such a theory? To address this question is to enter the field of epistemology. A theory is a metascientific elaboration, distinct from observation but consistent with them...A theory's validity depends on whether or not it can be verified; it is constantly tested against the facts; wherever it can no longer explain the later, it shows its limitations and unsuitability. It must then be rethought.

All scientific theories must be continually tested and re-evaluated and if they stop working as an explanation of the observed data then they need to be dropped. If evolutionists are uncomfortable with these procedures, they may do what the creationists have been insisting on for years: that the evolutionists remove the term 'scientific' when describing evolution as a 'scientific theory.'

D. Conclusion

My goal is not to place primary blame on the media. Rather the primary blame belongs to the man that gave the speech. Pope John Paul II is responsible for the uncertainty among Catholics with regard to evolution.

The Pope made several crucial warnings. However all of his criticisms were put from the middle to the end of a speech whose primary concern was reconciliation with science.
The Pope is often viewed as a dictatorial-like individual who imposes his views on abortion, contraception, divorce, homosexuality, and women priests, on his one billion fellow Catholics. While I feel that these criticisms are unfair, I do think that he did not do enough to state his views on evolution. To leave no doubt, at the beginning of his speech he should have said that evolution as understood by Sagan or Asimov or Dawkins, or Lewontin or Futuyma and so many others is completely unacceptable to the Roman Church. Rather than put a rebuke in the middle as he did it should have been at the beginning.

However had he done this, the headlines the next day would have read, "Pope attacks Science," and an exponential number of opinion pieces would have reminded the world that the Church did after persecute Galileo, while numerous liberal Catholic professors would have given interviews highlighting the Pope’s increasing rigidity.

Still I do expect more from the Pope. He is a man of great courage and for him to show such weakness makes me think that it would have been better for him not to comment at all.

Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman summed things up well. "When people ask me to talk about spirituality, I tell them to go see the people across the street." Perhaps the Pope feels the same, just about science.

Where does the Catholic stand after hearing the Pope’s address. Right where they did before!

(I hope that despite the length, this piece can still be used as a source for clarifying what the did and did not endorse).


{Footnote from Adminnemooseus:
Two place the text of the Pope's message can be found are:

[This message has been edited by Adminnemooseus, 12-19-2003]

Replies to this message:
 Message 2 by MrHambre, posted 12-19-2003 4:31 PM Apostle has responded
 Message 3 by PaulK, posted 12-20-2003 3:06 AM Apostle has not yet responded
 Message 11 by Lammy, posted 04-03-2004 11:30 PM Apostle has responded

Inactive Member

Message 4 of 16 (74553)
12-21-2003 12:46 PM
Reply to: Message 2 by MrHambre
12-19-2003 4:31 PM

Re: Rhetorical Questions
In no way do I mean to question the courage of any individuals who believe in macroevolution. Nor would I question the courage of any Christian who believes in such a process. Courage does not even come into play.
What I do question is the way Pope John Paul II stated his concerns. It is obvious that he does not openly embrace evolution. Rather he is more cautious. I am questioning his courage as a Christian, for not being more clear in condemning the evolution that is taught by Dawkings, Lewontin, Futumya, and so many others.
For him not to give a clear position on evolution, is where I question his courage. Yes, he did state reservations about the theory, but they came halfway through a paper whose whole purpose was to reconcile.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 2 by MrHambre, posted 12-19-2003 4:31 PM MrHambre has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 5 by Chiroptera, posted 12-21-2003 1:25 PM Apostle has not yet responded
 Message 6 by MrHambre, posted 12-22-2003 6:13 AM Apostle has responded

Inactive Member

Message 7 of 16 (75162)
12-26-2003 12:35 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by MrHambre
12-22-2003 6:13 AM

Re: Rhetorical Questions
Mr Hambre

If the Pope feels that part of the Theory of Evolution disagrees with the Roman Church's interpretation of Scripture then he has two options. First he could condemn the theory as heresy. Second, he can adjust his church's interpretation of Scripture so as to bring it into agreement with the Theory of Evolution. Whether or not you accept his authority is irrelevant, for as the head of the Catholic Church he has that right.

As for your comment on my courage, I have never hidden my beliefs. I am a Biblical Creationist who takes the Genesis account as truth. My beliefs on Creation are consisten with an excellent essay posted on this website. It should be under the Miscelleneous section entitled Biblical Creationism. (Perhaps an administrator can post a link to it?)

Also, dimensions of evolution are in fact facts. The observable change and variation among species is an example of microevolution and is disputed by no one. The macroevolutionary transitions are what creationists take issue with and they are not facts. Please do not confuse the issue, and this post is not to discuss such anyway.


[This message has been edited by Apostle, 12-26-2003]

[This message has been edited by Apostle, 12-26-2003]

This message is a reply to:
 Message 6 by MrHambre, posted 12-22-2003 6:13 AM MrHambre has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 8 by NosyNed, posted 12-26-2003 1:15 AM Apostle has not yet responded
 Message 9 by MrHambre, posted 12-26-2003 4:56 PM Apostle has responded

Inactive Member

Message 10 of 16 (97492)
04-03-2004 12:58 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by MrHambre
12-26-2003 4:56 PM

Re: Rhetorical Questions
Mr Hambre,

As it has become common in your debating style, I accept that the strawman arguements, combined with the ad hominen ones will be used in an attempt to silence those you disagree with.
I have stated again and again, that I accept that some believers will accept evolution. If they are Christians, I am stating that their is a conflict in their beliefs. (See my paper on the Gap Theory). At this point I am working on a paper, showing the proper understanding of creation and the Bible.
I have several comments on your last paragraph. The 'facts' you refer to are not facts, and that you insist on calling them that tells me something about your the faith, even though you were just criticizing mine. Two, nowhere, did I say that people cannot be scientifically educated and still be devout believers. Your stating that I said this, in done in an attempt to discredit me and show me as unreasonable. As I stated before, let your arguements do that, because when you adopt poor debating techmiques, it discredits you, and shows how unreasonable you are. Again, I did not say evolution was a lie, and when did you find me shouting? Same old tactics, hey Mr Hambre?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 9 by MrHambre, posted 12-26-2003 4:56 PM MrHambre has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 12 by MrHambre, posted 04-04-2004 10:40 AM Apostle has responded

Inactive Member

Message 13 of 16 (98017)
04-06-2004 12:53 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by Lammy
04-03-2004 11:30 PM

Re: Somewhat off-topic
Those who know me well, no that that few support Israel more than I. Having said that, when I look to enemies of Israel and Jews, I think of men like Hitler, or Arafat, even bin Laden. Pope Pius XII never crosses my mind as a enemy of Israel. I want to take issue with the points you make, not because I would like to debate them with you (at least not here), but because it is important to realize that many feel the same way I do on this topic.
Pope Pius XII did not support the Nazi's. I also think you would have trouble coming up with those anti-semitic comments. And while you suggest that millions of Jews were slaughtered with the knowledge of the Vatican, I must remind you that, while there is nothing that the Vatican could have done to have stopped such slaughter, the Vatican is credited with saving 800 000 lives. This is an incredible number, and a far greater contribution then any other. No less an Israeli than Golda Meir, publicly praised Pope Pius XII after his death, stating how much she appreciated the work he did during World War II to save Jewish lives.
No doubt, you may will disagree. However, On this forum, I would like to have the last word on this topic. If you wish to discuss it further, either set up a topic about it, or email me and we can discuss it from there.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 11 by Lammy, posted 04-03-2004 11:30 PM Lammy has not yet responded

Inactive Member

Message 14 of 16 (98021)
04-06-2004 1:12 AM
Reply to: Message 12 by MrHambre
04-04-2004 10:40 AM

Finally, A Reasonable Response
Mr. Hambre
I see a relatively reasonable response. Not completely reasonable (ad hominen arguements again in the first paragraph), but it is considerably more respectable. I have never left, and the reason the response is to a three month old post, is because the topic was closed until recently. If you ever do not understand what I am stating, then please ask me to clarify. However I try to be very clear, and so I hope this is not a consistent problem.
I stated that believers could be scientifically knowledgable. However I did say that if they accepted the validity of the TOE then a conflict arises between their interpretation of science, and their interpretation of Scripture.
There certainly cannot be two sciences, I agree. I ask people to choose which origins model appears more reasonable to them, whether it is an evolutionary model (labelled scientific by some) or whether is is a creationist model (based on the Biblical account, which makes it more theological). I have always loved science. I beleive a creation model better describes our origins, then the evolutionary, supposedly scientific one. And I believe the Pope ( a man I admire) should have come out on the side of the Biblical approach, an approach that he, as a theologian, should appreciate. My whole desire, is to show that the Bible and the Theory of Evolution are irreconcilable. It does not bother me, if a person chooses to accept one. The problem is in choosing to accept both. It cant be done. Do you take issue with this?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 12 by MrHambre, posted 04-04-2004 10:40 AM MrHambre has not yet responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 16 by RAZD, posted 04-06-2004 1:45 AM Apostle has not yet responded

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