Pope's evolution claims 'frustrating'

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Pope Francis' comments that evolution and the big bang theory do not conflict with Christian doctrine have drawn varied responses from evangelical commentators, with some saying he has departed from Scripture and others claiming he made at least some valid points.

Pope Francis
The idea that some species of living creatures evolved into other species over millions of years "is absolutely incompatible with Genesis for several reasons," Terry Mortenson, a fulltime speaker with Answers in Genesis, told Baptist Press. "The order in which God created in Genesis 1 contradicts the order in which creatures supposedly appeared in the evolutionary story at many places."

Genesis' claim that earth was created before the sun, moon and stars "flies in the face of the big bang, which is an evolutionary explanation for the origin of the cosmos," Mortenson said.

Addressing the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Oct. 27, the pope warned against "imagining God was a magician with a magic wand able to do everything," according to a translation of his remarks by Religion News Service.

"God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life," Francis said. "Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve."

Francis added according to a Reuters report, "The big bang, that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God. On the contrary, it requires it."

Mortenson countered -- contrary to big bang proponents' claim that the earth is billions of years old -- that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and living creatures were created by a direct act of God rather than evolutionary processes.

"Genesis is very emphatic in teaching God supernaturally created the first kinds of plants and animals and the first two human beings," Mortenson said, "and then the text is very clear in saying that all subsequent plants and animals and people would come through those original supernaturally created creatures by natural procreation."

Claims that earth is millions rather than thousands of years old are driven by ideology more than science, Mortenson said, because scientific dating procedures assume without empirical justification that certain natural processes -- like the decay of radioactive isotopes or the addition of salt to oceans -- have always occurred at the same rate.

If the pope's remarks have been translated accurately in English press reports, they demonstrate "that he doesn't really understand creationist arguments," Mortenson said.

But Bruce Gordon, associate professor of the history and philosophy of science at Houston Baptist University, agreed with Francis' claim that the big bang requires belief in God.

The big bang posits that the universe had a beginning, and everything that begins to exist has a cause, Gordon told BP in an email interview. So the universe had a cause, according to the big bang.

"Reflection on the nature of this cause reveals that: (1) logically prior to creation it must have been timeless; (2) logically prior to creation it must have been immaterial and (since there was no space) not physically located; and (3) [it must have been] capable of acting so as to bring into a existence a universe of space-time and mass-energy that requires considerable fine-tuning in order to be able to support life," said Gordon, who also is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that plays a leading role in the Intelligent Design movement, which argues that the universe is the product of intelligence rather than blind chance.

"The only viable candidate for a cause of the universe is ... a being with divine attributes and abilities," he said.

There "could be" a "way of understanding macroevolution [the idea that some species evolved into others] that is consistent with Genesis," Gordon said. "Yet when the paleontological, molecular biological and genetic evidence is considered, macroevolution is more likely false than true."

The idea espoused by Darwinists that humans evolved "through a process that was not directed at any level" is "deeply inconsistent with the Genesis account of creation and also deeply inconsistent with what we observe to be biologically possible," Gordon said.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Francis' remarks are troubling in at least two ways. First, they seem to contradict the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo, or "out of nothing."

The pope's statement that God is not a "magician" with a "magic wand" seems to imply "that God the creator is somehow in His act of creating accountable to laws external to Himself," Mohler said Oct. 29 on his daily podcast. "The moment you do that, you actually depart from the Christian tradition. You are departing from the very clear statements of Scripture."

Second, Francis -- and the two popes preceding him -- apparently endorse a version of evolutionary theory that affirms the special creation of humans and the historical existence of Adam and Eve. But "no acceptable theory of evolution held in any major academic setting in the world makes those allowances," Mohler said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that "the human race takes its origin from two men: Adam and Christ" and that "because of its common origin the human race forms a unity, for 'from one ancestor (God) made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.'"

The Catholic Church "publicly says there is no conflict between the theory of evolution and the biblical and Christian understanding of creation," Mohler said. "But they actually redefine at both ends of the equation ... That's why it becomes so frustrating to evangelicals when we are told that the Roman Catholic Church says there's no conflict."

Mohler expressed surprise that there has not been more discussion of the pope's statement that "God is not a divine being," according to the RNS translation of his remarks. The statement may be misreported, Mohler said, adding that Francis likely meant God is not an impersonal deity.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.
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