Meer dan een hypothese: Patronen in de rooms-katholieke receptie van de evolutietheorie

Translated title of the contribution: More than a hypothesis: Some patterns in the roman catholic reception of evolutionary theory

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It is often assumed that Roman Catholicism could much more easily come to terms with Darwinian evolution than orthodox forms of Protestantism. Whereas Protestants are bound to a literal interpretation of the (first chapters of the) Bible as a result of their sola Scriptura principle, so it is thought, Catholics have traditionally been much more flexible in their exegesis of these chapters. This paper challenges this view, arguing that the situation is much more complex. Evolution does not just collide with some Protestant idiosyncracies, but raises questions with regard to traditional doctrinal assumptions across the board of the Christian tradition, and both Catholics and Protestants have sensed this. In both traditions, therefore, responses to evolution have been and still are divided: Rejecting and accepting approaches to evolution (as well as in-between attitudes) can be discerned ever since the 1860s and until today. This paper distinguishes several patterns (not necessarily stages) in the Roman Catholic reception of (neo)darwinism. It is shown that scriptural exegesis, the boundaries of which were determined by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, was a dominant aspect in the Vatican's early (= pre-1950) rejection of Darwinian evolution. Several factors are mentioned that may help us understand this Catholic anti-evolutionary stance. The encyclical Humani generis (1950) was a tipping point, however, since here it was acknowledged for the first time that under certain conditions and within certain limits a restricted form of evolutionary theory (especially the notion that human bodies might have animal ancestry) is compatible with the Catholic faith. Polygenism is, however, to be rejected, as is the idea that even the human soul might have evolved along natural lines. Although the overall voice of Humani generis is reactionary, a careful plea is made for taking contemporary science seriously. Nevertheless, tensions remained as is, for example, clear from official warnings against the thought of Teilhard de Chardin as late as 1962. Even the cautious (and incontrovertible!) statement of pope John Paul ii in 1996, that evolution is 'more than a hypothesis' was met with considerable resistance, not only among conservatives at the fringes of the church, but also, for instance, on the part of Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, who sympathized with the American id-movement. Yet, the central role of the magisterium has probably been decisive in helping many Catholics to come to terms with evolution without compromising their faith.

Translated title of the contributionMore than a hypothesis: Some patterns in the roman catholic reception of evolutionary theory
Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)135-152
Number of pages18
JournalTijdschrift voor Theologie
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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