Fr Henry Siew’s anti-evolution article (Did Humans Evolve From Monkeys?, CN, Feb 9) misrepresents both the theory of evolution and Church teaching on the subject.
While Fr Siew is correct that no present-day species has evolved into another present-day species, this is not what evolution claims. Evolutionary biologists posit that man and monkey share a common ancestor. No one suggests we evolved from the monkeys we see at Bukit Timah Reserve.
Geologists and biologists estimate that the Earth was formed some 4.5 billion years ago, and the first single-celled organisms – from which all living things descend – emerged 3.8 billion years ago.
Since the fossil record clearly shows the appearance and disappearance of distinct but related species over time, scientists deduced that one species had evolved into a multitude of different ones.
Fr Siew gives no scientific evidence to back his sweeping claims that “no matter what form [vegetable or animal life] appeared years ago, they are no different now” or that Man “had not and will never be evolved from any other species, plant or animal!”
The Magisterium has not ruled definitively for or against evolution. But Church leaders have been increasingly open to the idea.
Pope Pius XII wrote in his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis that the Church should be open-minded to the study of evolution, i.e., “the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter”.
Pope John Paul II told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996 that “new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis…The convergence in the results of independent studies [in different scholarly disciplines] constitutes in itself a significant argument in favour of the theory.”
Pope Benedict XVI embraced the theory of evolution. His book, In the Beginning…: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, found no conflict between science and Scripture: evolution tells us how our bodies were created, while divine revelation explains the theological meaning of human life and its ultimate purpose.
He even held a meeting of scientists and theologians to explore the implications of evolution for Catholic thought, whose proceedings were published in Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo.
The Magisterium, while silent on Man’s physical origins, asserts that “the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” (Humani Generis, 36). Man is made “in the image and likeness” of God not by having hands or feet, but by having a rational soul with conscience and will. This soul is unique and infused by God. It never evolved from plant or animal souls.
It is vital to distinguish between the theory of evolution, and the moral or ethical positions that some try to derive from it. The Church finds the theory itself unobjectionable, but firmly denounces claims that, for example, evolution “proves” Man is no more special than any other beast, or “survival of the fittest” legitimises euthanasia. Evolution only tells us how we got here; it does not tell us how we should live.