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Theological Notebook: News Story on Pope's Discussion of Evolution is Given American Distortion

It is fascinating to see here the power of an editor to distort a story. If you read the following, you can see that what Pope Benedict was discussing could have best been introduced by a headline proclaiming something like "Pope Discusses Theological Possibilities in Evolution." Instead, the writer or the editor slapped on the title we see below, which instead casts the following in the more familiar American terms of Protestant Creationism and its opposition to the theory of evolution.

The Pope is made to sound in the headline like a hostile opponent, one who denies biological and cosmological evolution. Instead, of course, Catholic theology is robust with evolutionary perspectives, and the theology that lead to the American phenomenon of Biblical Fundamentalism and its theology of Scripture that forces it to deny evolution has never found a home among the diverse schools of Catholic thought. Yet for the lay reader, the headline alone has the power to cast what follows in that unhelpful, "either/or" dichotomy.

The nuance of the actual criticism of the Pope – that philosophical attachments to the science of evolution, which in term pass themselves off as science and not as philosophical interpretations of science – is then likely to go unrecognized. And thus the possibility of a news story to inform and to give progressive nuance to the reader is sacrificed for the familiar comfort of an old and easy fight....

Pope Says Evolution Can't Be Proven
Apr 11, 5:47 PM (ET)

By MELISSA EDDY

BERLIN (AP) - Benedict XVI, in his first extended reflections on evolution published as pope, says that Darwin's theory cannot be finally proven and that science has unnecessarily narrowed humanity's view of creation.

In a new book, "Creation and Evolution," published Wednesday in German, the pope praised progress gained by science, but cautioned that evolution raises philosophical questions science alone cannot answer.

"The question is not to either make a decision for a creationism that fundamentally excludes science, or for an evolutionary theory that covers over its own gaps and does not want to see the questions that reach beyond the methodological possibilities of natural science," the pope said.

He stopped short of endorsing intelligent design, but said scientific and philosophical reason must work together in a way that does not exclude faith.

"I find it important to underline that the theory of evolution implies questions that must be assigned to philosophy and which themselves lead beyond the realms of science," the pope was quoted as saying in the book, which records a meeting with fellow theologians the pope has known for years.

In the book, Benedict reflected on a 1996 comment of his predecessor, John Paul II, who said that Charles Darwin's theories on evolution were sound, as long as they took into account that creation was the work of God, and that Darwin's theory of evolution was "more than a hypothesis."

"The pope (John Paul) had his reasons for saying this," Benedict said. "But it is also true that the theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory."

Benedict added that the immense time span that evolution covers made it impossible to conduct experiments in a controlled environment to finally verify or disprove the theory.

"We cannot haul 10,000 generations into the laboratory," he said.

Evolution has come under fire in recent years by proponents - mostly conservative Protestants - of "intelligent design," who believe that living organisms are so complex they must have been created by a higher force rather than evolving from more primitive forms.

The book, which was released by the Sankt Ulrich publishing house, includes reflections of the pope and others who attended a meeting of theological scholars at the papal summer estate in Castel Gandolfo in early September.

The pope's remarks were consistent with one of his most important themes, that faith and reason are interdependent.

"Science has opened up large dimensions of reason ... and thus brought us new insights," the pope wrote. "But in the joy at the extent of its discoveries, it tends to take away from us dimensions of reason that we still need.

"Its results lead to questions that go beyond its methodical canon and cannot be answered within it," he said.

---

Associated Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this report.
Tags: benedict xvi, books, catholicism, faith and reason, historical, media, philosophical, theological notebook
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