Pope Francis made a significant rhetorical break with Catholic tradition Monday by declaring that the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are real, and remarking that God is not “a magician with a magic wand.”
“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” the pope said at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, during a plenary meeting dedicated to evolving concepts of nature.
Breaking with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who arguably encouraged creationism and intelligent design theory, Francis explained that both evolution and the Big Bang are not incompatible with the existence of God. In fact, he said, they “require it.”
God “created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment,” the pope said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
The language was a notable departure from Benedict XVI and his close advisers, who had voiced support for the idea that intelligent design underpins evolution. In 2005, close Benedict associate Cardinal Schoenborn wrote a New York Times op-ed in which he declared, “evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense – an unguided, unplanned process – is not.”
In spite of their theological disagreements, Francis praised Benedict XVI while unveiling a bronze bust of the former pope at the academy’s headquarters in the Vatican Gardens.
“No one could ever say of him that study and science made him and his love for God and his neighbor wither,” Francis said, according to a translation by the Catholic News Service.
“On the contrary, knowledge, wisdom and prayer enlarged his heart and his spirit. Let us thank God for the gift that he gave the church and the world with the existence and the pontificate of Pope Benedict.”
Pope Francis concluded with a word of encouragement, calling on all scientists to continue their work and to carry forward those “happy” theoretical and practical initiatives for the benefit of human beings, which he said bring honor to science and scientists.