What Catholics Think of Evolution - They don't not Believe in It
In today's edition of Slate's often helpful Explainer column, Keelin McDonell tells us what Catholics think of evolution:
That it's a fine theory for explaining the natural world as long as it doesn't deny divine purpose and causality. The Catholic Church has never embraced biblical literalism. That may be why, unlike evangelical Christian faiths, Catholics have never made creationism a religious tenet. The church has produced letters, studies, encyclicals, and speeches in the last 100 years that praise the scientific research behind the concept of evolution. But it has never endorsed "belief" in evolution by including it in the Catholic Catechism, the church's official compendium of teachings and beliefs.
Largely due to its embarrassing condemnation of Galileo in the 17th century, the church has since been very cautious about responding to scientific theories. It took the Vatican nearly a century to react formally to Darwin's 1859 treatise The Origin of Species. The official response came in 1950, when Pope Pius XII wrote in the encyclical Humani generis that "the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that … research and discussions … take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution."
I'm not particularly interested in what the official teachings of the church are because as we all know, the vast majority of Catholics routinely disregard the church's teachings on any number of issues. But because Catholic schools are such an important part of the educational system in the United States and throughout Europe, Africa, and Latin America, I think it's been very important that Catholic schools have taught evolution for decades. I worry that the church will shift to the right under Benedict and that rigorous biology standards in Catholic schools will be a casualty of that shift.
One question: What will happen to Catholic universities if Benedict takes this route? I think you can get away with it in high schools and below because the science standards just aren't very high. But no serious science professor is going to want to teach at a school that doesn't include Darwinism in its curriculum.