There has long been a debate among Christians surrounding the idea of evolution, the Big Bang and the origins of life in the universe.
This past Monday, Pope Francis weighed in on the controversy, saying “evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”
The Pope’s statement does not actually represent a shift from the position of the Catholic Church, which has long taught that faith in God and evolution are not necessarily at odds with one another. The distinction the church makes is that God must be behind evolution because He, as the creator, is behind every part of creation.
Pope Francis not only talked about evolution but also about the initial creation of the universe. “The ‘Big Bang,’ that today is considered to be the origin of the world does not contradict the creative intervention of God. On the contrary, it requires it,” said Francis.
There have been a wide range of reactions to his declaration, including sensational headlines proclaiming “Even the Pope Isn’t a Hard-Core Creationist,” from the Daily Beast and “Pope Francis says evolution is real and God is no wizard” from The Washington Post.
Though some news sources are declaring that the Pope’s statement affirmed that evolution and the Big Bang certainly happened, a closer reading of his speech reveals a slightly different story.
Pope Francis did not state that evolution certainly happened, only that a belief in evolution was compatible with Christianity. He also said that an event like the Big Bang would have required God’s intervention, not that God’s act of creation required the Big Bang.
Some in the scientific community who picked up on those distinctions complained that Pope Francis did not go far enough, but many people are celebrating the fact that the church is again openly acknowledging that science and religion are not at odds with each other.
The Catholic Church, whatever its stance on evolution and the Big Bang, emphasizes that above all, it is about God’s work.
“God is not a demiurge or a magician,” reminded Pope Francis, “but the creator who gives being to all things.”