Earlier I posted a lovely piece of satire: ‘The Pope on Evolution‘.
Amidst the media inanity TIME was one of the few outlets that saw through the haze of collective stupidity, with a story titled:
“Sorry, But Media Coverage of Pope Francis is Papal Bull”
But it’s not really good enough to have to rely on occasional media sanity – we should be able to see through the nonsense for ourselves.
It’s hard to seen through the nonsense if you don’t have any indication that it is nonsense, so it helps first of all to have enough general knowledge to know that something doesn’t add up. You might have to know, for example, that unlike the American Creationists who pushed Intelligent Design, the Catholic Church has a proud history of philosophical and scientific engagement. When it comes to ‘faith vs science’ the Catholic Church doesn’t believe in ‘versus’.
If you knew that, you would be immediately suspicious of the claim that Pope Francis’ comments to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences signaled some kind of revolutionary change in the Church’s attitude to evolution.
For more detail, the now outdated Catholic Encyclopedia is a great source of information on what the Church thought circa 1909. On ‘Catholics and Evolution’ the Encyclopedia states:
One of the most important questions for every educated Catholic of today is: What is to be thought of the theory of evolution? Is it to be rejected as unfounded and inimical to Christianity, or is it to be accepted as an established theory altogether compatible with the principles of a Christian conception of the universe?
We must carefully distinguish between the different meanings of the words theory of evolution in order to give a clear and correct answer to this question. We must distinguish (1) between the theory of evolution as a scientific hypothesis and as a philosophical speculation; (2) between the theory of evolution as based on theistic principles and as based on a materialistic and atheistic foundation; (3) between the theory of evolution and Darwinism; (4) between the theory of evolution as applied to the vegetable and animal kingdoms and as applied to man.
Unfortunately this is already too much detail for most media outlets, and perhaps most people generally. If you can’t for example, understand why the simple question of “Does the Church believe in Evolution” has suddenly branched off into a series of complicated distinctions and definitions, this path of inquiry might not be for you.
The Encyclopedia post is too big to reproduce in its entirety, but it notes along the way that
As early as 1877 Knabenbauer stated “that there is no objection, so far as faith is concerned, to assuming the descent of all plant and animal species from a few types”
Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859.
The Encyclopedia doesn’t show an unconditional acceptance of the theory, but rather an intelligent philosophical engagement with the varieties of evolutionary theory and the theological implications and ramifications, appropriate to a point in history that predated much of the supporting evidence and relevant biological discoveries such as DNA.
Read enough of this stuff and it becomes clear that whatever one might think of the Catholic Church and its teachings, it has historically exhibited a level of intellectual engagement that puts to shame our contemporary media outlets and our uncritical reliance on them.