Fri, 25 Oct 1996 11:12:57 -0400

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Date: 96-10-24 21:02:35 EDT

Pope accepts theory of evolution

VATICAN CITY, Oct 24 (Reuter) - Pope John Paul has lent his support to the
theory of evolution, proclaiming it compatible with Christian faith in a
step welcomed by scientists but likely to raise howls from the religious

The Pope's recognition that evolution is ``more than just a theory'' came in
a written message he sent on Wednesday to a meeting of the Pontifical
Academy of Sciences, a body of experts that advises the Roman Catholic
Church on scientific issues.

It broke new ground by acknowledging that the theory of the physical
evolution of man and other species through natural selection and hereditary
adaptation appeared to be valid.

Though the Pope made clear he regarded the human soul as of immediate divine
creation, and so not subject to the process, his remarks brought banner
headlines in the Italian press.

``Pope says we may descend from monkeys,'' the conservative newspaper Il
Giornale said on its front page. La Repubblica said the Pope had ``made
peace with Darwin.''

The theory of evolution, most notably expounded by 19th century English
naturalist Charles Darwin, had until now been viewed by the Catholic Church
as serious and worthy of discussion but still an open question.

``It is indeed remarkable that this theory has progressively taken root in
the minds of researchers following a series of discoveries made in different
spheres of knowledge,'' the Pope said.

``The convergence, neither sought nor provoked, of results of studies
undertaken independently from each other constitutes in itself a significant
argument in favour of this theory.''

The theories of Darwin and other evolutionists about man's origins were for
long anathema to theologians, who saw a conflict with the biblical account
of creation in the Book of Genesis and the story of Adam and Eve in the
Garden of Eden.

Most theologians no longer believe that the doctrine that God created the
world and made man in his own image and the theory of evolution stand in
each other's way.

Fundamentalist Christians who take a literal approach to Genesis, known as
``creationists,'' have however recently reopened the controversy, especially
in the southern United States.

In Tennessee, where teacher John Scopes was famously fined $100 by a court
in 1925 for teaching evolution in his classroom in what became known as the
Monkey Trial, a bill that would have banned teaching evolution as fact was
only narrowly voted down in the state legislature earlier this year.

The Vatican's first substantive response to the theories of evolution was
contained in an encyclical, Humani Generis, written in 1950 by the late Pope
Pius XII.

It cited no objection to discussing evolution while cautioning that the
theory played into the hands of communists eager to cut God out of the

Pope John Paul has previously endorsed the 1950 document. He said on
Wednesday that its essential point was that ``if the human body has its
origin in living material which pre-exists it, the spiritual soul is
immediately created by God.''

But he also said: ``Today, nearly half a century after appearance of the
encyclical, fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution
as more than just a hypothesis.''

The Pope's acknowledgement was welcomed as a significant advance by
scientists, even though some said it had come late.

``It will allow many Catholic scientists, who have been engaged for some
time in research on human evolution, to continue their work without any
censure or difficulty,'' said Francesco Barone, a leading Italian scientific

Posted Thursday, October 24 1996 06:49.
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