Pope Francis made headlines around the world this week when, addressing a meeting of the Pontificial Academy of Sciences, he said that the Big Bang theory on the origin of the world does not contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church, but rather confirmed it.
Here, Fr Brendan Purcell, author of From Big Bang to Big Mystery, gives his thoughts on the Pope’s speech:
What Pope Francis told the scientists gathered to discuss the evolution of the concept of ‘nature’, in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (27/10/14) — where he was dedicating a bust of Pope Benedict XVI — was very much in keeping with his predecessor’s remarks. Still he brought his own freshness to ordinary Catholic teaching on creation, noting that the Big Bang ‘doesn’t contradict the intervention of a divine Creator, but demands it’.
He reminds us that evolution ‘isn’t inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of the beings that evolve.’ He points out that in Genesis, God isn’t a magician with a magic wand but ‘has created beings and allowed them to develop according to the internal laws he’s given to each one … he’s given autonomy to all the beings in the universe at the same time as he’s assured them his continual presence.’
He notes how in Genesis, God has given man ‘a different autonomy to that of nature, which is freedom’. However, human beings can fall away from that freedom to a false autonomy that ‘destroys creation’, where ‘man takes the place of the Creator’.
In my From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the light of Creation and Evolution (Dublin: Veritas, 2nd edtion, 2012) I tried to spell out what Pope Francis has been saying, showing the same deep respect for science that Pope Francis praised in Pope Benedict during that same speech: ‘As you know, his love for truth wasn’t limited to theology and philosophy but opened out the sciences.’ It’s interesting to see how Pope Francis basically draws, in a modern key, on Aquinas’s notion of God as gifting his creatures with a share both in his existence and his creativity, which I discussed, along with how we can misuse our freedom by choosing the lie and evil to the goodness of creation and of God.