Almost 11 years ago, Pope John Paul II, in an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, caused quite a stir by declaring that "new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis." Some Catholics, particularly traditionalists, believed that the Holy Father was stepping outside of his competence in making judgments on scientific matters. Others, including Catholic scientists, welcomed Pope John Paul's reaffirmation of the traditional Catholic principle that "Truth cannot contradict truth." In other words, to the extent that the theory of evolution has a solid scientific basis, it must be compatible with Catholic doctrine.
A decade before, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, delivered a series of homilies that were published in 1990 under the title In the Beginning . . . : A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall. In those homilies, he made a similar argument: The creation story in Genesis is a spiritual history. It simply doesn't matter what physical means God used to create the world and all living creatures therein; what matters is that man is both body and soul, and his creation is not complete until God has breathed the breath of life into him. And about the creation of the soul (and, thus, of the complete man), science can tell us nothing.
That same Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, recently restated his (and Pope John Paul's) argument. As MSNBC reported, Pope Benedict has referred to the debate between creationists and supporters of evolutionary theory as an "absurdity":
"They are presented as alternatives that exclude each other," the pope said. "This clash is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such."
On the other hand, there are certain questions that evolutionary theory can never answer: "Above all it does not answer the great philosophical question, 'Where does everything come from?'" Christians, thus, can learn truth from science, but scientists must learn to accept the limits of their own work. No scientific investigation can ever prove that God does not exist, or that He did not create the world, or even that man is only the sum of his physical parts.