Scientific Theories that Catholics must Reject

As Catholic Christians, we are obliged to believe what the Magisterium of the Church teaches. And if sinful secular society or any scientific or other discipline teaches the contrary, we are obligated by faith in Jesus Christ to reject the contrary idea, no matter how much support it may have from society or science. But when there is no particular teaching from the Church, nor from Tradition or Scripture, on a question, we are free to adhere to any reasonable opinion, as long as it does not imply a contradiction to any teaching of the faith.

First Vatican Council: “Therefore we define that every assertion contrary to the truth of enlightened faith is totally false.”

“Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.”

“If anyone says that human studies are to be treated with such a degree of liberty that their assertions may be maintained as true even when they are opposed to divine revelation, and that they may not be forbidden by the Church: let him be anathema.”
[Session 3: Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith]

So now the question arises as to which scientific ideas, currently proposed by scientists or believed in the general population, might be contrary to the teaching of the Church.

Is global warming contrary to Church teaching? No. The Church has no teaching on whether the world climate is getting warmer. And Pope Francis, in Laudato si’, accepts the current judgment of most scientists that the climate is warming due to human intervention [Laudato Si’ 23-26]. This acceptance of current science does not constitute a magisterial teaching. But it does indicate that global warming is not contrary to any teaching of the faith. And why would it be? The global temperature and other aspects of climate do not pertain to faith or morals.

But some scientific theories, or particular elements within a theory, are contrary to the faith.

In my opinion, the theory of evolution, in most of its assertions, is not contrary to faith or morals. Christians can hold that God created life on earth by means of a process of evolution. In fact, Charles Darwin himself repeatedly asserts that evolution is a work of the Creator:

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” [Darwin, Charles (2009-07-29). The Origin Of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition (p. 459). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.]

Darwin viewed evolution as one of the many laws of nature, as created by God. But if any version of evolution asserts that God had no role at all in the creation of life, its development, and particularly the creation of the human race, such assertions must be rejected by all the faithful. When we faithful Catholics accept the theory of evolution, we must also hold that God chose to create life on earth, that God guided its development by His providence, and that God specifically intervened, at a certain point in time, to deliberately and knowingly choose to create the human race, which is more like God than any of the lower species.

We cannot hold that the creation of the human race was a mere accident, dependent upon the random chance of an asteroid killing the dinosaurs and thereby allowing the rise of the mammals. Nor can we hold that human persons, with the ability to reason abstractly, with free will and an immortal soul, are merely the result of the process of evolution. At some point, God intervened to do what evolution by itself could never do: create a species that has reason, free will, and an immortal soul.

Then on the subject of Adam and Eve, faithful Catholics cannot hold that Adam and Eve never existed as two real historical persons, nor that Adam and Eve are merely figures representing a set of first parents for the human race. For the dogma of original sin requires belief in two historical persons, Adam and Eve, who were the first true human persons, and from whom all human persons who have ever lived are descended. Only then could the human race have inherited original sin, the actual sin of our first parents.

However, we can hold that evolution created the human body, and subsequently God created Adam and Eve, miraculously, but patterned after the body developed by evolution. For the specifics on this proposal, see my book: Adam and Eve versus Evolution.

When did Adam and Eve live? The faithful are not obliged to interpret the passages of Genesis so literally as to conclude that the earth is only thousands of years old, and that the human race likewise began only thousands of years ago. The seven days* of creation need not be taken literally.

What about the creation of the universe? Well, the Big Bang Theory, as it was first proposed by a Catholic priest and physicist George Lemaître, is compatible with the Catholic faith. Father Lemaître considered that God created the starting point for the universe, and He set in motion its unfolding. Father Lemaître first proposed this idea in the early 1930’s. Before that proposal, most scientists believed that the universe had always existed. And such a claim is certainly incompatible with Catholic teaching that God created the universe:

{1:1} In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.

But a newer version of the Big Bang Theory has arisen recently, as an informal suggestion at best, which claims that the universe created itself, as if no Creator were needed. Such an idea is directly contrary to Divine Revelation and magisterial teaching, and so must be rejected on the basis of faith. Also to be rejected is any claim that the Big Bang is merely one event in a universe that has always existed.

On the subject of the great flood, I suppose that it would not be contrary to faith to hold that no great flood occurred, and that all reference to the flood in the Bible are figurative. But that view also seems to my mind to be lacking in many ways. A better approach to the problem of the historicity of the flood is the following. The great flood did occur, and it was a devastating worldwide event. But the Bible speaks figuratively in asserting that the flood waters covered all land and killed all humans and animals outside the Ark of Noah. The story of the flood is a dramatic figurative retelling of an historical event. See my book: Noah’s Flood: Literal or Figurative? for the details on a great flood event in 2807 B.C.

In addition, Catholics should not believe any claim by historians that events described by the Bible as historical facts never occurred, or occurred in a substantially different way.

Our holy religion is based on faith and reason. But faith is a more sure guide to truth than the reasonings of fallen sinners.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

* Yes, seven days. On the seventh day, God first completed the work of his creation, and then He rested. So some work was done on the seventh day.

{2:2} And on the seventh day, God fulfilled his work, which he had made. And on the seventh day he rested from all his work, which he had accomplished.

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9 Responses to Scientific Theories that Catholics must Reject

  1. William Merlock says:

    As an aside, I found a couple of things in Laudato Si interesting. In paragraph 18: “… the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution”. In paragraph 81: “Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems.” The Holy Father confirms biological evolution as a taken-for-granted fact, yet emphasizes the unique position of humankind. These statements confirm, I think, the thesis of your post here. It seems to me that Science and Theology are both logical quests for truth, and as such cannot conflict, so any apparent contradiction is either an error in the understanding or analysis of some scientific data, or an error in the understanding or analysis of some theological data (e.g. the Sacred Scriptures or a proclaimed teaching of the Magisterium).

  2. Jake says:

    Ronald:

    This was an interesting post. As a former biology major, I was always being asked “how can you be Catholic and also be a biology major?” However, most of the people who asked those sorts of questions were not aware that it was a Catholic priest who developed the theory of the Big Bang.

    So I basically tried to explain that true Faith and true science cannot contradict each other; as they both come from the same source; God. But it is important to discriminate between true science and pseudo-science (such as eugenics).

    As far as Darwin goes, he had some brilliant ideas. But some of them were also very racist. Again, it is important to recognize pseudo-science from true science.

    Personally, I hold that evolution is a valid theory. It is quite obvious that God’s beautiful creation evolves daily. But in order for evolution and natural selection to occur, there has to be genetic diversity to begin with. It is a common misconception that natural selection spontaneously occurs.

  3. Rico says:

    A common criticism from skeptics of Christian teaching is the idea of death before Adam and Eve. We believe that death entered the world through the Fall of Adam. But skeptics say death is everywhere evident in the fossil record before men even appeared on earth. How is this criticism to be addressed?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The teaching is that death for human persons, for Adam and Eve and their descendants, entered through original sin. My theory is that the universe as a whole entered the fallen state when some of the angels fell from grace, billions of years ago. Angels have a role in God’s design for Creation, overseeing nature. So when some angels fell, it was fitting for nature to become fallen also. And that is why Adam and Eve, before the Fall, had to be in a special unfallen place, Eden, and not simply on the fallen earth.

  4. Rico says:

    Ron, I love that explanation. It makes a lot of sense in many ways. I guess my last question would be: what does Paul mean when he said that through the sin of man, death “entered into the world” (Romans 5:12)? What does ‘world’ here mean? Since Adam and Eve were cast out from Eden, death did not enter Eden. But death was already outside Eden before the Fall through the fallen angels. Which world then did death enter? Thanks for your response.

    • Ron Conte says:

      [Romans]
      {5:12} Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into this world, and through sin, death; so also death was transferred to all men, to all who have sinned.
      {5:13} For even before the law, sin was in the world, but sin was not imputed while the law did not exist.
      {5:14} Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses, even in those who have not sinned, in the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a figure of him who was to come.

      So “sin entered into this world” of course means the sinful world of mankind. Animals and plants do not sin. Thus, when he also asserts that death has similarly entered into this world, he again means the world of mankind.

  5. Mike says:

    Science suggests we may find other intelligent life in the universe.
    What do you think the churches stand would be should it really occur?

    • Ron Conte says:

      God created the entire universe and everything in it. If there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, they are subject to the natural law, just as we are.

  6. Mike says:

    As I see it the scripture below applies to all of creation. Every creature, planet, galaxy and the universe, everything.

    We alone as humans qualify for being saved by Gods grace unto eternal life, but
    we also know that all of creation fell in the Garden of Eden, and God wants to redeem
    all that he has made. What I find interesting is that if we apply biblical teaching to other
    intelligent life (if it exists) , then they would not qualify for eternal life, but may share in the redemption of all creation (a new heaven and a new Earth) . Somewhat of a paradox, but if God considers us unique unto His creation possibly we are alone in the universe. I find this interesting
    as I study His word. Not being Catholic I don’t always agree with you, but as a Christian I respect
    your views and read your blog with interest.

    Romans:
    19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

    22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

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