Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
This article is a summary of the address of Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (October 22, 1996), as presented by the official Catholic website and my commentary.
After more than a century of struggle with the theory of evolution, as presented by Charles Darwin, the Pope was yielding to the truth contained in the theory.
I believe that the theory of evolution should be understood as three different issues. Firstly, the common ancestry of all animals and plants, secondly, the mechanisms for evolution and thirdly whether evolution is completely blind or guided in some sense. The truth of some facts in evolution does not imply the truth of every thing under the umbrella of evolution. The common ancestry of all animals and plants on our planet is a fact, which is beyond any doubt, for those well versed in the field of biology, especially molecular biology. One needs to have a nuance position about evolution to be perfectly enlightened. The implications that common lineage has for the Creator or lack there of, is metaphysics and not science and for discussing science, we should limit ourselves to discussion of common ancestry.
I have reproduced Pope’s comments precisely, from the official Catholic website, with my comments between his paragraphs. The presentation in the official Catholic website, has been given the title: Truth Cannot Contradict Truth, suggesting that the truth of the book of nature and the truth of the revealed book, they imply the Bible, cannot contradict each other.
By the term “the revealed book,” I imply both the Bible and the Quran.
There are seven segments in the substance of the Encyclical and each one is numbered, in the official website.
In this Encyclical the Pope recognizes the truth in the theory of evolution and tries to reconcile it with the Catholic Church’s history and tradition.
The thrust of my comments is to also recognize the scientific evidence for common ancestry of all life forms and to point out the elephant in the room, which was conveniently ignored by the Pope, namely, the bearing of the theory of evolution on the doctrine of Original Sin.
But, before we proceed with Pope’s comments and my response, a few words about Original Sin.
According to a Christian theological doctrine, original sin, also called ancestral sin, is humanity’s state of sin resulting from the fall of man, stemming from Adam’s rebellion in Eden. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.
The concept of original sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons in his controversy with certain dualist Gnostics. Other church fathers such as Augustine also developed the doctrine, seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalm 51:5. Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose and Ambrosiaster considered that humanity shares in Adam’s sin, transmitted by human generation. Augustine’s formulation of original sin was popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who equated original sin with concupiscence, affirming that it persisted even after baptism and completely destroyed freedom.
I had originally written about this issue, in the Religion and Science section of the Summer 2008 volume of Muslim Sunrise, the oldest Muslim publication of North America, in an article titled, Original Sin, which can be read here online in the Muslim Times.
Without further ado, here is the opening of Pope John Paul II, as he greets the audience.
Pope John Paul II: WITH GREAT PLEASURE I address cordial greeting to you, Mr. President, and to all of you who constitute the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, on the occasion of your plenary assembly. I offer my best wishes in particular to the new academicians, who have come to take part in your work for the first time. I would also like to remember the academicians who died during the past year, whom I commend to the Lord of life.
Zia H Shah MD
Zia Shah: I do not have any high-flying office, secular or religious, but, as the Bible tells us the following:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:3-7)
I am taking the liberty of creating this dialogue between me and the Pope and my response to the opening paragraph is “me too.”
I believe that “Truth,” is far more important than the office or the popularity of the person, who holds the “Truth,” or lack there of. If the reader doubts my claim, I would remind him or her to recall, any number of “degenerate,” so called celebrities, whom he or she does not hold in high esteem and conversely many of your heroes who never had a large following during their life time. William Tyndale was burnt on the stake on 6 October 1536, for translating the Bible into English. A life ending in a death without glory and full of pain, torture and possibly shame. But, lo and behold, his dying prayer was that the King of England’s eyes would be opened; this seemed to find its fulfillment just two years later with King Henry’s authorization of the Great Bible for the Church of England, which was largely Tyndale’s own work. Hence, the Tyndale Bible, as it was known, continued to play a key role in spreading Reformation ideas across the English-speaking world and, eventually, to the British Empire.
Pope John Paul II: 1. In celebrating the 60th anniversary of the academy’s refoundation, I would like to recall the intentions of my predecessor Pius XI, who wished to surround himself with a select group of scholars, relying on them to inform the Holy See in complete freedom about developments in scientific research, and thereby to assist him in his reflections.
He asked those whom he called the Church’s “senatus scientificus” to serve the truth. I again extend this same invitation to you today, certain that we will be able to profit from the fruitfulness of a trustful dialogue between the Church and science (cf. Address to the Academy of Sciences, No. 1, Oct. 28, 1986; L’Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed., Nov. 24, 1986, p. 22).
Zia Shah: Pope John Paul II, has mentioned Pope Pius XI (1922-1939), but, the learned Catholics would also recall that Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), who held the office, just 20 years before John Paul’s ascendancy to the Papacy, had also opined about the theory of evolution, common ancestary and its ramifications.
He had issued an Encyclical Letter, titled, Encyclical Letter Concerning Some False Opinions Which Threaten to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine, on August 12, 1950 .
He accurately understood that if common ancestry be true, as Darwin proposes then Adam and Eve will not be the first human couple. This would mean that not all of us have inherited the Original Sin and that would imply that the idea that Jesus had to die as atonement for the whole of humanity would fall apart.
Pius XII cautioned that he considered the jury still out on the question of evolution’s validity. It should not be accepted, without more evidence, “as though it were a certain proven doctrine.”
The question before us is not only about evolution and the revealed word, but, also as to which of the two popes was “infallible?”
It seems that Pope John Paul II wanted to have both sides of the issue; as he was effectively closing the door that he was reluctantly opening, by stating that no matter what the scientific facts may be, he is keeping his “Original Sin.” Read the clause 37 in Pope Pius XII encyclical:
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 no 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.
Pope Pius XII insisted on a role for Adam, whom he believed committed a sin that mysteriously passed along through the doctrine of Original Sin; that had affected all subsequent generations. He was not going to allow that there are any present day humans that are not the direct descendants of Adam, from 6000 years ago; otherwise he would lose his precious little doctrine of “Original Sin.”
Pope Pius XII left no stone unturned. He also quoted the authority for his clause 37, both from the Bible and the Catholic tradition, by citing, Romans, 5:12-19 and Council of Trent, Session V, canon 1-4.
In the very next clause, which is clause 38 in this Encyclical, Pope Pius XII claims infallibility for the Bible, in slightly subtle terms:
Just as in the biological and anthropological sciences, so also in the historical sciences there are those who boldly transgress the limits and safeguards established by the Church. In a particular way must be deplored a certain too free interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament. Those who favor this system, in order to defend their cause, wrongly refer to the Letter which was sent not long ago to the Archbishop of Paris by the Pontifical Commission on Biblical Studies. This letter, in fact, clearly points out that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, (the Letter points out), in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people. If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents.
As the book of Romans in the New Testament, in chapter 5, preaches the doctrine of Original Sin as well as vicarious atonement, by the suicidal mission of Jesus, there is no going back from the traditional teachings, however strongly the Church may want to now minimize the teaching of Original Sin, since the European Enlightenment. “The doctrine is the prerequisite for the Christian understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion and atonement,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Despite its importance for understanding Jesus’ sacrifice, the doctrine of original sin has been minimized since the European Enlightenment.”
Pope John Paul II: 2. I am pleased with the first theme you have chosen, that of the origins of life and evolution, an essential subject which deeply interests the Church, since revelation, for its part, contains teaching concerning the nature and origins of man. How do the conclusions reached by the various scientific disciplines coincide with those contained in the message of revelation? And if, at first sight, there are apparent contradictions, in what direction do we look for their solution? We know, in fact, that truth cannot contradict truth (cf. Leo XIII, encyclical Providentissimus Deus). Moreover, to shed greater light on historical truth, your research on the Church’s relations with science between the 16th and 18th centuries is of great importance. During this plenary session, you are undertaking a “reflection on science at the dawn of the third millennium,” starting with the identification of the principal problems created by the sciences and which affect humanity’s future. With this step you point the way to solutions which will be beneficial to the whole human community. In the domain of inanimate and animate nature, the evolution of science and its applications give rise to new questions. The better the Church’s knowledge is of their essential aspects, the more she will understand their impact. Consequently, in accordance with her specific mission she will be able to offer criteria for discerning the moral conduct required of all human beings in view of their integral salvation.
Zia Shah: No comments.
Pope John Paul II: 3. Before offering you several reflections that more specifically concern the subject of the origin of life and its evolution, I would like to remind you that the magisterium of the Church has already made pronouncements on these matters within the framework of her own competence. I will cite here two interventions.
In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points.
For my part, when I received those taking part in your academy’s plenary assembly on October 31, 1992, I had the opportunity with regard to Galileo to draw attention to the need of a rigorous hermeneutic for the correct interpretation of the inspired word. It is necessary to determine the proper sense of Scripture, while avoiding any unwarranted interpretations that make it say what it does not intend to say. In order to delineate the field of their own study, the exegete and the theologian must keep informed about the results achieved by the natural sciences (cf. AAS 85 1/81993 3/8, pp. 764-772; address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, April 23, 1993, announcing the document on the The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church: AAS 86 1/81994 3/8, pp. 232-243).
Zia Shah: From where I stand, it seems to me that Pope John Paul II misread Pope Pius XII, as I have shown above that he did think that if Adam were not the father of all of humanity, then the doctrine of Original Sin and atonement did not hold any water.
The reason why the Church ran into difficulty with Galileo and later with Darwin was because the Bible is written by scores of writers, who had no idea about science and what science is going to find. The book of Genesis was written centuries before Jesus, may peace be on him. If Bible were the literal word of All Knowing God, like the Holy Quran, it would have escaped the criticism that has been leveled against it over the centuries, most prominently in our age of information.
Pope John Paul II: 4. Taking into account the state of scientific research at the time as well as of the requirements of theology, the encyclical Humani Generis considered the doctrine of “evolutionism” a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study equal to that of the opposing hypothesis. Pius XII added two methodological conditions: that this opinion should not be adopted as though it were a certain, proven doctrine and as though one could totally prescind from revelation with regard to the questions it raises. He also spelled out the condition on which this opinion would be compatible with the Christian faith, a point to which I will return. Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. [Aujourdhui, près dun demi-siècle après la parution de l’encyclique, de nouvelles connaissances conduisent à reconnaitre dans la théorie de l’évolution plus qu’une hypothèse.] It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.
What is the significance of such a theory? To address this question is to enter the field of epistemology. A theory is a metascientific elaboration, distinct from the results of observation but consistent with them. By means of it a series of independent data and facts can be related and interpreted in a unified explanation. A theory’s validity depends on whether or not it can be verified; it is constantly tested against the facts; wherever it can no longer explain the latter, it shows its limitations and unsuitability. It must then be rethought.
Furthermore, while the formulation of a theory like that of evolution complies with the need for consistency with the observed data, it borrows certain notions from natural philosophy.
And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of theology.
Zia Shah: I agree with the Pope that the common ancestry of all life forms on our planet is an established fact now, which is beyond any doubt, in light of the latest information, coming from several fields of inquiry.
I suggest two articles for those who do not yet know of the merit of scientific evidence in this regard:
Pope John Paul II: 5. The Church’s magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man: Revelation teaches us that he was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:27-29). The conciliar constitution Gaudium et Spes has magnificently explained this doctrine, which is pivotal to Christian thought. It recalled that man is “the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake” (No. 24). In other terms, the human individual cannot be subordinated as a pure means or a pure instrument, either to the species or to society; he has value per se. He is a person. With his intellect and his will, he is capable of forming a relationship of communion, solidarity and self-giving with his peers. St. Thomas observes that man’s likeness to God resides especially in his speculative intellect, for his relationship with the object of his knowledge resembles God’s relationship with what he has created (Summa Theologica I-II:3:5, ad 1). But even more, man is called to enter into a relationship of knowledge and love with God himself, a relationship which will find its complete fulfillment beyond time, in eternity. All the depth and grandeur of this vocation are revealed to us in the mystery of the risen Christ (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22). It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God (“animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei”; “Humani Generis,” 36). Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.
Zia Shah: I agree. Materialism does not explain human soul. On the topic of soul, I suggest a volume of Alislam-eGazette: May 2012 eGazette – Human Soul: The Final Frontier?
However, my focus in this post is not human soul, but, simply the common ancestry of all life forms and as to who was the first man? Were Adam and Eve, living six thousand years ago, the first human couple?
Homo erectus and Homo ergaster were the first of the hominina to leave Africa, and these species spread through Africa, Asia, and Europe between 1.3 to 1.8 million years ago. It is believed that these species were the first to use fire and complex tools. According to the Recent African Ancestry theory, modern humans evolved in Africa possibly from Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis or Homo antecessor and migrated out of the continent some 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, replacing local populations of Homo erectus, Homo denisova, Homo floresiensis and Homo neanderthalensis.
Pope John Paul II: 6. With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry? Consideration of the method used in the various branches of knowledge makes it possible to reconcile two points of view which would seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure the multiple manifestations of life with increasing precision and correlate them with the time line. The moment of transition to the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection, while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator’s plans.
Zia Shah: I agree, the present day humans are not only product of material forces, but, revelation has played a major role historically in getting us where we are. We have a collection of articles in our website, Islam for the West about revelation.
Pope John Paul II: 7. In conclusion, I would like to call to mind a Gospel truth which can shed a higher light on the horizon of your research into the origins and unfolding of living matter. The Bible in fact bears an extraordinary message of life. It gives us a wise vision of life inasmuch as it describes the loftiest forms of existence. This vision guided me in the encyclical which I dedicated to respect for human life, and which I called precisely “Evangelium Vitae.”
It is significant that in St. John’s Gospel life refers to the divine light which Christ communicates to us. We are called to enter into eternal life, that is to say, into the eternity of divine beatitude. To warn us against the serious temptations threatening us, our Lord quotes the great saying of Deuteronomy: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Dt 8:3; cf. Mt 4:4). Even more, “life” is one of the most beautiful titles which the Bible attributes to God. He is the living God.
Zia Shah: Unfortunately, the Pope’s claim, “the Bible in fact bears an extraordinary message of life,” is not precisely true. As thirteen of the twenty seven books of the New Testament, are attributed to St. Paul and gave us a false doctrine of atonement through Jesus’ dying on the cross for our sins.
The falsity of atonement through “suicidal mission” of Jesus is being exposed by the modern day science, especially biology and the Christians may want to ignore the elephant in the room, but, the Muslims cannot let this key issue brushed under the carpet.
The Prophet Adam, who lived approximately 6000 years ago was not the first man and was not the forefather of all us alive today. This is what the theory of evolution means for me and should mean for every thinking person, especially for those who are not obsessed with the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Today, as the well informed Muslims, the scientists and the atheists keep pushing the facts about evolution and the natural ramifications and implications of the theory, the Christians will finally awaken to the fullest consequences of the facts of evolution, they will stop going unknowingly on their way. They will give up the irrational parts of their faith, namely, Trinity, Original Sin and Atonement. One can hope and expect a big exodus in this century of free information. One can hope and pray that as they find the fundamental beliefs of Christianity counter to their rationality they will increasingly become Muslims. The older Christians are too set in their ways and they cannot change. But the 18-29 year olds, who are presently religiously unaffiliated who are comfortable voting in political life across the racial and gender lines will be open to study Islam and will find that the linking of the faith of the Muslims to violence was after all only propaganda, the last ploy against Islam! The less fortunate ones will give up even the rational parts of their Christian faith, namely God the Father, His revelations over the millennia, their influence on human history, His Moral code and His consolation in the time of need and horror and slip into the atheistic camp.
Once we clean, Christianity of the false doctrines of Trinity, Original Sin, Atonement, and Monasticism introduced by St. Paul and St. Augustine then what remains is purely a true subset of Islam.
What wonderful news for bringing more than 3 billion people, Muslims and Christians, almost half the world population together!
An increasing number of Americans are realizing that the Bible is not the literal word of God: Americans No Longer Believe the Bible to be Literal Word of God.
It is only for the, Divinely revealed,[i] [ii] historically preserved[iii] and scientifically accurate[iv] [v] Quran that the compliment can be extended, ‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth!’ The Holy Quran says about itself that had it been from anyone other than Allah they would surely have found therein much contradiction.[vi] It is only the precisely recorded and properly understood words of All Knowing God that are free of contradictions and misinformation and are fully in keeping with His ‘works’ which are studied in science.[vii]
Pope John Paul II: I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings upon you and upon all who are close to you.
Zia Shah: Me too.
[vi] The Holy Quran 4:83.
[vii] The Holy Quran 30:31.