Editorial: The Pope, the Press, and Evolution
When the media seized on John Paul II's statement, they not only missed his main point, they missed a wider story.
January 6, 1997
What a year was 1996 for the discussion of evolution, with the publication of several key books, the inaugural meeting of an energetic new group of critics, a lively debate in the thought journal Commentary, and headlines created by the pope.
On October 22, John Paul II sent greetings to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, "the Church's scientific senate." His message was reported in the general press as "Pope accepts evolution" as if it were "Church finally accepts heliocentrism." Phew. What a relief.
The pope's message was no such thing. Papal teaching had previously accepted the idea of the descent of all life forms from common ancestry. John Paul II was largely reiterating in a much less formal manner Pius XII's understanding and reminding the scientists that if they were to be faithful Christians there were limits beyond which their science could not take them. Those limits were theological: no theory of evolution was acceptable that was purely materialistic and that did not recognize the direct divine origin of the human soul.
Having laid down those limits, the pope encouraged the scientists to follow where their researches led them. Truth cannot contradict truth, he said.
Some structures, like the modern city, are complex simply because they have lots of parts, but rearranging or removing certain parts does not reduce the structure's essential function. Other structures, like the bloodclotting mechanism, the human eye, or a bacterium's flagellum, consist of a host of parts all of which are necessary and which must be arranged in one and only one way for the structure to work. Such structures cannot come together the way standard evolutionary theory says they do, by a gradual accretion of minor structural changes. ...