Ambrose Swasey Professor, and Director Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics,CWRU
July 12, 2005
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI00120 Vatican City
In his magnificent letter to the Pontifical Academy in 1996 regarding the subject of Evolution, Pope John Paul II affirmed that scientific rationality and theChurch's spiritual commitment to divine purpose and meaning in the Universe were not incompatible. The Pope accepted that biological Evolution had progressed beyond the hypothetical stage as aguiding principle behind the understanding of the evolution of diverse life forms on Earth, including humans. At the same time, he rightly recognized that the spiritual significance that one draws fromthe scientific observations and theory lie outside of the scientific theories themselves. In this sense, claiming that evolution definitely implies a lack of divinity, and/or divine purpose in natureis as much an affront to science as it is to the Church.
The Holy Father also recognized: "It is important to set proper limits to the understanding of Scripture, excluding any unseasonableinterpretations which would make it mean something which it is not intended to mean. In order to mark out the limits of their own proper fields, theologians and those working on the exegesis of theScripture need to be well informed regarding the results of the latest scientific research." Since scientific investigations have repeatedly confirmed evolution by natural selection as a guiding principlefor understanding the development of the diversity of life on Earth, theologians who are interested in exploring such questions as human dignity and purpose must take this mechanism into account intheir considerations. As he put it, quoting from Leo XIII, truth cannot contradict truth.
These principles were reinforced more recently in explicit statements by the International Theological...