Evolution is real and God is no wizard, says Pope Francis,” exclaimed The Sydney Morning Herald. “Pope Francis says Big Bang theory and evolution ‘compatible with divine Creator’” was the headline in The Telegraph. Even The New Daily covered the news: “Pope Francis says Big Bang, evolution are real“. If you were worried that your much-loved copy of the Bible was doomed to follow the complete works of JK Rowling into a cleansing fire, fear not — Pope Francis has at last officially denied that God Almighty is, in fact, a wizard.

Quite the change of course for the Catholic Church, right? In his “provocative, seemingly progressive” statements to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the good Pope dismissed the idea that God had simply created the world with a wave of his “magic wand” in a shocking show of support for the Theory of Evolution.

Or, rather, it would be, if this hadn’t been the official position of the Catholic Church since the 1950s.

So why are The Washington PostThe Sydney Morning HeraldThe TelegraphThe IndependentThe New York Post and The New Daily — to name just a few — all running this as divine revelation?

The SMH says in its lead:

“Pope Francis has continued his habit of making provocative, seemingly progressive statements, while delivering an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The pontiff appeared to endorse the theory of the Big Bang and told the gathering at the Vatican that there was no contradiction between believing in God as well as the prevailing scientific theories regarding the expansion of our universe.”

But scroll about halfway down that story for the grudging admission that this latest Good News is no news at all:

“Such thinking is not new for the Catholic Church, which for six decades — since the reforms of Pope Pius XII — has espoused belief in theistic evolution. That hinges, of course, on the fundamental acceptance of a higher power.”

Yes, the Church has embraced the idea that all creatures great and small could have evolved from, well, smaller ones — under proper adult supervision from upstairs, of course — for over 60 years. But that doesn’t quite fit as well with the pre-mortem canonisation of progressive Pope Francis that has become so popular with the mainstream media since his controversial inauguration.

In fact, the idea that the specific details surrounding the actual origin of the species are ultimately irrelevant to faith in a Creator goes back as far as the works of St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The saint wrote in the second book of his Commentary on the Sentences that “… the manner and the order according to which creation took place concerns the faith only incidentally”.

Pope John Paul II reaffirmed this position (with, admittedly, less reference to communists than his conservative predecessor, Pius XII) in his own message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences — 18 years ago.

“There is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation,” he said.

So no Divine Magician then — just a lot of smoke and mirrors to back up the narrative that Francis isn’t just Il Papa, but the Illest.

Peter Fray

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