Catholics and evolution?

I just finished reading through a batch of short response papers for the course I’m teaching on religion and science fiction. We’re using science fiction as a lens onto different ways that people in modern societies understand the relationship between religion and science. In that vein, one of the students referred in their paper to attending a Catholic school where, at least as the student understood it, they were taught that the theory of evolution was incompatible with scripture.

I’ve had at least one other student who I can recall recently making the same claim–i.e., that as a Catholic they were taught to disbelieve evolution. While this  doesn’t seem implausible to me, it is unexpected. Stephen Jay Gould has a widely read essay, which I’ve used before in classes, in which he touts conversations with Jesuit scientists who are evolutionist and commends recent popes for issuing statements accepting evolution as the means by which life came into being. I’m also reminded of the Catholic Biblia Latinoamericana I encountered some years ago, which had a short prologue, titled something like “Before the Bible,” offering a one-page history of the cosmos from the Big Bang to the evolution of intelligent hominids on earth capable of responding to their Creator.

So, I’m left wondering: We normally associate opposition to evolution with Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals. But how extensive is anti-evolutionary sentiment among American Catholics? I presume it’s a minority phenomenon, probably numerically, certainly in the sense of being marginalized in official church discourse. But how vigorous a minority phenomenon is it?

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One thought on “Catholics and evolution?

  1. Agellius says:

    I am an adult Catholic convert so I wasn’t raised in the faith. But my understanding of the Church’s attitude towards evolution is that as a scientific theory, it’s outside the purview of the Church’s expertise, so to speak. We don’t like scientists pontificating about metaphysics and the supernatural, and we don’t pretend to know physical science better than the scientists.

    The only thing the Church would insist on is belief in God’s creation of the universe and everything in it, including each person’s immaterial soul. As a Catholic you aren’t free to believe that the universe and everything in it came into existence and developed due entirely to material causes and that God had nothing to do with it.

    That being said, among more conservative and traditionalist Catholics there is more skepticism of the theory of evolution than among the more liberal among us. But that’s an opinion, not something insisted upon by the Church.

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