Today's USA Today ran an article entitled "Pope says evolution, Big Bang are real" in which he seemed to give a pretty strong statement of support to Theistic Evolution. The Pope reportedly said:
"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," Francis said.I am certain that there are some who will witness this as a caving in of the Vatican to the arms of scientific naturalism. They will note that the Pope, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, acknowledged that the Biblical account of creation found in Genesis 1 and 2 has been proven wrong by science.
"He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment."
Of course, that view is short cited. It assumes that there are only two ways of understanding the evidence for the universe. The first is a straight-forward reading of the Bible as the universe having been created in seven consecutive twenty-four hour days - a view commonly referenced as "Young Earth Creationism." The second is the view backed by those who believe that science is the only way to know anything and who believe that the universe was created by purely naturalistic processes in an completed unguided and random way - a view commonly referred to as Naturalism.
The problem, of course, it that this is the fallacy of a false choice. The Bible is not quite so black and white as those who set up this dilemma seem to suggest. There are a myriad of ways to understand the Biblical accounts. One of the most popular is that of Old Earth Creationism which largely agrees that the universe is 13 1/2 billion year old and with many of the other scientific discoveries over the past 150 years. Another is Theistic Evolution which goes further than Old Earth Creationism and holds that God used his omnipotence and omniscience to set up the laws of the universe in such a way that it would ultimately result in the universe we see today - including man and all of the other animals and plants. This latter view seems to be very close to what the Pope is debating.
Regardless of what the Pope said, it certainly does not end the discussion or the debate for several reasons. First, as I understand Roman Catholic teaching, not every statement by the Pope is equal to the word of God. That only happens when he speaks ex cathedra about a subject. But even if he has spoken in that way about creation and evolution here, the Pope only speaks for the Roman Catholic Church - not for Christianity writ large.
Moreover, the Pope made it clear that God had to be part of the picture. The article notes that, "Francis said the beginning of the world was not "a work of chaos" but created from a principle of love. He said sometimes competing beliefs in creation and evolution could co-exist." It also noted that the Pope made a very strong commentary that showed he did not believe the Naturalist viewpoint. The article noted, "Pope Francis has waded into the controversial debate over the origins of human life, saying the big bang theory did not contradict the role of a divine creator, but even required it." Yes, the Pope appears to be siding with those of us who make the point that Naturalism does not and cannot explain the universe and all we see in it.
Now, I am not a fan of Theistic Evolution. It is way too similar to the idea of the god of Deism, and I think that the Bible makes it clear that God had an active hand in how the universe was created. I think that science also supports the idea that the universe had a designer behind it. Several good books have been written about this subject which make the case based upon such things as the existence of information in DNA, the Cambrian Explosion and the complete failure of science to come up with a viable theory of the origin of life itself. I don't think that God started the entire process and let it run out based upon his original plan, but at the same time it isn't beyond the possibility that he did. So, while I don't agree that Theistic Evolution is the best explanation, it is certainly a possible explanation and an explanation that works better than Naturalism.
Consequently, while Pope Francis seems to go out on a limb and push a much more worldly agenda than Pope Benedict XVI did, he has not abandoned the idea of a creator behind the universe. And there is no reason that any other Christian, including Roman Catholics, need to follow him even as far as he goes.