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Surprise! The Pope is Catholic

Reuter's Philip Pullella is reporting that Pope Benedict says "God was behind the Big Bang." Well, what exactly would you expect the Pope to say on the subject -- that God was not behind the Big Bang?

The story starts with this:

VATICAN CITY -- God's mind was behind complex scientific theories such as the Big Bang, and Christians should reject the idea that the universe came into being by accident, Pope Benedict said Thursday.

"The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe," Benedict said on the day Christians mark the Epiphany, the day the Bible says the three kings reached the site where Jesus was born by following a star.

The Pope seems to be responding to scientists like Stephen Hawking, who recently claimed the universe boot-strapped itself into existence from nothing.

But what the Pontiff says in his Epiphany sermon is the most basic Catholic doctrine, recited by hundreds of millions of Catholics at every Mass. And it follows the opening section of the Catholic Catechism, which says: that we can know by reason from the created order that there is a God.

So the question is: Why did the Pope's comments in this sermon make news? The answer begins to become clear in the rest of Pullella's story, which would be more aptly described as an editorial.

He tells us:

While the pope has spoken before about evolution, he has rarely delved back in time to discuss specific concepts such as the Big Bang, which scientists believe led to the formation of the universe some 13.7 billion years ago.

Yes, and what has he said about evolution? As I discuss at length in God and Evolution, Pope Benedict has spoken quite plainly about biological evolution at least until 1968. While he doesn't reject some vague thing called "evolution" (which includes things that no one disputes), he has spoken consistently against Darwinian materialism. In his inaugural Mass as Pope, he said: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution."

We don't get this from Pullella. Instead, he tells us:

Benedict and his predecessor John Paul have been trying to shed the Church's image of being anti-science, a label that stuck when it condemned Galileo for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun, challenging the words of the Bible.

Galileo was rehabilitated and the Church now also accepts evolution as a scientific theory and sees no reason why God could not have used a natural evolutionary process in the forming of the human species.

The Catholic Church no longer teaches creationism -- the belief that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible -- and says that the account in the book of Genesis is an allegory for the way God created the world.
But it objects to using evolution to back an atheist philosophy that denies God's existence or any divine role in creation. It also objects to using Genesis as a scientific text.


This is an astonishingly misleading explanation of the Church's views. Apparently Pullella is disturbed, or feared that his readers would be disturbed--with the Pope's comments about the Big Bang, and felt the need to end his story with some "not to worry" editorializing: Don't be alarmed. Despite his talk about God being behind the Big Bang, the Catholic Church is now mostly reasonable on these questions.

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that the Church should speak more publicly, and more frequently, on these issues. While the earnest student will discover clear teaching if he does some searching, there's something wrong when the media seem surprised that the Pope would say, in a sermon, that God was behind the Big Bang.

A final note: One of the leading early theorists in Big Bang cosmology was Georges LemaƮtre, a Belgian Catholic priest.