Pope Francis’ recent comments favoring evolution and the Big Bang Theory led to rampant media coverage claiming that the pontiff is embracing a newfound and “progressive” mentality.
But many critics are charging that journalists generally missed the mark, noting that there was nothing new about his statements and citing the Catholic Church’s decades-old belief that evolution and God’s role in sparking creation are not incompatible concepts.
Let’s first look at what Pope Francis actually said about creation.
“When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” the pontiff proclaimed while speaking Monday at the the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.”
Pope Francis wasn’t done there, adding his belief that the theory of evolution is not at odds with Catholic doctrine.
“Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve,” he said.
While this likely shocked some reporters who are unfamiliar with the Catholic Church’s official stance, Time Magazine correspondent Elizabeth Dias hit back in an op-ed Wednesday, calling coverage of the pontiff’s comments an example of the “press getting the Catholic Church completely wrong.”
Dias said that Catholics have traditionally had no theological qualms with evolutionary theory, with past popes openly endorsing it as a viable possibility.
“Anyone who knows anything about Catholic history knows that a statement like this is nothing new. Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical ‘Humani Generis’ in 1950 affirming that there was no conflict between evolution and Catholic faith,” she wrote. “Pope John Paul II reaffirmed that, stressing that evolution was more than a hypothesis, in 1996. Pope Benedict XVI hosted a conference on the nuances of creation and evolution in 2006.”
Regardless of the media’s coverage of the matter, there’s naturally a grander debate among those who embrace creationism and, thus, reject the pope’s comments and those who see no ideological or theological issue with evolutionary theory.
Where one falls on that spectrum most certainly dictates how the pontiff’s words were interpreted and received.
Consider creationist leader Ken Ham’s claim that Pope Francis “has compromised biblical authority in favor of man’s ideas in the area of origins.” Ham, the leader of the Christian group Answers in Genesis, believes that the pontiff and his predecessors have traditionally been off-base when it comes to creation.
“Now, of course God is not a ‘magician.’ Nothing in Scripture ever hints that He is—especially not in the creation account,” Ham wrote on his blog. “Scripture portrays God as the all-powerful Creator who is capable of making anything, whether that’s creating the universe out of nothing, parting the Red Sea, saving people from a fiery furnace, walking on water, or raising the dead!”
Ham accused the pope of limiting God’s abilities as well, claiming that the pontiff’s comments show “a lack of understanding of who Scripture claims God is — the all-powerful Creator, who is capable of doing what is impossible to man.”
Others, like National Catholic Reporter columnist Heidi Schlumpf, agreed with Pope Francis.
“On the way home from religious education class a few weeks ago, my son and I were discussing the creation story,” she wrote. “‘It’s just a myth,’ he announced, repeating my previous explanation that while the Bible stories contain truth, they didn’t all necessarily happen. If a 7-year-old can get it, it seems others can, too.”
Reactions have naturally been diverse on social media this week as well. While some have heralded Pope Francis’ comments, others have disagreed.
Here’s a recap:
Pope Francis announced that he now embraces the science of Evolution & the Big Bang. Hmm. I wonder if he just watched Cosmos?
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 29, 2014
Pope Francis said nothing new about evolution. The Church has been saying this for centuries… – http://t.co/Vta6zQiNnE
— New Advent (@newadvent) October 29, 2014
— Mashable (@mashable) October 29, 2014
The Pope saying evolution & the Big Bang Theory don't contradict Christianity is just a restatement of what most Christians already think.
— John Hawkins (@johnhawkinsrwn) October 29, 2014
— Slate (@Slate) October 29, 2014
Pope Francis knows that every day, science is proving the Bible is wrong. His back-peddling on evolution and the Big Bang is comical!
— Jordan Webb (@jwebbjordan) October 28, 2014
Not news: The Vatican believes evolution is consistent w/ the Bible. Very much news: Vatican belief in a limited God. http://t.co/WKgPffTsNn
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) October 28, 2014
Evolution + Big Bang: Pope Francis I declares they both are true. That's what the nuns taught me at St. Lukes FIFTY YEARS AGO.
— Roy Bragg (@roybragg) October 30, 2014
Hey, creationists, according to "God's Word" the Pope is the descendant of Peter, which means he outranks you. Ha! http://t.co/V2pIgi3Xr2
— Gerry Conway (@gerryconway) October 30, 2014
— Michael Gardner (@MarketerMitch) October 30, 2014
What do you think? Let us know below.