Pope Francis gives evolution the thumbs up, but still avows creationism

October 29, 2014 • 6:59 am

A famous anecdote from 19th century New England involves Margaret Fuller, an early feminist and ardent exponent of the spiritual movement of transcendentalism. Besotted by her emotions, she once blurted out, “I accept the universe!”  When he heard of this, the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle remarked dryly, “Gad—she’d better.”

While the story may be apocryphal, if you replace Fuller with Pope Francis and “the universe” with “evolution,” then Carlyle’s feelings are identical to mine. For, according to many media outlets (for example, here, here, and here), Pope Francis has just declared that he accepts the fact of evolution.

Gad, he’d better.  Evolution has been an accepted scientific fact since about 1870, roughly a decade after the theory was proposed by Darwin in 1859. And there are mountains of evidence supporting it, as documented in my book Why Evolution is True, and no evidence for the religious alternative of divine creation.  As Pope Francis tries to nudge his Church into modernity, it wouldn’t look good if he espoused creationism.

But if you parse Francis’s words yesterday, spoken as he unveiled a bust of his predecessor Benedict XVI, you’ll find that tinges of creationism remain. In fact, the Vatican’s official stance on evolution is explicitly unscientific: a combination of modern evolutionary theory and Biblical special creationism. The Church hasn’t yet entered the world of modern science.

The recent history of Catholicism and evolution is spotty. Pope Pius XII claimed that evolution might indeed be true, but insisted that humans were a special exception since they had been bestowed by God with souls, a feature present in no other species.  There was further human exceptionalism: Adam and Eve were seen as the historical and literal ancestors of all humanity.

Both of these features fly in the face of science. We have no evidence for souls, as biologists see our species as simply the product of naturalistic evolution from earlier species. (And when, by the way, are souls supposed to have entered our lineage? Did Homo erectus have them?). Further, evolutionary genetics has conclusively demonstrated that we never had only two ancestors: if you back-calculate from the amount of genetic variation present in our species today, the minimum population size of humans within the last million years is about twelve thousand.  The notion of Adam and Eve as the sole and historical ancestors of modern humans is simply a fiction—one that the Church still maintains, but that other Christians are busy, as is their wont, trying to convert into a metaphor.

Pope John Paul II was a bit stronger in his support of evolution, yet still insisted that the human “spirit” could not have resulted from evolution, but was vouchsafed by God.

Pope Benedict was more equivocal, occasionally flirting with intelligent design and claiming that evolution was “not completely provable” because it couldn’t be completely reproduced in the laboratory.  (The Pontiff apparently didn’t see that there is plenty of historical evidence for evolution, like the fossil record and the existence of nonfunctional genes in our DNA that were useful in our ancestors.) Showing his misunderstanding of evolution (which is not a process involving chance alone, but a combination of random mutations and deterministic natural selection), Benedict also claimed that “The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe. . .Contemplating it, we are invited to read something profound into it: the wisdom of the creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God.”

The Church’s support of evolution, then, has been equivocal: while allowing that humans had evolved, it also affirmed human exceptionalism in the form of our unique soul. And the historical doctrine of Adam and Eve is profoundly unscientific, for we could not have descended from only two people, something that itself implies special creation. The Vatican, in other words, embraces a view of evolution that is partly scientific but also partly “theistic,” reflecting God’s intervention to produce a species made in His own image.

But Francis is seen as a reformer, beloved even by atheists for his supposedly progressive views on issues like homosexuality—a stance that has yet to be converted to Church doctrine. Did Francis’s words on Monday also signal a change in the Church’s view of evolution? Not a bit. Here’s the gist of what he said (see also here):

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. . .

“He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fullfilment. . .

“The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it. . .

“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life. . .

“Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

This is simply the Church’s traditional view of non-naturalistic, theistic evolution,  expressed in words that sound good, but that still reflect a form of creationism.

Let’s start with the Big Bang, which, said Francis, requires the intervention of God.  I’m pretty sure physicists haven’t put that factor into their equations yet, nor have I heard any physicists arguing that God was an essential factor in the beginning of the universe. We know now that the universe could have originated from “nothing” through purely physical processes—if you see “nothing” as the “quantum vacuum” of empty space. Some physicists also think that there are multiple universes, each with a separate, naturalistic origin. Francis’s claim that the Big Bang required God is simply an unsupported speculation based on outmoded theological arguments that God was the First Cause of Everything.

As for evolution “requiring the creation of being that evolve,” note that the word “creation” is still in there. But what Francis is saying here is a bit ambiguous. It’s not clear whether that “creation” was simply God’s creation of the Universe through the Big Bang, which then went on to produce Earth, life, and humans through purely naturalistic processes. Alternatively, perhaps Francis meant that God created the first living form itself which then, according to His plan, evolved naturalistically, giving rise to humans and other species. Or perhaps Francis even meant that the human lineage itself was specially created (“He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws. . . “).

What is clear is that creationism of some sort is still an essential part of Francis’s view of life.  Although the media, intoxicated by a supposedly “modern” Pope, is all excited about what Francis said, his views on evolution don’t differ in substance from that of his recent predecessors.  As usual, Francis appears to be a voice for modernity but still clings to old dogma.

What surprises me most, though, is the claim that “God is not a divine being or a magician.” If God is not a divine being, why is Francis calling him a “divine creator”? Well, perhaps the Pope misspoke on that one. But in truth, the Catholic view of God is indeed one of an ethereal magician. What else but magic could create souls on the spot, both during the course of human evolution and during the development of each human being?

Let us face facts: evolution that is guided by God or planned by God is not a scientific view of evolution. Nor is evolution that makes humans unique by virtue of an indefinable soul, or the possession of only a single pair of individual ancestors in our evolutionary history. The Vatican’s view of evolution is in fact a bastard offspring of Biblical creationism and modern evolutionary theory. And even many of Francis’s own flock don’t buy it: 27% of American Catholics completely reject evolution in favor of special creation.

The Catholic Church is in a tough spot, straddling an equipoise between modern science and antiscientific medieval theology. When it jettisons the idea of the soul and of God’s intervention in the Big Bang and human evolution, and abandons the claim that Adam and Eve are our historical ancestors, then Catholicism will be compatible with evolution. But then it would not be Catholicism.


176 thoughts on “Pope Francis gives evolution the thumbs up, but still avows creationism

  1. Creationism has to remain as a core belief of RCC Inc. What they sell relies on it. If no creation then no Adamandeve; then no fall; then no redemption and JC; then no RCC Inc needed. Pope Francis isn’t going to destroy the business by stating that the whole foundation of it is a crock and O we’re very sorry we’ve been lying for two thousand years and no you can’t have your money back….

    1. Oh, they’ll just adapt like they always do. I mean, if they can get around, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled,” there’s not a whole lot they can’t accommodate.

      Personally, when I was growing up as a Catholic accepting of evolution, I never took the Adam & Eve Original Sin & Fall as a literal event – it was representative of the sinful nature of people. Jesus didn’t forgive Original Sin. We were all unworthy, anyway, so Jesus forgave our sins. Per Wikipedia, “The formalized doctrine of original sin was first developed in the 2nd-century…”, so it wasn’t even a part of the original form of Christianity.

      Given that many rank and file Catholics already do so, I’m sure the Catholic Church will be able to adapt to recognizing Adam and Eve as metaphorical.

      Or, if it ever gets to the point where the Church becomes irrelevant and a fringe movement, they might just shift towards fundamentalism instead.

      1. Per Wikipedia, “The formalized doctrine of original sin was first developed in the 2nd-century…”, so it wasn’t even a part of the original form of Christianity.

        Actually…Christianity itself dates to well before Paul (plausibly centuries, depending on how you define it), and has no clearly-demarcated origins, and went through rapid evolution from the first century through the third century. Most of what we today identify as Christianity has its origins in the second century — and that most emphatically includes the disparate well-known-today biographies of Jesus. Original sin, despite its second century origins, has every bit as much claim to being original Christianity as the Virgin Birth or the Sermon on the Mount or the Ascension.



      2. Yes, religion is nothing if not plastic.

        For instance, Mormons officially made Original Sin an unnecessary doctrine by claiming Jesus suffered for the sins we all ineluctably commit as imperfect humans, just as you describe.

        But I still think Chris is correct that today’s major faiths can’t jettison creationism. Even if they concede that god doesn’t “guide” evolution, they’re still bound to the claim that the reason there’s a universe in which evolution can unfold in the first place is because god created it.

        1. That’s what I think too. Once you accept evolutionary theory, there’s really no way around the logic that no god is necessary. Once you realize that the leap that there is no god at all is a small one. Probably why biologists have the highest percentage of atheists in their profession.

          1. That logic is not necessarily conclusive. Evolution != abiogenesis. There is a heap of evidence for evolution and the whole mechanism has been thoroughly explained in detail. I don’t think evolutionary theory attempts to explain abiogenesis.

            That said, I do remember the feeling of intellectual satisfaction when I read Dawkins’ Blind Watchmaker and realised God just became a lot less necessary…

          2. “Evolution != abiogenesis”

            I think this framing, while traditional, is over simplistic and leaves unnecessary room for spiritual nonsense. The processes by which we get “life” from “non-life” may not yet be well understood, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t purely natural physical processes that occur given time, appropriate non-living materials, and specific sorts of conditions.

          3. “that doesn’t mean that they aren’t purely natural physical processes”
            Exactly. And the work that has been done so far might be considered circumstantial or suggestive. But the likelihood of physical processes being the source is astronomically higher than the magician-with-a-wand alternative.

          4. Once you have chemical replicators, evolution can start.

            Once you have chemical replicators, evolution has already started so it doesn’t matter how you define life.

          5. ‘The processes by which we get “life” from “non-life” may not yet be well understood’

            That was really my point. Whereas the mechanisms of evolution are extremely well understood.

            However I’ve just realised it depends which way one reads Heather’s statement. “Once you accept evolutionary theory, there’s really no way around the logic that no god is necessary [for evolution]” – I can’t quibble with that. “no god is necessary [for anything]” which is the way I took it, is a non sequitur.

            Personally I don’t think Goddidit, or exists, but I’m not aware that any mechanism of abiogenesis has been sufficiently well described for us to say ‘that’s what happened beyond doubt’, and we may never be able to. (But I’m not a biologist).

          6. There have been biologists that have claimed homologies between geophysical systems and modern cells. (Such as having compartments with membranes and the same pH differential in size and direction).

            It is arguable naturally, but we could claim “evolution all the way” and that we roughly know the lineage that resulted in the LUCA.

  2. The Catholic Church is in a tough spot, straddling an equipoise between modern science and antiscientific medieval theology.

    Maybe not. IIRC they have a get out free card in the doctrine of Natural Law. It’s a kind of intellectual spackle that you can use to fill in the cracks and holes in your argument. Mostly it’s used to mould plaster links in chains of inference or even, in skilled hands, to shape evidence to fit your need.

    1. All churches are in a tough spot. Science is growing. It is the only permanent enclave for progress of any kind. The cracks left for all religions are shrinking, not because of anything pernicious, but simply because science works.

      1. I think that one of the especially worrying aspects of the scientifically shrinking God-of-the-Gap gap is that believers are responding by increasingly emphasizing God’s all-encompassing importance to morality, beauty, love, and joy. As nonbelievers, this is going in a very bad direction for us.

  3. It’s nice to see the vAtican taking a logical statement on this subject. Science and faith can work together when accepting the probabilities of subjective (faith, myth,) and objective science. Dr dan

    Sent from my iPhone


      1. Yes, and even if the Vatican doesn’t do a clean up job, a group of conservative bishops etc will get together and protest his statement. The conservatives in the Church are absolutely petrified of Pope Francis.

  4. To add to Jerry’s account, also note parts of the speech not in the links Jerry gives, such as:

    “He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time at which he assured them of his continuous presence, giving being to every reality. And so creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, …”.

    Note the timescales there! The “gave autonomy to” is presumably a reference to giving humans souls, which occurs “at the same time at which he assured them of his continuous presence”, which implies an interaction with the humans — all very reminiscent of Genesis both in flavour and timescale.

    1. That passage bothers me for another reason. Since God has “assured” all beings of his continuous presence, this seems to either remove atheists from the category of “autonomous beings of the universe” or — more likely — frames us as perverse.

      1. Or deluded/stubbourn. Believers think we just can’t hear god like everyone else. It’s ironic that we call them deluded for factual reasons and they call us deluded (but for emotional reasons).

          1. There are many videos shared amongst us so often that Jerry might want to add links to them in the sidebar ……this, homeopathic A&E, “there is no god” melon, Tim Minchin’s pope song and “Storm”, …


          2. And a friend reminded me of this song when I was discussing with him how best to get away from another friend who is kind of a bad person but to do so without burning bridges. This song is about women ending relationships with men badly but the concept of the “fade away” can apply to friendships too.

          3. A Salk reference too! I love how they intersperse references like that with pop references like the Back to the Future family.

    2. giving being to every reality

      So the Pope endorses Everettian quantum mechanics (aka Many Worlds). Next we’ll learn he applies Bayesian theory to Church policy.

      1. How does that work? Given the prior probability that the cracker is actually Jesus, it is likely that the blood is also wine?

        I’d like to see the Bayesian probability of Church attendance increasing if the incense were pot and the wine were a well-aged single malt. That may just motivate me to go back.

  5. Whenever I read the declarations of a The Man In The Silly Hat, especially as it concerns science, I experience a slight rise in my joy; the relief that I have no obligated to take anything he says seriously.

    Unlike an unfortunate other billion people in the world.

    1. (Ack! Above was meant to be…)

      Whenever I read the declarations of The Man In The Silly Hat, especially as it concerns science, I experience a slight rise in my joy; the relief that I have no obligation to take anything he says seriously.

      Unlike an unfortunate other billion people in the world.

      1. You should learn to pray while writing – Jesus will help keep you error free.

        Except he’s not a magician and has no direct effect on your life at all, and it’s all pre-ordained and part of his plan, so pray hard but don’t expect the answer to be “yes” unless that’s what he’s already decided. Or something like that.

  6. “Besotted by her emotions, she once blurted out, “I accept the universe!””

    I don’t have much patience with those who wallow in their emotions….if your feelings have true significance, then show me something through your behavior. Very often, those who profess a great love for all mankind don’t seem to love any specific individual very much.

    1. I’m ambivalent on mankind. On the one hand, I think that we exist is terrific. But, on the other hand most of us I despicable. Look at the election debates going on now. It seems millions of us are on the verge of putting republicans in charge of the Senate. It’s enough to douse any glimmer of faith.

        1. It seems to be high here in Wisconsin, too. I went down to early-vote about 10AM this morning and the place was very busy.

          1. Yeah but he’s sick right now. How much time is he going to have to devote to being a councillor when he is battling cancer? I feel bad for the guy in this respect.

          2. I do feel sorry for him in terms of his cancer, but probably also relieved that he won’t be spending much time on Council. Feel sorrier for my Etobicoke friends…

    2. Those who profess a great love for all mankind, or as is also common, all creation, are imo pretty confused. They want to operate under the notion that “it’s all good”, when it is most emphatically not all good.

      It’s a cop out. An excuse not to think critically.

  7. francis’ equivocation on these matters (cosmology, evolution, homosexuality) is all a cynical pr stunt to lure back catholics who have fled because of the archaic teachings.

  8. Meet the new Poop, same as the old Poop.

    “[God] created humans” is straight-up old-skool Inelegant Design. God wanted humans and they couldn’t possibly have evolved, so he created them — just as he created the bacterial flagellum.

    What I do give the Poop credit for is a superlative sales snow job. Here he is, spouting the exact same bullshit as Behe…yet he’s getting the press to swoon over his love of Darwin. Brilliant! Simply brilliant, all the way ’round.


    1. I somewhat disagree. I think claiming that his comment about ‘creating humans’ is an endorsement of ID creationism is to take it out of context. Francis seems to be walking back from Benedict’s pro-ID position, reaffirming Pius XII and JPII’s acceptance of human evolution + ensoullation.

      Its certainly not ideal, but there’s no reason to paint him as a special creationist when he isn’t. He’s obviously opposed to the idea of ‘poof! There’s the human’

      1. “He’s obviously opposed to the idea of ‘poof! There’s the human’”

        Well, no. These guys are trying to have it both ways. They want to avoid being ridiculed for being obvious dolts, but they also want to hold on to the idea that God Did It. They still go with “poof”, but pretend that poofing souls (which they think makes humans special) is compatible with science. It isn’t. It is still magic-wand stuff.

        1. Yes, exactly. And with an heaping bucketful of needing to make sure that humans took the form they have because we’re YHWH’s mirror image.

          As I wrote, exactly what the IDiot Design floggers have been flogging since day one.


      2. I see a couple of possibilities here:

        1) The Pope isn’t up-to-date with the science and models that show an eternal Universe; or

        2) He knows about these models but knows the current state of science in being unable to empirically get behind the Big Bang. So maybe he thinks that it is “beyond the grasp of science” which is certainly a mistake religions have repeatedly made in the past.

        As far as Evolution, I agree with you, he’s definitely walking back Benedict’s statements. It would be nice to see some journalists ask some more probing questions though, especially in the areas where the Pope is ambiguous such as, “Evolution requires the creation of life.” Instead, the media rather incessantly osculate the Pope’s rump.

        1. Another possibility:
          3) He knows about these models but knows the current state of the Church in being unable to turn on a dime tries to split the difference hoping later to accept the scientific mindset and drop the whole religious nonsense line. When he retires he will start an atheist blog (well, no…not that).

          1. I’ll consider this a possibility. Not a highly probable one, but at least several hundred orders of magnitude higher that the possibility that dead Jesus jumped up out of his tomb, rolled away a stone and then opened all the graves of Jerusalem in what can only be interpreted as an obvious prophecy about The Walking Dead. The Bible is for realz!

  9. the Vatican’s official stance on evolution is explicitly unscientific: a combination of modern evolutionary theory and Biblical special creationism. The Church hasn’t yet entered the world of modern science.

    To be somewhat fair, the no-genetic-bottleneck and LCA findings are relatively recent – from about the past ten years or so, I’d guess. Yes, the church should accept those findings. But in terms of ignoring-science mistakes, being ten years behind the curve is a much smaller idiocy than being 100+ years behind, which is where they were in 1949 (the papel encyclical acknowledging evolution was published in 1950).

    Given the past, near-glacial rate at which the RCC has changed doctrine to align with known science (be it Darwins or Galileos), I think that if Francis changes the RCC’s doctrine on A&E during his tenure, I’ll consider that a win, and a relatively fast win at that.

    1. But, are they supposed to change? I thought they had it all wrapped up long ago. No?
      If not, then what are we paying them for?

      1. I thought the Catholic church had always taken the view that it was its job to interpret Holy Writ in the light of worldly circumstances. And I’m sure the RCC isn’t one monolithic mass (no pun intended), it will have its fascists and its liberals, its progressives and its reactionaries which the Pope has to take into account.

        Anyway, as regards evolution, they’re an order of magnitude better than USAnian education-squelching fundagelicals. Pity they’re not so enlightened on contraception & abortion.
        … as they are on evolution, I mean.

        1. “it was its job to interpret Holy Writ in the light of worldly circumstances.”

          Oh, I get it. Sorta like reading entrails on a need-to-know basis.

          1. Yeah. I’d sooner have a bunch of entrail-readers who are OK with science than a bunch of fundies or ISIS who want to destroy it.

          2. Where did I say there were only 2 options?

            I’ll give the RCC a pass on evolution because, ranking all organisations from ‘evolution-friendly’ to ‘evolution-hostile’, the RCC is probably well towards the ‘friendly’ end of the rankings. They could do better but, considering what else is around, they’re not too bad.

            I won’t give ’em a pass on contraception/abortion/euthanasia though.

          3. Two options are implied by your phrasing, I’d say.

            And why your desire to “give them a pass”? Should a burglar be given a pass because he took the silverware but left your favorite painting behind?

            The RCC position on evolution is intentionally ambiguous. It is designed to give intellectual cover to people who use exorcism to drive out demons. It is obfuscation. It is not something that should be “given a pass”, IMO.

          4. I don’t think I implied there were only two options. I contrasted two examples (well, three, actually, the RCC, USAnian fundagelicals, and ISIS which I rather sloppily used as a shortcut for fundie Muslims), obviously there are hundreds of other organisations with opinions on evolution.

            However, your phrasing frequently takes everything to extremes, as in this case. Black and white. Right or wrong. I think the world is far more complex than that. Certainly evolution teaching in USA schools is under far less threat from the RCC than it is from fundagelicals.

            When you find anybody who is sufficiently squeaky-clean to be given a pass in your estimation, please let us know who it is.

          5. There is irony in a person who insists on the shadings of gray simultaneously assuming the position of the arbiter of pass-giving, a process that partitions the grayness.

            I have no problem recognizing shades of gray. Nor do I have a problem recognizing that if theologians are expert at anything it is obfuscation. And obfuscation, not understanding, is the purpose of the RCC version of evolution. When you “give them a pass” you are accepting obscuration. Squeaky cleanliness really has little to do what the argument.

  10. “The Catholic Church is in a tough spot, straddling an equipoise between modern science and antiscientific medieval theology.”

    This is why the Pope’s comments read as word salad.

  11. As far as the “not a divine being” remark goes, that’s a translation problem:

    “God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” the pope said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

    Updated: “Demiurge,” the manual laborer who created the physical world in Plato’s origin myth, was translated in some accounts as “divine being.”

    In Italian, he did say ‘demiurgo’. ‘Demiurge’ not being a common word in English, some people have used a description rather than a precise translation.

    The thing about Plato’s (and gnosticism’s) ‘Demiurge’ is that it’s a being that fashions the universe (or world – this is back in geocentric times) from material that already exists (Gnostics thought there was a higher god above that of the bible; the one in the bible was taking too much credit, from their point of view).

    By saying his god is not a demiurge, he’s sticking to standard Catholic doctrine that their god is eternal, and created the universe from nothing.

  12. I still have an issue with what he said as he, and here I am paraphrasing, called on Catholics to BELIEVE in evolution and the Big Bang Theory. This I have a problem with as one can only believe in fairy tales, or believe in religion. Science is about fact. Facts you either accept or disprove; there is no belief. By calling on Catholics to ‘believe’ he is, maybe unknowingly, diminishing science and sciences accomplishments.

      1. To be fair, most science fiction authors and fans are pretty careful about identifying the lines between known reality, plausible possibility, and flat-out make-believe. It’s kinda the whole point of the genre….


    1. I think you’re splitting hairs over a word. You can certainly believe true facts. I believe Brazil exists because maps and news stories say so. I’m not going to refuse to believe in Brazil unless I get on a plane and fly there for myself.

      In fact most things I know I ‘believe’ because I read them in a book and there’s sufficient other evidence to persuade me my ‘belief’ is factually correct. If I wiped my brain of everything I know through ‘belief’ then I’d be left with next to nothing.

      So for Catholics it’s a lot better for them to ‘believe’ in evolution than in something false (and it’s almost certainly better for evolution education too, given the size and influence of the RCC).

  13. I’d like to see a journalist actually do his or her job and press the Pope to elaborate on these statements. At what point were humans endowed with souls? Is Adam an analogy or is he just a mystery like the transmission of original sin? Or, is Adam himself a metaphor for an analogy for a mystery? These questions are tough, but easily prone to answers that consist of bullshit. Maybe a more direct question that would be tougher to wiggle out of is to ask the Pope what is scientifically wrong with the many theories that propose an eternal Universe? God may not be a magician, but Francis certainly is adept at pulling rabbits out of his hat.

    1. The current RCC doctrine dates from 1950 and it’s that Adam is not an analogy. There were really two literal human (or proto-human) ancestors that got ensoulled, and we are all literal, biological descendants of those two. AFAIK Francis has not repudiated that, so for now it stands.

      As JAC says, this is a claim the RCC is going to have to abandon before it can be truly consistent with our modern undertanding of evolution. Right now it’s consistent with on some things, but not on others.

      1. But where did they get the first version if not directly from God Himself? Then the want to change it? Makes God seem like the wizard behind the theater curtain.

      2. Yeah, I’ve read the statements from 1950. I didn’t dig into it much right now, but that link I put in the above post to the Catechism is different from what I remember it being maybe a year or so ago when I looked this stuff up. They still specifically mention Adam, but now there’s “analogy” and “mystery” thrown in there. I swear I remember a section of the Catechism clarifying that there was a real primeval event and Catholics are bound to believe it. I don’t see that wording anymore…

        Odd for an Institution with a “grip on the unchanging Truth-with-a-capital-T.” I still want to hold some slim hope that one day Francis will just say the jig is up and we should focus on humanity, not medieval hocus pocus…but given the incredible assets backing the corrupt institution, it’s more of a pipe dream.

      3. The RCC position on Adam and Eve (as you’ve explained it) is not actually inconsistent with the no-genetic-bottleneck findings. All the RCC position entails is that we can all count Adam and Eve as being among our ancestors. But it’s possible that thousands of Adam and Eve’s contemporaries are also among our ancestors.

        The fact that mitochondrial “Eve” and Y-chromsome “Adam” lived at different times doesn’t contradict RCC findings either. For instance, if we assume that mitochondrial Eve is the same individual as Christian Eve, it’s possible that she mated with only one human male, who is therefore a common ancestor of all of us. He just isn’t the most recent common male ancestor of all of us.

        I’m fully aware, by the way, that the RCC position is silly, unsupported by evidence, and something we should give no credence to – I just don’t see what genetic evidence contradicts it; in fact, I can’t think of genetic evidence that could contradict it, although perhaps that’s my failure of imagination.

        1. …I’m also aware I could be missing something here – anyone willing to tell me what it is, I’d be grateful.

        2. The RCC position is that Adam and Eve were are ONLY ancestors: that they alone produced all of humanity. There were NO OTHER PEOPLE who were are ancestors. That’s the RCC position. Further, the Bible doesn’t mention any other people around. Of course there’s the matter of Cain’s wife, but most Christians argue that she, too, must have been a descendant of Adam (see here, for instance).

          1. Some interesting quotes from the site you linked to:

            “[Jesus] became the new head, and, because he was sinless, He was able to pay the penalty for sin.” ehh?

            “Unfortunately, genes today contain many mistakes (because of sin and the Curse)

            “The more distantly related parents are, the more likely it is that they will have different mistakes in their genes. Children, inheriting one set of genes from each parent, are likely to end up with pairs of genes containing a maximum of one bad gene in each pair. The good gene tends to override the bad so that a deformity (a serious one, anyway) does not occur. Instead of having totally deformed ears, for instance, a person may only have crooked ones! (Overall, though, the human race is slowly degenerating as mistakes accumulate, generation after generation.)


          2. Whoever wrote that should be sued.

            So, anyone born with infirmities is a mistake-laden degenerate as well. Nice plan-o’-God, that.

          3. This makes me wonder why the RCC doesn’t adopt the position I thought they held (based on my probably misreading of Eric’s post): two humans got ensoulled, tehse were Adam and Eve, we’re all descended from them, but we may be descended from others as well. It doesn’t really fit in with Genesis; but then, no acceptance of evolution does.

  14. More in popeness this week:

    Pope Francis praises exorcists for combating ‘the Devil’s works’

    Pope Francis has told a convention of exorcists from around the world that they are doing sterling service in combating “the Devil’s works”, as the Catholic Church warned of a rise in Satanism and the occult.

    The Pope, who frequently cites the fight against Satan in his sermons, said that exorcists needed to show “the love and welcome of the Church for those possessed by evil”. By treating people who were possessed, priests could demonstrate that “the Church welcomes those suffering from the Devil’s works,” he said in a message to a conference organised in Rome by the International Association of Exorcists.


    Halloween really IS evil, says Vatican, and should be replaced with HOLYWEEN so children can dress up as saints and pray

    Father Aldo Buonaiuto, of the International Association of Exorcists, which met in Rome at the weekend, said that a spike in demonic possessions in October is down to the phenomenon of Halloween.

    The organisation’s emergency number receives hundreds of calls over this period, around 40 a day, especially from parents who fear that their child has been initiated into the occult, he said.

    He said: ‘Many say Halloween is a simple carnival, but in fact there is nothing innocent or fun about it – it is the antechamber to something much more dangerous.

    ‘There are always more evil rituals, animal sacrifices, desecrations of cemeteries and thefts of sacred bones at the time of the 31 October.

    Participating in Halloween is ‘like an initiation into the occult’, he said.


    Sorry about the sources, and they may, of course, have misreported things. But it looks pretty much like literal possession by evil spirits is the official Vatican line.

    1. OK. So did evil spirits evolve? Or does that old magic wand we were told about years and several popes ago actually exist? I would hope the pope would try to be consistent. I must not be praying enough.

    2. In the UK the standard emergency number is 999. I presume that the emergency number for International Association of Exorcists is 666.

      I can’t keep a straight face thinking that such an organisation even exists – are you sure it’s not a Poe? I used to go to sales conventions, and am left wondering what goes on at the conventions of the IAE.

      1. Ah, 999 is only /one/ of the standard numbers here; 112 is standard across the EU. As a police spokesmen (allegedly) said when it was introduced, you can now make a 999 call anywhere in Europe by dialling 112.

        And isn’t 666 Hank McCoy’s number?


        1. I always found it weird that at least Europe used 999 when there were dial phones. It took so much longer than 911. Wonder why there wasn’t 111?

          1. There’s a hilarious British TV comedy series called The I.T. Crowd with Richard Ayoade (sp? – Nigerian-Norwegian Brit) and Chris O’Dowd. At one point the new emergency phone # becomes so long noone can remember it, so they email the fire dept!! (and the fire dept arrives in a timely fashion)


            (see if this works..)

          2. and how he put the burning fire extinguisher next to the original fire. Those guys are a hoot! I saw Richard A. live at TIFF where he was directing The Double last year. He’s really quite attractive when he doesn’t have the nerdy hair and high-waisted cords…He and O’Dowd play such perfect geeks.

          3. Yes he is attractive without the weird hair. I remember how there was one scene with him running with a knapsack like a kid and it was so funny just because of his expression.

          4. The reason for 999 in UK (I read somewhere) is that the ‘9’ is at the far end of the rotary dial so a false ‘999’ was much less likely to be generated by wires blowing together in the wind. In NZ the numbers on the dial were the other way round so ‘111’ was used for the same reason.

            BUT all this could be wrong, for more info than you wanted to know see Wikipedia…

  15. Ordinary magic is to God-Magic as natural is to supernatural. It is extra special, it needs no mechanism ‘cuz God is the Ground-Up-Being, err, Ground-OfBeing. Magic is for charlatans. You need to think “sophisticated” and “profound” to really understand this. It takes theologians years of study to be able to understand this stuff.

  16. Where can I go to find a clear explanation, written for a layperson (I’m not well educated in genetics, mitochondrial DNA, etc.) of the “no genetic bottleneck.” I’m happy to accept that there were 10-12K human ancestors, as everyone keeps saying, but it seems counter-intuitive. Why didn’t this many come from fewer?

    We understand that we all come from a LUCA, and so all life forms are distant cousins … but there’s no last uniform common human, and I’m hoping to see the case put in terms I can grasp.

    1. here’s bit of pop-sci on the bottleneck(s): http://news.sciencemag.org/evolution/2009/10/how-we-lost-our-diversity

      and some more, with a caveat that some anthropologists think it could’ve been driven by cultural factors: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/eruption-early-human-prehistory-may-have-been-more-whimper-bang (with link inside to a PLOS article)

      These don’t get at the heart of the genetic evidence, but perhaps someone else knows of a popularized explanation there.

      1. Those articles don’t satisfy. They point to bottlenecks in the human population dating back no more than 75,000 years. We’re a lot older than that IIRC.

        1. I don’t think there’s a logical problem there. Consider a breeding population of say 50,000 ‘apes’ slowly evolving into ‘humans’. Now at some point in their history some catastrophe reduces their population to 12,000, from which it recovers. That catastrophe does NOT have to coincide with the point at which the ‘apes’ become ‘human’ (and of course that change is so gradual as to be indefinable). They would still evolve in the same way without the ‘bottleneck’. But the fact the ‘apes’ / ‘humans’ were down to 12,000 individuals at some point will be detectable genetically.

          I hope I haven’t made any hideous mistakes in that reasoning.

        2. Here, with references: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/how-big-was-the-human-population-bottleneck-not-anything-close-to-2/

          If you study the figure, you see that ever since 3 million years ago, the population that evolved to anatomically modern humans about 0.2 million years ago was 5 – 10 000 breeder pairs (bps). At the time humans came out of Africa, it was about 5 000 bps in Africa and the added population bottlenecked at about 1 000 bps.

          However, morally we should add the Homo groups that went into us, where Neanderthals and Denisovans bottlenecked at about 1 000 bps each in the figure. So perhaps 16 000 individuals as a minimum.

    2. I don’t have a reference for you, but we can speculate about the general flavor of the argument.

      Suppose you’re the first European to visit Pitcairn’s Island a century or so after the Bounty mutineers settled there. What you find is a number of families, all related, but with (let’s suppose) six different English surnames. Right away you know there must have been at least six Englishmen among the settlers. (There might have been more, if some of them left no male descendants).

      I imagine the genetic bottleneck argument uses similar logic. Instead of surnames you look at DNA sequences for genes with a high degree of variability. You count up the number of variants you find, extrapolate back based on the known rate at which new variants arise by mutation, and that gives you a lower bound on the number of variants that must have existed in the founding population of our species.

      Let me be clear that I’m guessing about the details. But I expect the gist of it will be something like this.

  17. The leaders of religion continue to adjust or simply lie when necessary to insure the flock and the money continue to pour in. The only ingredient required is the ignorant human species. Some would call it the hearts and minds method but it’s really the no brains method.

  18. I thought the whole idea of the Catholic church is that the hierarchy of priests have a direct channel to God and so are inspired to be able to tell us what is true. At the top of this hierarchy is, of course, the pope, who must practically have his left ear pressed against the lips of the creator. Shouldn’t they, then, be able to stick to one story for ever? Why didn’t they come up with the theory of evolution long before Darwin. Even Genisis should have looked like “On the Origin…”. Why the weasel-wording? Strange to have a pope considered a reformer at all.
    Unless they don’t have a channel to anything but the echos in their own heads.

  19. “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”, said the evolutionary biologist and Russian Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky. To which I can only add that nothing in the Judeo-Christian creation story makes sense in the light of evolution. There’s no special humans and animals dichotomy. We are just one of the animal species occupying a single branch on the tree of life. And btw, we even “had sex” with Neanderthals!


  20. Yeah, and climate denialists go from “It’s not happening” to “It’s not us” to “It’s not that bad” to “It’s too hard to do anything”. You can practically see their fingers slipping slowly off their own dogma in the hurricane.

    Jerry is right with a vengeance: nothing has changed. The spin doctors are merely tailoring their tactics. No real shift has occurred.

    The fact that the press is taking this shift in the spirit that they do – presenting it as if it were a great move, falling over themselves to quote the nice reconciliation between hard-won science and backwards fraud – is outrageous, and embarrassing to watch. Just reading the Independent’s take is gag-worthy, and that’s before you get to the unctuous Washington Post and the Religion News Service, who are less distant in tone. The most revealing quotation was from the WP:

    “The pope avoids gesturing at the thorny issue (at least for some Christians) of whether humans descended from apes. Atheists argue, moreover, that understanding the Big Bang and what emerged from that cosmic moment obviates a need to believe in a deity. On that count, Francis obviously disagrees. He repeated the idea of God not being a “magician,” an entity that conjured all into being.

    “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” Francis said.

    The contradiction is screaming at you, and no one seems to notice or care. Goddamnit, how does everybody cheerfully fall for this “convergence” tripe? Have the Catholic apologists infiltrated the media, or intimidated or bribed or tricked others into acquiescence? Which one?

    1. Sorry, should have put:

      The fact that the press is taking this “shift”

      The scare quotes were missing.

      There’s nothing about this particular story that makes it stand out among the usual “Pope Francis makes nice-sounding claims to mollify the press” bilge, but after reading a few articles on business corruption and the attendant spin doctor tactics, I’m not in the best of moods. And the parallels between the lies spread by big business apologists (and the supposedly “impartial” government science advisers) and this religious “reconciliation” tripe leapt out at me in a way that they hadn’t before.

  21. The Pope is a Catholic. Film at 11:00. But really, what can you reasonably expect any Pope to say? There may be no scientific evidence for a creator, but you can’t expect the head of any religion to say that, therefore, there is no such being. What someone in that line of work can say is that what we know through science is, nevertheless, consistent with there being some creator-being behind it all, who, for whatever reason, operates the universe, or leaves it to operate on its own, the way science says it does. We can’t reasonably expect more from a religious leader and we all too often get far less. There is, of course, no scientific evidence for souls, whatever they may be, either, but you can’t expect the leader of a religion to deny souls. The material universe does what it does, in the way science says, whether the postulated creator-being poofs souls into humans, or cats for that matter. Again, you can’t reasonably expect more from a religious leader and you usually get less. The current Pope’s recent statements are a noticeable improvement on some past statements on the subject. That’s news. That he is still a Catholic isn’t.

    1. I don’t think you understand. Yeah, the Pope can’t suddenly say that Adam and Eve didn’t exist, but the media fell all over itself saying that all of a sudden the Vatican is down with evolution. It’s the media at fault here, for not asking the hard questions, or pointing out the discrepancies (did you see any mention of Adam and Eve or souls in the reportage?). And no, I don’t think the Pope’s statements are a substantive improvement over, say, John Paul’s. In what respect are they. All the Popes in recent years (with the possible exception of Ratzi) have said evolution is ok, but God still intervened in various ways.

      1. All the Popes in recent years (with the possible exception of Ratzi) have said evolution is ok, but God still intervened in various ways.

        And that, as I’m perhaps overly-fond of pointing out, is exactly the same as Behe’s Intelligent Design. Organisms micro-evolve, sure, but it takes Cheeses to Create new species or otherwise make it past evolutionary hurdles or ensure the rise of certain species (such as H. sapiens sapiens).

        I challenge anybody to identify a disagreement between this Pope and Behe on the subject save for their respective comfort with the word, “evolution,” itself.


  22. This whole belief in the soul is I think more dangerous than a screwed up view of evolution because people really like dualism since it feels like we have a self. This leads to fallacies that mentally I’ll people can snap out of it with their strong spirit and that anything can be overcome with a positive attitude.

    1. Excellent point. It’s easy to recognize where they’re going wrong with evolution – the science is there. Because we still know so little about the brain there are still huge gaps for religion and other extortionists like Chopra and Scientology to exploit and do huge damage. Mental illness, souls for zygotes, prophecy, demon possession, witchcraft etc are all fertile grounds for charlatans.

  23. We know now that the universe could have originated from “nothing” through purely physical processes—if you see “nothing” as the “quantum vacuum” of empty space.

    I think most people think of “nothing” as nothing – i.e. not even empty space. But the argument that something came from that kind of nothing (whether by or not) has never made sense to me, since nothing implies the existence of something to make it (“no-thing”) meaningful.

    It’s like asking what happened before the Big Bang, if you assume that time as well as space originated with it – there was no before.

    My head hurts.

    1. It’s more like asking what’s north of the North Pole. All philosophical constructions of “nothing” are equally incoherent, let alone as lacking in evidence as anything else spiritual or philosophical or religious.


    2. “My head hurts”
      Here, lets see if I can provide some perspective;
      As Deepak would say – Your consciousness grows through precious abstract beauty. Not to mention – The unpredictable inspires the progressive expansion of brightness.
      Thus, not to worry.
      That help?

        1. For sure. Why, just the other day, I was looking for a lost book marker (it had the provocative: ‘Where you left off’ written on it). Checking in with Deepak Quote I found – “Interdependence fears karmic miracles”, and voilà, there it was on the fireplace mantle.

    3. The “no thing” concept of “nothing” is a useful concept in the context of typical communication between people. However, it is not necessarily applicable in the context of science. In order to place any confidence in the concept having any congruence with reality you would first have to have some decent evidence. We don’t have any. “No Thing” has never been observed, ever. Current theory, which very accurately models a myriad of phenomena, indicates that “No Thing” is not a valid concept. It clearly indicates that it is invalid in the context of our known universe since the Big Bang.

      As for before the Big Bang, so far we can’t see there. But we do know that there is nothing (heh) that indicates that at some point “in the past” there had to be “No Thing.” And there are plenty of reasonable cosmological hypotheses that do not include, let alone require, “No Thing.”

      The Big Bang Theory does not assume that the Big Bang was the beginning of “everthing.” Though that is a common misconception. The reason for that misconception is that the Big Bang event is the farthest we can go back because the maths that we have so far discovered to accurately model our reality break down at the “moment” of the event. We have not yet been able to make sense of it. It is possible we never will, or that it will be figured out next year. But that doesn’t imply that the Big Bang was “The Beginning.” It only implies that we don’t have the tools to see beyond it.

      1. The math models doesn’t break down, unless you insert new physics. The extent of our knowledge is inflation, and it occurs before the Hot Big Bang. (Which is were the old models could possibly be taken as implying a breakdown.)

        It is unknown how far back inflation goes. The area is under research.

  24. This doesn’t sound to me any different than the already known official position of the Catholic Church.

    I remember asking a priest when I still lived in Rome (I was born and raised there. In fact, I was baptized in St. Peter)and his answer was very similar to Pope Francis mumbled the other day.

    They basically believe in guided evolution and some sort of divine intervention at some point to give humans a soul.
    As far as the Big Bang, at least at the time they saw it as being compatible with some parts of genesis (The “let it be light” part I presume). In fact, as far as I know the Vatican struggled with the steady state universe theory. As anyone can imagine.

    I am not sure why this is making news. Sure, different popes have had different personal interpretations, but if you go by what Catholic institutions have been teaching, guided evolution has been it. In fact, many taught evolution and made it “guided” in a theological context but not in science class.

    Of course, there are always splinter groups with different ideas.

    1. ‘In fact, many taught evolution and made it “guided” in a theological context but not in science class.’

      Which is vastly preferable to trying to kill all science like the creation-fundies do…

  25. The pope should speak the truth and say,”Life on Earth evolved by natural selection, culture evolves, the authors of the Bible made their best guesses but were wildly mistaken, but look we have a stack of fine architecture and loads of nice tunes, we’ll change the lyrics, come visit our museums to mankind’s fantasies”

    My parody ReWrit on Genesis 2v7. It is still nonsense but puts a more pro female slant:

    In the beginning the first Homo sapiens God created was Eve. God saw that she was very beautiful and fell in love with her, one thing led to another but to cut a long story short they had a fling. Nine months later Adam was born. God excused himself by saying, “Well at least it saved me from having to do surgery and from now on Adam will have to pander to woman’s every whim in order to make up for my sin of emission”
    This explains why all men are bastards who have delusions of grandeur thinking they are God’s gift to the world when in fact they are the result of a moment of madness.
    Also it means that women are damn right when they say, “For God’s sake will you do some house work around here”
    Unless men do what women tell them to do then God will be very angry with them.
    This myth also explains why Eve was called eve – because she was created on the eve of Adam
    And Adam called Eve, “Woman” for she had a womb from which the lowly animal, man, was born.

    The term “all men are bastards” is a colloquialism / slang for, ” Men have a tendency to do things which women find annoying, like not behaving as their better half would like; expecting love without financial commitment etc”

  26. Catholicism is like an opossum caught in oncoming car headlights.. which way to go? backward or forward. Both options have difficult problems to surmount it seems. For the opossum it usually means death.
    Science has undermined centuries of resources, investment and power. I would not expect Catholicism to fold without a fight no matter how weak or irrational their position.
    Dodging the headlights is Catholicism preferred strategy, the danger still exists and the glare gets brighter! and no prizes for guessing who those headlights belong too.
    I find it extraordinary that life needs not me, not you or anyone or anything to exist.. not even science. It gives me great humour thinking about that.

  27. Very strong article, Jerry. The media babble on the Pope’s pronouncement has been embarrassing. I read it and saw the same you did – nothing new at all.

    A side note on your conclusion: my guess is that even if it were to announce that there were no god, the Catholic Church would still find some way to continue as an institution leading a “community of the faithful” of some sort; the structure’s too large, too old, too complex to dismantle, and there is too much wealth and influence involved.

  28. Its obvious that the Pope won’t refute creationism, since he would also have to refute God too.

    He can’t refute evolution so he will adapt his creationism to claim that the creator used evolution as his means of creation.

    Its quite a neat argument actually: he can claim that once started, it is a self maintaining mechanism, requiring no input from the divinity, who can obviously intervene as desired at crucial moments.

    Implies determinism however.

    1. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing new in that outlook, even for Catholicism. Why everything this popinjay utters is so newsworthy escapes me.

      1. I think media like to shock (mildly) their readers. Wake them up, give them a quick jolt, cast against type, out of the blue, draw some attention…so they can sell you a new car or an ulcer medicine.
        Nothing too tricky. Same old stuff we’ve been getting since the beginning of the printing press. Got really rolling with radio, black and white TV, then the interwebs. It’s all about the new car.

  29. “Some physicists also think that there are multiple universes…”

    And so these physicists are actually philosophers at their core. Such physicists, Catholic church and Pope are actually on same side but they are just unaware of it. All are equally lost.

    1. You must be unaware that multiverses is a natural consequence of inflationary cosmology. Unless you introduce new physics, there must be many universes.

      Here is cosmologist describing why they think there is a multiverse:

      “Although inflation will end in more than 50% of the Universe at any given time, enough of it will spread back up the hill that inflation lasts an eternity. And this is true for every model of slow-roll inflation we’ve concocted!

      In other words, there are regions of the Universe where it inflated in the past, that false-vacuum energy got turned into radiation and matter, and those parts of the Universe had a history very much like our own. But in between those regions, there are other parts that keep on inflating, and so on, and so on, and so on…

      And that’s why there’s a multiverse, and not just our Universe!

      Now, the story I’ve told you is a conservative one. …

      So this basic concept, while it likely isn’t the entire story, is just simple quantum mechanics applied to our best working model of the Early Universe. And what we get out of it is a Universe that, in most regions of it, will continue to inflate for all eternity: our Multiverse.”

      [ http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/10/28/why-we-think-theres-a-multiver/ ]

      And this is testable too, I can give you references on that if you need.

      A scientist can be a philosopher, but not within science. There you need this type of empiricism.

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