On October 27th, Pope Francis gave a speech to the Vatican’s science academy, on the occasion of unveiling a bust of the previous, still living Pope Benedict VXI. In it, after praising Pope Benedict, he talks about evolution briefly, and how the theory is not incompatible with Catholic faith. The entire text is printed below, but these are the relevant parts that were used in virtually all of the extensive English media coverage:
“When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we risk imagining that God was a magician, with such a magic wand as to be able to do everything. However, it was not like that. He created beings and left them to develop according to the internal laws that He gave each one, so that they would develop, and reach their fullness.”
“The Big-Bang, that is placed today at the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine intervention but exacts it. The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”
Even without actually reading the whole context, it’s obvious that he’s not really talking about unguided natural selection. Phrases like “He created beings” and “evolution presupposes the creation of beings” very clearly show that he doesn’t think all life on earth descended from the Last Universal Ancestor through the various mechanisms in the Theory of Evolution, but rather that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause”, which is the very definition of Intelligent Design.
One of the extremely few news sources that picked up on this was CNET, which included this paragraph along with its report:
The pope’s views differ radically from those of some eminent scientists, such as Stephen Hawking. Hawking recently made it clear that he dismisses the idea of God. He said: “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation.”
The other error that should’ve been caught by just by simple common sense is a translation one, which would have had the Pope supposedly say — emphasis added — that “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life.” Now, regardless of anything else, we can surely all agree that the Pope thinks God is a divine being. Him saying otherwise really should raise an alarm, but maybe every reporter thought that now that he’s cool with science, the Pope is coming out of the atheist closet, too.
The actual Italian word translated as “divine being” in that quote is “demiurgo”, which — and this is where the incompetence really becomes obvious — has a very good English translation: demiurge. If you’re not a student of philosophy though, the term probably bears no meaning, so it generally gets translated into “creator”, with a small c. It comes from Plato, and it refers to an imperfect being that did his best to bring order to the chaos that the universe used to be, and who fashioned what we know the universe to be. However, the universe is still flawed because it was made from flawed materials.
Later, in Gnosticism, the term was used for a similar being, except that he was malevolent, and was trying to keep humanity from knowing the true, benevolent God. Thus, everything material was created by the demiurge and was bad, and everything immaterial, or spiritual, was created by God and that’s the world which Gnostics tried to learn about — the term Gnostic meaning “learned person”. Clearly, a person like the Pope — very knowledgeable in philosophy and heretical religions — meant demiurge, and not divine being.
But back to the main issue, about evolution and creation. If there’s any doubt that Pope Francis was actually talking about intelligent design, here’s the entire paragraph of his speech on the matter, in which he says that creation has been going on for millenia until it became what we know it to be, and the world did not arise out of chaos. In other words, evolution has been guided the whole time, and the Big Bang was too.
“You are addressing the highly complex topic of the evolution of the concept of nature. I will not go into it all, you understand well the scientific complexity of this important and decisive question. I only wish to underline that God and Christ walk with us and are present also in nature, as the Apostle Paul affirmed in his address at the Areopagus: “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we risk imagining that God was a magician, with such a magic wand as to be able to do everything. However, it was not like that. He created beings and left them to develop according to the internal laws that He gave each one, so that they would develop, and reach their fullness. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time that He assured them of his continual presence, giving being to every reality. And thus creation went forward for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia until it became what we know today, in fact because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the Creator who gives being to all entities. The beginning of the world was not the work of chaos, which owes its origin to another, but it derives directly from a Supreme Principle who creates out of love. The Big-Bang, that is placed today at the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine intervention but exacts it. The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.”
The entire transcript, in Italian, can be found at the official Vatican News network, and a (correct) English translation can be found at Zenit, a Catholic news agency.
From Zenit and NEWS.VA