A religious battle of acceptance


When thinking about the relationship between religion, specifically the Roman Catholic church, and science, our minds reminisce the Galileo times. Known to have been arrested and publically destroyed by the Catholic Church for contradicting doctrine which stated Earth was the center of the universe, Galileo in many aspects was the first to create a separation in the belief of the church and the facts of science.

In the Vatican’s View of Evolution: The Story of Two Popes by Doug Linder, readers are shown a different aspect of the Catholic Church. Here, we are shown the beliefs of two Popes, Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II. As we read this piece, we can come to conclude that the opinion of the Catholic Church, represented by the Pope, changes over time in adaptation to the social acceptance of science. In other words, the relationship between religion and science becomes greater as time goes by.

When Pope Pius XII mentioned that human flesh, our physical bodies,  could have been a result of human evolution but  “Souls are immediately created by God,”  the topic of evolution had once again arouse to the spotlight as the main difference between religion and science. Pope Pius approach was distinct in that he considered evolution a possibility, something that had been denied by past popes, but took a stance for religion by talking about something that, to this day, science will never be able to prove; that is the existence of a soul.  Science took the facts and religion stuck to the supernatural, a win for both sides.

In 1996, however, Pope John Paul II placed an end to the evolutionary battle by stating that both the church and science could benefit from each other, thus creating an opportunity for scientist to work along the church. Also, Pope John Paul II stated that “truth cannot contradict truth,” therefore the church had to work in correcting the errors of its past, such as was the case with Galileo.

Due to the comments of both Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II, critics, such as Richard Dawkins, stated that there is absolutely no room for both religion and science to co-exist.  Dawkins wrote an essay by the name of “you can’t have it both ways,” in which he explained that God had absolutely no involvement in the process of evolution, thus God did not “intervene” to give humans a soul.

When making reference to the Big Bang Theory, as mentioned in the piece by Linder, does the Catholic church have the right to say that it was a result of the “let there be light” script from the Bible? Is it fair to say that hence creation took place, God is real, as stated by Pope Pius XII? Can science work alongside the church to prove/disprove the events of the Bible? What can we infer will occur if this relationship between the church and the scientific community is strengthened? Can the Bible ultimately hold historical answers related to evolution?

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50 Responses to A religious battle of acceptance

  1. gatorade15 says:

    Great article californiarepublic79! You raise a interesting topic interestingly enough hasn’t been in the spotlight of our blog thus far: the divide between the Church and science, specifically regarding evolution. There seems to be a trend over time. As the years pass and more and more scientific discoveries are publicized, the Church seems to accept more and more of the ideas presented in the science based theory of evolution. It has gone from Darwinian evolution being completely wrong and blasphemous to the current day when even the Pope credits this evolution as presenting some valid ideas. I think that eventually the Church will accept evolution completely, realizing the stories of the Bible are not factual and never happened, but are more of a means to present a set of general rules and guidelines to create a more functional and peaceful society. Really the only evidence we have in support of total Creationism is the Bible, a holy text thousands of years old. We don’t know exactly where it came from or who even wrote it, there is no scientific evidence that can give us these answers. But scientists have used fossil records, radiometric dating, geology, and other methods to determine the age of the Earth, changing climates, different animal species that lived before us, and even catastrophic events that have happened in the past. The Church is really only holding on to the last bit of spirituality it can: taking credit for God creating the factual and never happened, but are more of a means to present a set of general rules and guidelines to create a more functional and peaceful society. What do you guys think?

    • gatorade15 says:

      Sorry I moved around some text and it never removed some parts at the end, hence the repetition. WordPress won’t let me delete the comment.

      • Gatorade15- that was a very interesting interpretation and opinion. I would agree with you in the fact that we have not yet discovered who wrote the Bible, but we now know that the Bible was indeed wrote by men who lived near the time of Jesus (http://www.biblica.com/en-us/bible/bible-faqs/when-was-the-bible-written/). Another interesting fact is that we have been able to use science in order to prove Biblical events right or wrong. Perhaps not everything in the bible, as you suggested, is false. According to the discover of the Titanic, Robert Ballard, a great flood, as mentioned in the Bible and associated with Noah’s Arc, did indeed exist (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/evidence-suggests-biblical-great-flood-noahs-time-happened/story?id=17884533). With this in mind, is the relationship between the church and science always conflicting?

      • moneytrees3001 says:

        First, californiarepublic79, are you suggesting the great flood actually occurred? That article is far from conclusive, and at its furthest stretch it concludes that the flood was only regional. A global flood occurring 7,000 years ago goes against every scientific conclusion about evolution, as it requires all animals to have been created simultaneously and put on Noah’s Ark, or placed around the globe once the flood abated. It’s not a likely hypothesis.

      • moneytrees3001 says:

        Also gatorade15, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I believe science and religion can never be reconciled because religion is constantly changing and retracting its views in accordance with scientific discoveries. In the 15th century we accepted the Church’s theory of a Ptolemaic universe, with all celestial bodies rotating around the Earth. When Copernicus figured out the truth, religious people said OK, but God still created humans.
        When evolution was discovered, religious people said OK, but God still created the universe. Someday we will discover the scientific way the universe was created, and religion will lose its last reasonable claim for God’s existence (or, more likely, invent another).

      • profschell says:

        I edited it for you, gatorade15. 🙂

    • sunny2018 says:

      I personally agree with the majority of your assessment; however, I’m not sure the church will ever give any sort of statement suggesting that the events of the Bible never happened. They are becoming more progressive, but one of the main factors of religion is a sort of blind faith. I think definitely that they will accept more and more of scientific theory, but they are far more likely to adapt to Christianity, and perhaps view many of the Bible stories as parables.

      • butterjones says:

        I think (/hope) that eventually, in the very very distant future, it’s inevitable that people will stop believing in the events of the bible. The bible will be read as we currently read the texts of greco-roman paganism– stories of some moral value that serve as a window into the mentality of past societies, but not historical by any means. People once believed in zeus and athena, etc. just as vehemently as people currently believe in the judeo-christian god. Every day, it seems, this world becomes more atheistic. The majority of Europe is atheist. These things just take time (or an inquisition)

  2. arcanium82 says:

    This is an interesting article californiarepublic. Linder does a good job of showing the progression of the Catholic Church in regards to evolution. I think these were important steps for the Church. As gatorade15 points out, as more and more evidence is discovered in favor of evolution the Church will have an increasingly more difficult time refuting these facts.

    In America, because of our high percentage of Catholic/Protestant population we closely follow the Pope’s comments on these types of issues. I think it is also interesting to note that another major religion, Buddhism, has already made this type of progressive move toward modern science. In 2005, the 14th Dalai Lama said, “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.”

    It is also important to note that most of the anti-evolution crowd in America is made up of “fundamentalist” Christians. Groups like the Young Earth Creationists are an extreme fringe of the religion. Most Catholics I know are willing to use critical thinking and take into account hard evidence when making decisions about evolution. Similar to how Muslim extremists are not an accurate representation of the Islamic faith, I believe that these fringe elements of Christianity are also not even close to what most Christians believe.

    • arcanium82- thank you for bringing that up. It is important to understand the differences found within a religion, and not to simply categorize everyone under a same group. I completely agree with you in the fact that religion will have to ultimately process alongside new scientific discoveries. The question then becomes, does faith create moral standards that run our society?

      • glowcloud says:

        That’s an interesting question, and my answer would be no. There are certain ethical ideas that everyone regardless of faith (or lack thereof) subscribes to. For instance, Christians and Hindus may differ in opinion about the consequences of murder, but agree on the fact that murder is wrong. I think that while faith can often reinforce these ethical or moral standards, these ideas are inherent in our nature. Actually, they may even be a product of evolution! Studies have shown that chimpanzees exhibit moral behavior! http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/19/health/chimpanzee-fairness-morality/

      • regan1984 says:

        I agree with glowcloud, religion can provide a wide range of general guidelines in terms of how to leave a positive life but in many cases certain religions do have harsh consequences for many acts that, today, society as a whole accepts. Take for example homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27).

      • pianokid123 says:

        californiarepublic79, in response to your question, religion absolutley creates moral standards that run our society — and this is not necessarily a good thing! “Morals” found in the Bible have direct consequences on laws passed in the United States, ranging from marriage rights to access to contraception. In fact, opposition to Darwinism is largely based on a moral argument from a Biblical perspective. Jeffrey Moran succinctly describes that Christian fundamentalists feel threatened that evolution suggests, “God was [is] either cruel or wasteful or absent altogether,” and therefore try to eliminate teaching evolution in our secular education system as retaliation!

      • butterjones says:

        i can’t help but add to regan1984’s comment about homosexuality, as I just read romans in my Gnosticism class– in the paragraph directly following the passage you reference in romans, God condemns those “full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” all to death. It annoys me to no end how people cite the bible to validate their homophobia, but no one every marches around with picket signs reading “God Hates the Foolish” or “Gossipers Go To Hell” or “no marriage for those who have disobeyed their parents”

        in response to californiarepublic’s original question about whether “faith creates the moral standards that run our society”, my answer is, of course– to some degree. For starters, the US has a cultural taboo when it comes to gender, sex, sexuality, and intimacy– we don’t kiss to greet each other as greeting, men are discouraged from being “touchy-feely”, we blush when sex is discussed, we think sex is “inappropriate” discussion in educational settings, on tv, etc. for children as old as high school. I don’t consider this a moral standard, per say, but it’s definitely a standard (for lack of a better word) resultant of religious influence (dating back to the puritans, most likely) that is distinctly American. This is just one example, of course. But i also definitely agree with glowcloud– most of the “moral standards” that are attributed to religion (only by religious people, of course) are ideals that are really, in legal terms, “malum in se”– nobody, of any creed, is going to disagree that murder is wrong. That rape is wrong. That assault and abuse are wrong. Those are moral standards in our society, and they might be outlined in the bible, but they are by no means standards directly resultant of biblical teaching.

    • I love that you bring up the distinction of separate groups within one religion, arcanium82. I think that it draws attention to the importance of realizing that there is not going to be an end all be all solution that is going to fit in with everyone’s individualized stance on the relationship between evolution and religion.

  3. sm4321 says:

    wow Californiarepublic79, great post! This is an excellent topic to explore. The catholic church is often singled out as being one of the most conservative faiths in the world. And it kind of is. This faith also has a large impact on the world we live in as so many people associate with this faith. That being said, the catholic Pope is an extremely influential person. I like how the article you chose by Linder touches on how the opinions of popes in the past has had an influence on many of the followers of the catholic faith. I was captured by your mention of how evolution of the body may have a basis in evolution but the soul is by God. All battles put aside, I think this is an extremely reasonable claim, and a good meeting place. This agreement of evolution should be all that the scientific community needs. Why does it matter that catholics believe that the gift of their soul comes from God. Isn’t this their right to believe this? Instead of tearing the catholic church down for refusing to whole heartedly give in to every aspect of our belief of evolution, we should meet them in the middle.

    • Sm4321- I agree with you. There can exist a middle ground between the church and science. For some reason, several scientists have set out to destroy faith as a whole by proving it “wrong.” There was experiments done in the past in order to discover if the soul, in fact, was real. During these experiments, they would place a gravely ill person in a bed on top of a large scale. When the person passed away, the scale was supposed to move in a negative direction, meaning that the soul had left the body. This experiment was never successful. New conversations have come up regarding people “dying,” having them walk towards a light, and then come back to life. This has occurred to both scientists and regular citizens. Could this be an explanation for an after life?
      ( http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/29/us/to-heaven-and-back/)

    • I have to agree with sm4321. We should just be happy that this prominent religious group is changing some of its views. Although, I would not consider Catholicism to be “one of the most conservative faiths in the world.” I would actually see it as being fairly moderate when compared to Islam or Protestantism.

      • Anonymousgwstudent- that is true, there is religions that are way more Conservative than Catholicism. When it comes down to the actual teachings and “rules,” which most are no longer followed, Catholicism could actually be referred to as a conservative religion. Some examples would include: attend church every Sunday, confess at least once a month, do not use God’s name in vain, the list goes on.

    • waterbottle19 says:

      I agree! Dawkins was being very unreasonable with his attack on the pope. What it really comes down to is a matter of faith. we can prove evolution happens and is true but we can’t really prove the existence of the soul. So why not make that the middle ground where science and religion co-exist? I agree that attacking the Catholic Church was a very unreasonable move here. They seem to be the most progressive Christian denomination on the issue.

    • sunny2018 says:

      I agree; it’s a good enough start that scientific theory is more accepted in a community that previously shunned it. If letting the ideas coexist makes it easier for Catholics to understand and accept evolution, why not let them coexist?

    • moneytrees3001 says:

      I agree completely with Dawkin’s point. The idea of an injection of soul into humans is a illogical idea that is clearly only presented to try and reconcile an illogical religion with undisputed science. The idea that humans are unique in their possession of a soul and spirituality was an understandable conclusion for people living in the 15th century, for without knowledge of evolution it really does seem like humans were placed on Earth to dominate lesser species. But today we know that we are simply one species on a long time-line of evolution; there are similar, but less advanced species behind us, and there will be similar, but more advanced species ahead of us. Why would a Creator arbitrary choose a date for one species to gain a soul? Why not earlier humans? Why not later humans? The idea that human’s have a distinct purpose and connection to God is outdated; we are just more animals.

      • Moneytrees3001- you bring up a good point. Perhaps a soul cannot be proven to exist, but in my opinion that is what makes up a belief. Something that you are willing to believe is true even when prof does not support it. Arrogant and ignorance, many people would say, but that is what brought up the society that we currently live in. If you recall, the first English settlers came to the New World in search or riches and escape from religious persecution. Belief in an idea can ultimately lead to good results. As mentioned by pianokid123, perhaps religion has had negative impacts in our history, but overall, I would at least want to believe, religion and faith has had a positive impact in our culture.

  4. glowcloud- that was an interesting article, thank you for sharing. Morals and ethics are usually taught to us by our parents, at least for most. Being that our parents were raised during different times where morals and ethics actually mattered, could religion have an indirect effect on how we come to behave and deem ethical?

    • glowcloud says:

      Sorry I’m a little confused by the phrasing of your question; are you saying that morals and ethics don’t matter now? I do believe that religion plays an important socializing role for many people but I don’t think that all morals and ethics stem from organized and formal religion.

      • Glowcloud- I am sorry about that I will clarify my question, what I meant to say is that morals and ethics are no longer what they used to be, for example the concept of respecting your elders. I believe that we can agree that it is no longer the same. I am not saying that morals and ethics no longer exist, but rather that they simply are not applied or do not have the same importance as they did forty years ago.

        • glowcloud says:

          Okay I see what you’re saying now thank you for clarifying. What you are referring to as “morals and ethics” are what I would actually classify as “societal values” which I agree change over time.

      • Californiarepublic and glowcloud, its interesting to think about the evolution of “social values”–which are frequently associated with religion–in the context of this argument. I wonder if that could be used as a halfway point for the two different sides for the sake of understanding the other’s ideas–what do you guys think?

  5. greyelephant1 says:

    I agree with gatorade 15 in that the church is really holding on to the ideas that God created the first man. I agree that with all of the evidence and information out there, it is much harder for creationists to disprove evolution completely. I do believe that the bible can work with the idea of evolution. As someone mentioned from their trip to the HoHO, some people believe that god created the first human ancestor (Some sort of primate) and then we evolved from there. There can be a wide middle ground between believing in what the bible says and evolution, I think it does not always have to be completely one way or the other. I do appreciate californiarepublic79 though this article and bringing up this idea. This concept is not as widely discussed and I think it is very interesting, so thank you!

    • waterbottle19 says:

      I agree that there can be a middle ground but not as wide as you suggest. Evolution is proven fact, so Christians will be hard pressed to prove that God created the first human out of a primate. Countering scientific fact like they been attempting to is not the right move to make. Rather, I think they should follow what the Pope said in that God makes the soul for humans and the body is made from evolution. The soul cannot be proven to exist or not exist, so it’s a rather nice middle ground between differing view points.

  6. waterbottle19 says:

    Good choice of an article! The question you raised of whether the pope has the right to say that the Big Bang Theory is prove that God exists through the “Let there be light” passage is very interesting. Certainly the pope has every right to say what he wants to say regarding the Church. However, that doesn’t make his statement correct. His statement is just like any scientific hypothesis: a guess on what is true without any foundational evidence to support it. On the other hand, it doesn’t give Dawkins the right to say God or a supreme deity influenced evolution. There is certainly no evidence to support God did influence, but there no evidence against it as well. Personally, I think science and religion can co-exist. You can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God through scientific means, so why not allow the two complement one another? I think the progressive nature of the Catholic Church is a boon for Christianity and should be imitated by the other denominations.

    • waterbottle19- Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding what the middle grounds between religion and science should be. In your opinion, does Darwinks simply want to attack the church or he does not feel that religion can establish any kind of relationship with the scientific community?

  7. I would like everyone to read this article: http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/11/world/pope-vatican-science/

    It relates to the relationship that Pope Francis, a liberal Pope according to many, wants to establish with the scientific community. Here we are still found with another problem. The church does not believe in the use of condoms or contraception. How, then, can the church and the scientific community build a steady and strong relationship?

    • waterbottle19 says:

      After reading the article, I don’t think I would classify the Pope as “liberal”. He certainly is more progressive than his fore bearers, but as the article stated, the church is still trying to use 2,000 year old teachings to modern moral dilemmas. I do think the relationship between the two is improving, but it takes time. Some might say it’s taking too much time since it has been 400 years since the time of Galileo. However, when compared to other Christian denominations, I think Catholicism is near the front of the pack in terms of scientific acceptance.

  8. punky1218 says:

    I thought your post was very interesting. The relationship between the scientific community and the church is very interested and I was surprised to learn the church’s willingness to work with the scientific community. You did not mention the current pope, Pope Francis who has been known as much more liberal. He does not forbid divorce and is much more accepting of homosexuality than popes in the past. It would be very interesting to see Pope Francis’s views on evolution and if he believes in it, how it relates to religion.

    • Punky1218- you kinda bet me to the point were I was moving. I was making a slow transition towards the current Pope. But you are correct, as I stated above, according to the Catholic church he is considered a conservative liberal due to the facts you stated and more.

  9. glowcloud says:

    The church seems sort of hypocritical. If they believe so much in the sanctity of human life that they don’t allow abortion or stem cell research, then why are they allowing people (who are actually fully developed humans rather than embryos) to die prematurely of a disease that can easily be prevented with contraception?

  10. According to a speech I heard from an Archbishop, the church believes that sex should only be used as a means of conceiving life. By using a condom or contraception, you are preventing that from occurring. By experimenting with stem cell research, you are trying to play God, thus disrupting the natural process. I believe that the church simply has a misunderstanding for contraception and the idea for why it was originally created. I do agree with you that perhaps the church must be educated on the subject but I would not consider the church to be “hypocritical.”

  11. pigfish1116 says:

    I loved this blog because instead of just summarizing the article, you took it a whole different way and talked about the developing view of the different pope’s perspective on evolution and Galileo’s conflicts with his society and his findings- kudos to you! I think it will be a very long time before religion and science will come to terms with each other. There are so many extremists on both sides that they rarely ever meet in the middle. It seems that religion has taken a step towards the middle with the rising trend of old earth creationists, but you don’t really see science taking a step towards religion.

    • Pigfish1116- thank you for your input. As we talked in this blog, the majority believe that there can be a relationship between the church and science but it will simply take a long time for it to be establish. In this case, we used the example to two Popes, Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II, to compare and contrast their beliefs and progressive moments within the history of the church.

  12. This article reflects the current trend of religious leaders and clerics trying to appeal to the millennial generation. californiarepublic79 has done a great job forwarding the information in the ‘The Vatican’s View of Evolution: The Story of Two Popes’ by explaining how the Catholic Church has changed it’s ways of advocacy and eased it’s stance towards science. I personally believe the Church had strategically chosen a liberal Pope in Pope Francis, in order to prevent the alienation of millennials. Having grown up in liberal environments, the younger generation does not want to be shackled down by religion.

    The following article talks about how conflicts in beliefs are causing millennials to abandon religion (this example is specific to Christianity):

    There is nothing more lethal to a religion, than the loss of faith among followers. Ergo, from the Dalai Lama to Pope Francis, the faces of most religions have decided to embrace the future by being more accepting of homosexuality, contraception and more importantly, major scientific developments.

  13. sunny2018 says:

    I believe that it is very possible for science and faith to exist together; in fact, for many Christians, believing that God guided evolutionary processes makes it far easier to accept the theory. Hopefully this will lead to the church becoming more accepting of other things (such as birth control, etc.) over time. I don’t think this change classifies the Pope as liberal, but I do think that the church is slowly becoming more progressive–a change that I think is for the better.

    • cfc0567owls says:

      The laws of physics that guide our universe and the process of evolution that drives life have never and will never change. Everything in the universe must follow those rules. Once that is established, a belief in God is very interesting. To put it simply, who put those rules in place? There is nothing in our current understanding of science that disproves the existence of God. Richard Dawkins is arrogant and narcissistic and believes he must have the last say. The Pope gives a very valid theory which reconciles modern science with religion, but even that isn’t good enough for Dawkins

  14. cfc0567owls says:

    Very interesting article, californiarepublic79. It is impossible for anyone to definitively say they know whether there is or isn’t a God. There is way too much we do not know for any one to be sure, and in reality, anything is possible. Science will never be able to prove or disprove the existence of God. In his outright denial of the existence of God, Dawkins is incredibly closed minded and arrogant. I personally find the idea that God endowed a soul into a body produced by evolution intriguing. It is a fascinating and completely plausible hypothesis. Dawkins is too obsessed with tearing apart peoples religions to allow them to reconcile their beliefs.

  15. serrobert says:

    Stated earlier was a comment about the church’s tendencies and their stance against contraception and having people die prematurely from preventable diseases. I think that it does not really apply to the situation. We are talking about ways in which the church and science can exist together. Not using contraception is not a church versus science decision. It is a personal moral one. I applaud the churches more modern attempts to recognize modern science. However that does not mean that the church should change its beliefs and stances in regards to their traditions. No matter how much science develops and no matter how much the church accepts it, they will still believe in not having abortions and using contraception because it is not dependent on accepting certain scientific facts, it is a matter of practice.

  16. lumastan says:

    I really enjoyed this article as it showed the adaptation of religion to the whims of the majority, once again showing that it is but a construct of the human endeavour. I agree with heir2hemingway, in, that religions are trying to adapt themselves to appeal to more followers of a new generation, but its important to recognize the base fact that religion is nothing but a human construct; it will evolve as man desires it to for it is of his creation. The church relationship with science can best be described as being a sort of late trend comer: the papacy will only sponsor a scientific idea as a possibility after the huge masses have accepted it and only if not accepting it will harm the churches chances of retaining its already fleeting following. Because of this, religion will eventually accept all forms of scientific advancement as possible naming god merely as their creator or some similar sort. It is now concrete that religion and science have now become inseparably intertwined.

  17. jwmigook says:

    Great article! Though this is obviously a very controversial topic, I like the fact that you approached it using multiple perspectives. I had no idea that these Popes had such differing views on something that Catholics and non-Catholics alike would expect them to have similar views on. As Sm4321 and californiarepublic79 said, I also think there is common ground for the church and for science. Though both clash and some are hellbent on proving one or the other “wrong,” we have discussed the topic of evolution being an established concept, and I think the fact that some in the church and some in the scientific field both agree upon that, we can consider that somewhat of a common ground.

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