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Pope Benedict XVI and his challenge to evolutionary theorists

Pope Benedict XVI says “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.” This will not please the atheist-minded scientists in our society, who maintain with vehemence that we are!

Richard Dawkins asserts the meaninglessness of evolutionary processes: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference" River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1995, 9).

Douglas Futuyma does the same when he wrote: "By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous. Together with Marx's materialist theory of history and society and Freud's attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, Darwin's theory of evolution was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism - of much of science, in short - that has since been the stage of most Western thought.” ( Evolution , Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA. 1986, p. 2).

Either these writers are reading theology into science (abusing science), or they are correctly assessing the significance of the evolutionary theory they espouse. If it is the former, it is about time the community of scientists created a fuss about people promoting nihilism and materialism in the name of science. If it is the latter, those scientists with theistic convictions need to respond vigorously – because the evolutionary theory of Dawkins and Futuyma cannot coexist with theism.

To date, the challenge to evolutionary theory has come from creationist groups, from the ID movement and from some Islamic scholars. Apart from that, there have been only isolated individuals. Some Roman Catholics have distanced themselves from neo-Darwinian theory (notably Mike Behe), but most have contented themselves with the thought that biological evolution explains everything except mankind.

Consequently, it is significant to find the new Pope going further than this in his inauguration address. His comments describe the process of evolution as “casual and meaningless” – which would not be the case if God was steering and guiding evolution to accomplish his eternal plan. Here is the relevant part of his homily:



St. Peter's Square
Sunday, 24 April 2005

“Today too the Church and the successors of the Apostles are told to put out into the deep sea of history and to let down the nets, so as to win men and women over to the Gospel – to God, to Christ, to true life. The Fathers made a very significant commentary on this singular task. This is what they say: for a fish, created for water, it is fatal to be taken out of the sea, to be removed from its vital element to serve as human food. But in the mission of a fisher of men, the reverse is true. We are living in alienation, in the salt waters of suffering and death; in a sea of darkness without light. The net of the Gospel pulls us out of the waters of death and brings us into the splendour of God's light, into true life. It is really true: as we follow Christ in this mission to be fishers of men, we must bring men and women out of the sea that is salted with so many forms of alienation and onto the land of life, into the light of God. It is really so: the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men. And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is.  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.  There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God's joy which longs to break into the world.”


What shall we say of churchmen who line up behind scientists like Dawkins? "It's important to get across that respectable church men are all supporters of evolution," Dawkins told The Scientist recently. (Cited by Stephen Pincock, Creationism: from the US, with Love. The Scientist 19 (4): 12-13. Feb. 28, 2005).

First, we need to point out that Dawkins cannot have it both ways. As noted above, either evolution is consistent with Theism or it is not. If it is consistent with Theism, Dawkins is being disingenuous in affirming so strongly that the material world is characterized by “ blind pitiless indifference”. If it is not consistent with Theism, Dawkins has no business “getting across” the message that churchmen are supporters of evolution – because he must conclude that they are deluded and really ought to be corrected about their church affiliation!

Pope Benedict XVI is to be commended for raising his voice on this issue. He, at least, is not one of those “ respectable church men” with whom Dawkins finds common ground. If this gets Roman Catholic scientists thinking again about the relationship between Theism and the Theory of Evolution, we can look forward to some interesting days ahead!

David J. Tyler (April 2005)

Recent developments (September 2006):

1. Vatican : Pope slams evolution

2. Faith, Reason and the University. Memories and Reflections by Benedict XVI

For further reading :

Darwinism's theological agenda

God and the Biologist

Seeing design in nature


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