Catholics united this week against secular media reporting that grossly distorted a Pope Francis speech about evolution and the Big Bang.
The controversy began Tuesday when major media outlets, led by The Independent and MSNBC, picked up a Religion News Service (RNS) report which strongly — and wrongly — implied that Pope Francis had rejected yet another Church tradition by affirming the scientific theories of evolution and the Big Bang.
The Pope had addressed the topics in his speech Monday to the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which was commemorating the unveiling of a bust of Pope Benedict XVI.
Here’s are the Pope’s words that started the furor:
When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we risk imagining that God was a magician, with such a magic wand as to be able to do everything. However, it was not like that. He created beings and left them to develop according to the internal laws that He gave each one, so that they would develop, and reach their fullness. He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time that He assured them of his continual presence, giving being to every reality. And thus creation went forward for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia until it became what we know today, in fact because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the Creator who gives being to all entities. The beginning of the world was not the work of chaos, which owes its origin to another, but it derives directly from a Supreme Principle who creates out of love. The Big Bang, that is placed today at the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine intervention but exacts it. The evolution in nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.
– ZENIT, Pope Francis’ Address at Inauguration of Bronze Bust of Benedict XVI, October 27, 2014
In this passage, Pope Francis expresses a complex truth in simple but profound terms. What science discovers in the book of nature, he was saying, always reflects God’s ultimate purpose for the cosmos and humanity, no matter how random the process may appear in empirical terms.
Unfortunately, most secular journalists and bloggers have too little understanding of faith or science to report this sort of story accurately. When you add widespread ignorance about Church history, and animus against the Church for its traditional teachings on sexuality and the family, you’re almost guaranteed to get news reporting filled with massive falsehoods about the Church and its doctrines. And that’s what happened when the secular media picked up this story.
The errors are almost too numerous to count, and too twisted to explain. Here are the main ones: the Church had until now embraced Creationism; Pope Benedict XVI was a Creationist; the Church had until now denied the Big Bang (uh, no, the theory was developed by a priest); and, due to a bad translation of the text, that Pope Francis denied that God was divine (media critic Dawn Eden parses this one at the Get Religion blog).
By Wednesday, Catholics of all stripes — from conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, to Vatican analyst John Allen, to liberal Jesuit Fr. James Martin at America Magazine — took to social media to denounce the reporting.
Most of the time, criticisms of secular news coverage stay within Catholic circles. But this time the most forceful debunking of the coverage by far came from a secular source, Elizabath Dias, religion columnist for Time Magazine.
In a remarkably erudite column published Wednesday entitled “Sorry, But Media Coverage of Pope Francis is Papal Bull,” Dias defended the Church against the charge that it has been anti-science, citing statements by recent popes in support of evolution going back to Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Humani Generis, in 1950.