Catholic Church and evolution

Early contributions to biology were made by Catholic scientists such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and the Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel. Since the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859, the attitude of the Catholic Church on the theory of evolution has slowly been refined. For nearly a century, the papacy offered no authoritative pronouncement on Darwin's theories. In the 1950 encyclical Humani generis, Pope Pius XII confirmed that there is no intrinsic conflict between Christianity and the theory of evolution, provided that Christians believe that God created all things and that the individual soul is a direct creation by God and not the product of purely material forces.[1] Today, the Church supports theistic evolution(ism), also known as evolutionary creation,[2] although Catholics are free not to believe in any part of evolutionary theory.

The Catholic Church holds no official position on the theory of creation or evolution, leaving the specifics of either theistic evolution or literal creationism to the individual within certain parameters established by the Church. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, any believer may accept either literal or special creation within the period of an actual six-day, twenty-four-hour period, or they may accept the belief that the earth evolved over time under the guidance of God. Catholicism holds that God initiated and continued the process of his evolutionary creation, that Adam and Eve were real people, and affirms that all humans, whether specially created or evolved, have and have always had specially created souls for each individual.[3][4]

Catholic schools in the United States and other countries teach evolution as part of their science curriculum. They teach the fact that evolution occurs and the modern evolutionary synthesis, which is the scientific theory that explains how evolution proceeds.

Early contributions to evolutionary theory

Abbot Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), Augustinian friar and founder of genetics. His work and that of Darwin laid the groundwork for the study of life sciences in the twentieth century.

Catholics' contributions to the development of evolutionary theory included those of the Jesuit-educated French scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) and of the Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel (1822-1884). Lamarck developed Lamarckism, the first coherent theory of evolution, proposing in Philosophie Zoologique (1809) and other works his theory of the transmutation of species. He constructed a genealogical tree to show the genetic connection of organisms.[5]

Mendel entered the Brno Augustinian monastery in 1843, but also trained as a scientist at the Olmutz Philosophical Institute and at the University of Vienna. The Brno monastery was a centre of scholarship, with an extensive library and tradition of scientific research.[6] At the monastery, Mendel discovered the basis of genetics following long study of the inherited characteristics of pea plants, although his paper Experiments on Plant Hybridization, published in 1866, remained largely overlooked until the start of the next century.[7] He developed mathematical formulae to explain the occurrence, and confirmed the results in other plants. Where Darwin's theories suggested a mechanism for improvement of species over generations, Mendel's observations provided explanation for how a new species itself could emerge. Though Darwin and Mendel never collaborated, they were aware of each other's work (Darwin read a paper by Wilhelm Olbers Focke which extensively referenced Mendel). Bill Bryson writes that "without realizing it, Darwin and Mendel laid the groundwork for all of life sciences in the twentieth century. Darwin saw that all living things are connected, that ultimately they trace their ancestry to a single, common source; Mendel's work provided the mechanism to explain how that could happen".[8] Biologist J. B. S. Haldane and others brought together the principles of Mendelian inheritance with Darwinian principles of evolution to form the field of genetics known as the modern evolutionary synthesis.[9]

Changing awareness of the age of the Earth and fossil records helped in the development of evolutionary theory. The work of the Danish scientist Nicolas Steno (1638-1686), who converted to Catholicism and became a bishop, helped establish the science of geology, leading to modern scientific measurements of the age of the earth.[10]