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Magisterium on Creation and Evolution

Interview With Father Rafael Pascual

ROME, DEC. 15, 2005 (Zenit) - Evolution and creation can be compatible, says a philosopher who goes so far as to speak of "evolutionary creation."

Legionary Father Rafael Pascual, director of the master's program in Science and Faith at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, puts his comments in context by clarifying that the "Bible has no scientific end."

The debate on evolution and faith heated up last summer after Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna published an article July 7 in the New York Times in which he affirmed: "Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of 'chance and necessity' are not scientific at all."

To understand the issue better, we interviewed Father Pascual, author of "L'Evoluzione: crocevia di scienza, filosofia e teologia" (Evolution: Crossroads of Science, Philosophy and Theology), recently published in Italy by Studium.

Q: Yes to evolution and no to evolutionism?

Father Pascual: Evolution, understood as a scientific theory, based on empirical data, seems to be quite well affirmed, although it is not altogether true that there is no longer anything to add or complete, above all in regard to the mechanisms that regulate it.

Instead, I don't think evolutionism is admissible as an ideology that denies purpose and holds that everything is due to chance and to necessity, as Jacques Monod affirms in his book "Chance and Necessity," proposing atheist materialism.

This evolutionism cannot be upheld, either as a scientific truth or as a necessary consequence of the scientific theory of evolution, as some hold.

Q: Yes to creation, no to creationism?

Father Pascual: Creation is a comprehensible truth for reason, especially for philosophy, but it is also a revealed truth.

On the other hand, so-called creationism is also, as evolutionism, an ideology based, on many occasions, on an erroneous theology, that is, on a literal interpretation of the passages of the Bible, which, according to their authors, would maintain, in regard to the origin of species, the immediate creation of each species by God, and the immutability of each species with the passing of time.

Q: Are evolution and creation compatible?

Father Pascual: Evolution and creation may be compatible in themselves; one can speak -- without falling into a contradiction in terms -- of an "evolutionary creation," while evolutionism and creationism are necessarily incompatible.

On the other hand, undoubtedly there was an intelligent design but, in my opinion, it is not a question of an alternative scientific theory to the theory of evolution. At the same time, one must point out that evolutionism, understood as a materialist and atheist ideology, is not scientific.

Q: What does the Church's magisterium say on the matter?

Father Pascual: In itself, the magisterium of the Church is not opposed to evolution as a scientific theory.

On one hand, it allows and asks scientists to do research in what is its specific ambit. But, on the other hand, given the ideologies that lie behind some versions of evolutionism, it makes some fundamental points clear which must be respected:

-- Divine causality cannot be excluded a priori. Science can neither affirm nor deny it.

-- The human being has been created in the image and likeness of God. From this fact derives his dignity and eternal destiny.

-- There is a discontinuity between the human being and other living beings, in virtue of his spiritual soul, which cannot be generated by simple natural reproduction, but is created immediately by God.

Q: What are the fundamental truths on the origin of the world and the human being which the Church indicates as basic points?

Father Pascual: Clearly, the magisterium does not enter into scientific questions as such, which she leaves to the research of specialists. But she feels the duty to intervene to explain the consequences of an ethical and religious nature that such questions entail.

The first principle underlined is that truth cannot contradict truth; there cannot be a real contrast or conflict between a truth of faith -- or revealed truth -- and a truth of reason -- that is, natural -- because both have God as origin.

Second, it is emphasized that the Bible does not have a scientific end but rather a religious end. Therefore, it would not be correct to draw consequences that might implicate science, or respect for the doctrine of the origin of the universe, or about the biological origin of man.

A correct exegesis, therefore, must be done of the biblical texts, as the Pontifical Biblical Commission clearly indicates in "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church."

Third, for the Church, in principle, there is no incompatibility between the truth of creation and the scientific theory of evolution. God could have created a world in evolution, which in itself does not take anything away from divine causality; on the contrary, it can focus on it better as regards its wealth and potentiality.

Fourth, on the question of the origin of the human being, an evolutionary process could be admitted in regard to his corporeal nature, but in the case of the soul, because it is spiritual, a direct creative action is required on the part of God, given that what is spiritual cannot be initiated by something that is not spiritual.

There is discontinuity between matter and spirit. The spirit cannot flow or emerge from matter, as some thinkers have affirmed. Therefore, in man, there is discontinuity in relation to other living beings, an "ontological leap."

Finally, and here we are before the central point: The fact of being created and loved immediately by God is the only thing that can justify, in the last instance, the dignity of the human being.

Indeed, man is not the result of simple chance or blind fate, but rather the fruit of a divine plan. The human being has been created in the image and likeness of God; more than that, he is called to a relationship of communion with God. His destiny is eternal, and because of this he is not simply subject to the laws of this passing world.

The human being is the only creature that God wanted for its own sake; he [the human] is an end in himself, and cannot be treated as a means to reach any other end, no matter how noble it is or seems to be.

Q: An appropriate anthropology is needed therefore that takes all this into consideration and that can give an account of the human being in his entirety.

Father Pascual: On the kind of relationship that the Church promotes with the world of science, John Paul II said the collaboration between religion and science becomes a gain for one another, without violating in any way the respective autonomies.

Q: What is Benedict XVI's thought on creation and evolution?

Father Pascual: Obviously we are not faced with an alternative such as "creation or evolution," bur rather with an articulation.

In a series of homilies, on the first chapters of Genesis, the then archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, wrote in 1981: "The exact formula is creation and evolution, because both respond to two different questions. The account of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, does not in fact tell us how man originated. It tells us that it is man. It speaks to us of his most profound origin, illustrates the plan that is behind him. Vice versa, the theory of evolution tries to define and describe biological processes. However, it does not succeed in explaining the origin of the 'project' man, to explain his interior provenance and his essence. We are faced therefore with two questions that complement, not exclude each other."

Ratzinger speaks of the reasonable character of faith in creation, which continues to be, still today, the best and most plausible of the theories.

In fact, Ratzinger's text continues saying, "through the reason of creation, God himself looks at us. Physics, biology, the natural sciences in general, have given us a new, unheard-of account of creation, with grandiose and new images, which enable us to recognize the face of the Creator and make us know again: Yes, in the beginning and deep down in every being is the Creator Spirit. The world is not the product of darkness and the absurd. It comes from an intelligence, from a freedom, from a beauty that is love. To acknowledge this, infuses in us the courage that enables us to live, that makes us capable of confidently facing life's venture."

It is significant that, in his homily at the start of his Petrine ministry, Pope Benedict XVI said: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."

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