Biologists' Letter to Pope Benedict XVI on Evolution
Scientific rationality and the Church's commitment to divine purpose and meaning in the universe are not incompatible.
Lawrence M. Krauss
Ambrose Swasey Professor, and Director
Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics
July 12, 2005
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
00120 Vatican City
In his magnificent letter to the Pontifical Academy in 1996 regarding the subject of Evolution, Pope John Paul II affirmed that scientific rationality and the Church's spiritual commitment to divine purpose and meaning in the Universe were not incompatible. The Pope accepted that biological Evolution had progressed beyond the hypothetical stage as a guiding principle behind the understanding of the evolution of diverse life forms on Earth, including humans. At the same time, he rightly recognized that the spiritual significance that one draws from the scientific observations and theory lie outside of the scientific theories themselves. In this sense, claiming that evolution definitely implies a lack of divinity, and/or divine purpose in nature is as much an affront to science as it is to the Church.
The Holy Father also recognized: "It is important to set proper limits to the understanding of Scripture, excluding any unseasonable interpretations which would make it mean something which it is not intended to mean. In order to mark out the limits of their own proper fields, theologians and those working on the exegesis of the Scripture need to be well informed regarding the results of the latest scientific research." Since scientific investigations have repeatedly confirmed evolution by natural selection as a guiding principle for understanding the development of the diversity of life on Earth, theologians who are interested in exploring such questions as human dignity and purpose must take this mechanism into account in their considerations. As he put it, quoting from Leo XIII, truth cannot contradict truth.
These principles were reinforced more recently in explicit statements by the International Theological Commission, headed by you before your election as Pope. As the Commission document explicitly states, "God is...the cause of causes." As a result, "Through the activity of natural causes, God causes to arise those conditions required for the emergence and support of living organisms, and, furthermore, for their reproduction and differentiation." Finally, referring to evolution as a "radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation", the commission nevertheless concluded "even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God's providential plan for creation."