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In his 2007 video 1st Foundational Falsehood of Creationism the YouTuber AronRa claims

[Catholicism and Orthodoxy] have stated support of evolution and denounced creationism. Pope Benedict recently described evolution as an enriching reality and described creationist contest against it as absurd. Both of the popes before him advised Christians around the world to consider evolution to be more than a hypothesis and not to fear and not t fear acceptance of that is being any challenge to their faith in Christ"

(4:56-5:16)

Other members of the Catholic church speak against evolution (see this example).

Is it true that the official position of the Catholic church is acceptance of evolution? Or is it opposed to evolution? Or has it not taken an official position?

  • This has gone through a huge edit to remove extraneous and distracting commentary from the question. I have removed all comments as they don't really apply. – Larian LeQuella May 26 '13 at 3:09
  • Why are you skeptical of this claim? – Andrew Grimm May 26 '13 at 4:38
  • @AndrewGrimm Sorry, I had edited out the counter points because I didn't think they were relevant to the question. In general, it isn't necessary to include prove why you're skeptical of a claim, but in this case, it seems to be simply because there are others that are skeptical. Since it was my edit that removed these, I'll suggest an edit to add one example from the other side. – user5582 May 26 '13 at 5:08
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    This seems like a better question for Christianity.SE. – Flimzy May 26 '13 at 5:52
  • Voting to close with recommendation to migrate to Christianity site. – DJClayworth May 27 '13 at 3:10
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WikiPedia on that subject quotes this article, which alleges that Catholic teaching accepts but doesn't require the theory of evolution.

Or a more authoritative answer about Catholic teaching is for example this from Pope Benedict in 2007, quoted on the Vatican web site as follows:

Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called "creationism" and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man?


Another example is at In Creation God Calls the World into Existence from Nothingness by John Paul II in 1986, which reads like a sermon about Genesis. In it, the Pope says,

Above all, this text has a religious and theological importance. It doesn't contain significant elements from the point of view of the natural sciences. Research on the origin and development of the individual species in nature does not find in this description any definitive norm or positive contributions of substantial interest. Indeed, the theory of natural evolution, understood in a sense that does not exclude divine causality, is not in principle opposed to the truth about the creation of the visible world, as presented in the Book of Genesis.

I interpret this as saying that the Book of Genesis is a product of its time and is not scientific, and that the theory of natural evolution is not incompatible with Catholic theology.

The same goes on to list the various things which (unlike evolution) are important articles of faith, for example:

1) The one, true God is Creator and Lord "of visible and invisible things" (DS 3021).

2) It is contrary to faith to affirm that only matter exists (materialism) (DS 3022).

3) It is contrary to faith to assert that God is essentially identified with the world (pantheism) (DS 3023).

4) It is contrary to faith to maintain that creatures, even spiritual ones, are an emanation of the divine substance, or to affirm that the divine Being by its manifestation or evolution becomes everything (DS 3024).

5) Also contrary to faith is the idea that God is the universal or indefinite being which in becoming determinate constitutes the universe divided into genera, species and individuals (DS 3024).

6) It is likewise contrary to faith to deny that the world and all things contained in it, whether spiritual or material, in their entire substance have been created by God out of nothing (DS 3025).


I found it interesting to compare Benedict's statement quoted above, with the following paragraph from Humanis Generis from Pope Pius XII in 1950 (emphases are mine):

[36.] For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith. Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

Compared with Pius, who 'doesn't forbid men who are experienced in human sciences and theology to research and discuss evolution, both for and against, while submitting to the judgement of the Church which has the Christ-given mission to interpret Scripture and defend dogmas of faith', Benedict seems more sure that there's some merit to the theory of evolution, when he opined, 'the antithesis [between believing in God the Creator and believing in evolution] is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such'.

IIRC Benedict had a reputation for being well-versed in and supportive of the traditional Church doctrines; so I infer that Benedict's view is the result of the 57 years-worth of "opinions, favorable and unfavorable to evolution, weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness", to quote Pius.


Replying to a comment below,

What I'm missing from the answer is the church's stance on creationism. Is it correct to say that the "literal" interpretation of the bible, and specifically the book of genesis, is not accepted by the catholic church?

I can't define "creationism", but the Catholic Church's teachings include more than a merely "literal" interpretation of the Bible: for example, there's the historical text (different languages and versions); the literal meaning of the text; and the spiritual meaning of the text. Some of it is "allegorical". The Church would want people to understand it with what may casually be called 'a grain of salt', or more formally, "the Holy Spirit", as well as the "Magisterium".

I wouldn't extract quotes from the following references, because quoting sentences and phrases out of context might not give a true view of Catholic teaching; but if you want to see how well I paraphrased it in my previous paragraph above, I invite you to read:


I don't believe that the Pope's comments in a meeting are considered authoritative decision on Catholic doctrine, just an opinion. Compare that to an Encyclical like "Humani Generis"

Wikipedia's article on "Encyclical" in fact quotes from Humani Generis, which says:

[19.] Although these things seem well said, still they are not free form error. It is true that Popes generally leave theologians free in those matters which are disputed in various ways by men of very high authority in this field; but history teaches that many matters that formerly were open to discussion, no longer now admit of discussion.

[20.] Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

Using this to interpret paragraph 36 which I quoted above, I think I understand that (the rest of this paragraph is in my own words and I may be using some words such as 'heresy' inaccurately) whereas Darwin's theories used to be ridiculed and dismissed as incompatible with religious belief, Pius was carefully and deliberately saying that the theory of evolution is not necessarily a heresy (but neither should it be taken atheist). I think I therefore agree with the following summary from Wikipedia about Religious attitudes to On The Origin of Species:

By the early 20th century, four noted authors of The Fundamentals were explicitly open to the possibility that God created through evolution, but fundamentalism inspired the American creation–evolution controversy that began in the 1920s. Some conservative Roman Catholic writers and influential Jesuits opposed evolution in the late 19th and early 20th century, but other Catholic writers, starting with Mivart, pointed out that early Church Fathers had not interpreted Genesis literally in this area. The Vatican stated its official position in a 1950 papal encyclical, which held that evolution was not inconsistent with Catholic teaching.


For what it's worth, Fundamentalism seems to be centred in the USA. Ad Hominem isn't an argument, however it doesn't surprise me that the "dissenting view" which is cited in the OP comes from the USA. I'm surprised that a person takes this sermon as very authoritative, given that it starts with "By the authority invested in my own mind, etc."

A lot of that sermon seems to be his own opinion of or summary from the many things he has read. I won't debate its every statement in detail. The only or most reliable source in the sermon that he quotes is paragraph 37 of Humanis Generis (the next one after the paragraph 36 which I quoted above), saying,

“The faithful cannot embrace that opinion that men came from someone other than Adam and Eve or that Adam and Eve represent a collection of many first parents. Thus God created one man and from that one man, woman was created and all of mankind was created from them.” (Paragraph 37)

The full, original text is as follows:

[37.] When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.

My personal synthesis or explanation of the Church's position (I am not an expert nor authoritative, so you might instead want to ask someone who is, to explain this) is therefore:

  • Evolution explains the evolution of the human body, more or less successfully
  • God creates human souls
  • The first human (with a soul) was Adam; Adam had original sin; all humans descend from and inherit original sin from Adam; Christ came to save us from original sin; etc.
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    My understanding of the levels of Catholic dogma is limited, but I don't believe that the Pope's comments in a meeting are considered authoritative decision on Catholic doctrine, just an opinion. Compare that to an Encyclical like "Humani Generis". – Oddthinking May 26 '13 at 2:05
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    @Oddthinking I quoted from less formal Q&A because I thought his meaning/intent seemed relatively clear. I'd expect that even when speaking less formally but still on the record, the pope is unlikely say things which are contradictory to Catholic belief. OTOH it's also true that belief in evolution is not one of those infallible requirements of faith. – ChrisW May 26 '13 at 2:37
  • What I'm missing from the answer is the church's stance on creationism. Is it correct to say that the "literal" interpretation of the bible, and specifically the book of genesis, is not accepted by the catholic church? – SIMEL May 26 '13 at 11:04
  • @IlyaMelamed If I may paraphrase instead of quoting, there's the historical text (different languages and versions); the literal meaning of the text; and the spiritual meaning of the text: reference. – ChrisW May 26 '13 at 15:12
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    @Ilya It is not the case that the Catholic church 'does not accept' the literal interpretation of Genesis. It does not insist on the literal interpretation of Genesis. You can believe the literal interpretation, or a non-literal interpretation and be a good Catholic. – DJClayworth May 27 '13 at 3:09
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The Catholic stance on evolution was first officially declared in Humani Generis encyclical by Pius XII:

If anyone examines the state of affairs outside the Christian fold, he will easily discover the principle trends that not a few learned men are following. Some imprudently and indiscreetly hold that evolution, which has not been fully proved even in the domain of natural sciences, explains the origin of all things, and audaciously support the monistic and pantheistic opinion that the world is in continual evolution. Communists gladly subscribe to this opinion so that, when the souls of men have been deprived of every idea of a personal God, they may the more efficaciously defend and propagate their dialectical materialism.

This paragraph basically states that evolution is not fully proved and should not be taken as a source of all there is.

Such fictitious tenets of evolution which repudiate all that is absolute, firm and immutable, have paved the way for the new erroneous philosophy which, rivaling idealism, immanentism and pragmatism, has assumed the name of existentialism, since it concerns itself only with existence of individual things and neglects all consideration of their immutable essences.

In other words, there is something that is not changeable, and not evolved and materialistic (aiming at the human soul).

For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.

So, material body can be a result of evolution, but a soul is created by God and not evolved or materialistic.

John Paul II addressed the Pontifical Academy of Science on 22 October 1996 with a following message which contained the following excerpts:

In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points.

explaining what fixed points are a bit later:

As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.

He concludes with restating the position of the Catholic church that faith and reason cannot be in disagreement - faith should give answers to "why?" and not "how?".

With man, we find ourselves facing a different ontological order—an ontological leap, we could say. But in posing such a great ontological discontinuity, are we not breaking up the physical continuity which seems to be the main line of research about evolution in the fields of physics and chemistry? An appreciation for the different methods used in different fields of scholarship allows us to bring together two points of view which at first might seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure, with ever greater precision, the many manifestations of life, and write them down along the time-line. The moment of passage into the spiritual realm is not something that can be observed in this way—although we can nevertheless discern, through experimental research, a series of very valuable signs of what is specifically human life. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-consciousness and self-awareness, of moral conscience, of liberty, or of aesthetic and religious experience—these must be analyzed through philosophical reflection, while theology seeks to clarify the ultimate meaning of the Creator's designs.

The same point is a doctrine of the Catholic church, stated in the Catechism of the Catholic church:

Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth."37 "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.


To conclude

The official position of the Catholic church is not generally against evolution, but it does reject positions that human spirit (or soul) is just a byproduct of the evolution of living matter.

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Did Pope Pius XII support evolutionary theory?

The following is the extract from the "Catholic Church and evolution" Wikipedia page:

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 the individual soul is a direct creation by God and not the product of purely material forces.

Let’s analyze the above paragraph as below:

The phrase, Christians believe that the individual soul is a direct creation by God, as mentioned above gives us the truth of God’s direct involvement in creation of individual soul. As the phrase, there is no intrinsic conflict between Christianity and the theory of evolution, is mentioned before the phrase, PROVIDED that Christians believe that the individual soul is a direct creation of God, it gives us the conclusion that Paul Pius XII only supported evolutionary theory provided that it supports individual soul was a direct creation of God. However, evolutionary theory does not support individual soul was the direct creation of God. Instead, it supports that God only assisted in the evolution instead of He created individual soul by Himself directly. Indeed, evolution assumes material force, i.e. natural selection, that causes one animal to be transformed into another.

As the phrase, provided that, has been stressed before the phrase, Christians believe that the individual soul is a direct creation by God and not the product of purely material forces (natural selection), it gives us a conclusion that Paul only encourages Christians to believe in evolution on the condition if it supports that God was a direct creator of individual soul, and that each of the creation was not the result of the product or the end-result of purely material force, such as, natural selection that drove the animals to be transformed.

As evolutionary theory does not support a direct creation from God and that it supports that it was the end-result of purely material force, such as, natural selection that drove animals to transform, Paul Pius XII did not call Christians to support evolutionary theory.

Paul Pius XII only called Christians to support evolutionary theory only if the teaching supports that it was God that created individual soul. Besides, they have to support that the existence of individual soul was not the product of material force but God’s direct creation.

Nevertheless, Paul Pius XII did not support evolutionary theory since this teaching does not support God’s direct creation. Besides, this teaching supports the end-result of evolution was the product of material force, such as, natural selection, that drove animals to transform.


The following quotes are all the paragraphs in Humani Generis which include the word "evolution" so that you can assess whether Wikipedia's summary, above, is accurate:

[5.] If anyone examines the state of affairs outside the Christian fold, he will easily discover the principle trends that not a few learned men are following. Some imprudently and indiscreetly hold that evolution, which has not been fully proved even in the domain of natural sciences, explains the origin of all things, and audaciously support the monistic and pantheistic opinion that the world is in continual evolution. Communists gladly subscribe to this opinion so that, when the souls of men have been deprived of every idea of a personal God, they may the more efficaciously defend and propagate their dialectical materialism.

[6.] Such fictitious tenets of evolution which repudiate all that is absolute, firm and immutable, have paved the way for the new erroneous philosophy which, rivaling idealism, immanentism and pragmatism, has assumed the name of existentialism, since it concerns itself only with existence of individual things and neglects all consideration of their immutable essences.

[36.] For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11] Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

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    Zuma, welcome to Skeptics! This answer takes a single sentence from a secondary source, and then spends a lot of time (redundantly?) analysing it looking for meaning. If you look at @ipavlic's answer, it goes to the original document and quotes extensively so we can see for ourselves what was meant. – Oddthinking Aug 16 '13 at 13:29
  • Your fundamental error is assuming that there is only one 'theory of evolution', and that it is explicitly and unavoidable atheistic. "However, evolutionary theory does not support individual soul was the direct creation of God." In fact there are many different variants of evolutionary theory (read the papers of evolutionists themselves) and most really have nothing to say about the soul at all. While a lot of militant atheists that "regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter" not all theories of evolution hold to that. – DJClayworth Aug 22 '13 at 20:47

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