Pope Francis is back in the headlines for making a progressive statement on behalf of the Catholic Church, something he has quickly become associated with during his short term. Addressing a meeting of the Pontificial Academy of Sciences, an independent body housed in the Vatican and financed largely by the Holy See, Francis said scientific explanations for the world, such as the big bang theory of the origin of the universe and the theory of evolution did not exclude the role of God in creation. “The beginning of the world is not the work of chaos that owes its origin to something else, but it derives directly from a supreme principle that creates out of love,” he said.
This may sound un-Christian to some as the Church once opposed early scientific explanations of the universe that contradicted the account of creation in the Bible, famously condemning the 17th century astronomer Galileo who showed that the earth revolved around the sun. Others may welcome it as yet another case of Francis trying to modernise the views of his traditionally conservative institution. However, the pope’s remarks do not represent a major departure for the Catholic Church.
Though many Christian groups continue to attack scientific explanations of the origin of mankind, the Catholic Church is not one of them for at least half a century and has a long history of supporting scientific theories that run contrary to literal interpretations of scriptures. More recently, it has sought to shed its image as an enemy of science and the pope’s comments largely echoed statements from his predecessors. Pope Pius XII described evolution as a valid scientific approach to the development of humans in 1950 and Pope John Paul reiterated that in 1996. In 2011, the former Pope Benedict said that scientific theories on the origin and development of the universe and humans are not in conflict with faith even though they left many questions unanswered.