Over the weekend, I had the pleasure to peruse R. Scott Appleby’s article on the Catholic Church’s response to Darwin’s theory of Evolution, Exposing Darwin’s “hidden agenda’: Roman Catholic responses to evolution, 1875-1925. Focusing on the period between 1875 to 1925, Appleby discusses the different ways the hierarchy of the church attempted to reconcile evolution and divine creation. One group, known as progressives, pushed for a more scientific approach to solving the issue. They believed that through scientific inquiry, rather than Thomism (the scholastic tradition of the church), an understanding could be found. Opposing them were the conservatives. These priests and bishops believed that diverging from tradition would open the church to modernism, which they thought of as a threat. Modernism meant materialism, liberalism, and a bunch of other “isms” that were bad news for conservatives. They feared that allowing any of them to enter popular Catholic thought would weaken the importance of the supernatural in the everyday(pg. 175). Conservatives had every right to fear an upheaval of the supernatural: Darwin’s theory doesn’t make it easy to add otherworldly influences. The theory of evolution is about nature, and how the natural world organizes and progresses on its own without the direct influence of an omnipotent being. However, the
Catholic church sure did try to find a place for God. Appleby points at Father John Zahm as the closest to reconciling the evolution issue. Zahm believed in a sort of “theistic evolution”, where evolution occurred, but God set it in motion or at least directed it.”More than any other American Catholic, [Zahm] translated Darwin’s theory into terms understandable and at least partially acceptable to his American and European Catholic audiences,” wrote Zahm’s biographer, further supporting that Zahm’s theory was one of the best to come out of this tumultuous time(pg.194). Zham may have came the closest to solving the problem, but he fell short in the eyes of the Church. His theories were soon thrown out as heretical, and the the church’s search continued. By the end of the article, Appleby concedes that the Church never came up with a formal explanation of evolution; they were too caught up in how to go about understanding the theory itself to give a simple yes or no answer.
I always believed that the Church was stubbornly against evolution and firmly entrenched inside the creationist base. However, Appleby shows that the Church flip-flopped over the issue when evolution was brought into the mainstream, that is what I find most interesting. The Church is not so opposed to science as we may think. They deliberated and thought about evolution, some priests even accepting a modified form of it. The more I learn, the more I see examples of a positive relationship between the Church and science. Father Zahm was a scientist and a priest. He believed in evidence and the scientific method, but also that God was real and science would never overcome God. Pope Francis has a degree in Chemistry, for pete’s sake! Science is not opposed to religion, anyone can see that if they look a little closer.
“The Big-Bang, that is placed today at the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine intervention but exacts it. The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”- Pope Francis (full address)
To read more on the Catholic position click here