The Catholic Church and its views on evolution.

1280px-PSM_V57_D097_Hms_beagle_in_the_straits_of_magellan

HMS Beagle in the Straits of Magellan (R.T. Pritchett, 1900)

The theory of evolution, which accounts for Biology’s core theme, is simple, elegant and pretty straightforward. Although it has been accepted as fact for over 150 years by most biologists all over the world, there’s still a lot of misconceptions and controversies surrounding the subject. Many of its controversies have to do with the conflicts that might arise with religion and faith. It should not be this way. The theory of evolution has been accepted major religious institutions, such as the Catholic Church. In fact, modern conceptions regarding the theory of evolution owe a lot to Gregor Mendel: Agustinian monk and considered the father of genetics (genetics being another crucial theme in Biology). And Charles Darwin himself aspired to become a clergyman for the Anglican church.

The following excerpts show modern views regarding the theory of evolution by the Catholic Church; from Pope Pius XII to Pope Francis:

“…the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faithful. Some however rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.”

Pope John Paul II held similar views as Pius XII, but a little more evolved:

“In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points…. Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.”

In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his views about evolution and the Big Bang Theory:

According to the widely accepted scientific account, the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the ‘Big Bang‘ and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life. While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of this first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5–4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.[6]

The current pope, Francis, holds the Catholic stance on evolution; which has gradually evolved–pun intendedover the last 60 years. For more information regarding the Catholic Church and the theory of evolution, click on the following links: here, here and here.

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51 thoughts on “The Catholic Church and its views on evolution.

    • You can contribute to the discussion by adding more information regarding the rest of the popes. But I wanted to narrow this blog post to popes of the second half of the XX century and the beginning of the 21st.

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    • Not every single pope is worth mentioning, especially in describing how evolution was gradually accepted in the Catholic Church. Three popes took office after Pius XII and before John Paul II; one of them took office for about a month. The other pope worth mentioning would probably be Pope Paul VI—he also was for evolution, and shared many views of his mentor, Pius XII.

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  1. There are always rebels in a group, in the Catholic Church the rebels were the ones who didn’t believe everything the Church said to be true. Many people died because they went against the Church but thanks to some amazing “rebels”/scientists we have modern day science. We have a science that can actually explain our existence without simply leaving it to faith. Because of the scientist who went against what everyone else said we know what we are made of and why we are how we are.

    Vivian Alicea

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    • Even within the scientific community there can be rebels that challenge authority. In fact, much of our human history can be explained by the relationship between rebels and authority. I suggest you do a Google search of the concept ‘dialectics’.

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  2. I believe in the fact that science and religious belief coexist. Being a Christian and knowing scientific facts about humanity makes me agree with both standards. I believe we come from God, but science made us too.

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  3. I think a person can both, believe in the theory of evolution and follow a religion. For me it is pretty clear that evolution has taken place over millions of years to get to the state that we are now and it will continue in order to improve. Also, scientists’ procedures in how to figure out the age of a fossil such as radiometric dating sustain the theory of evolution. Still I believe in God. Yes, the church made a big mistake by telling us that the creation of life happened spontaneously by the hands of God and denying the theory of evolution for many years but I think it is important for people to believe in something that helps you guide your life, and more importantly if it promotes the good. I agree with what my mom once told me: “The church is in the hands of humans, and all people make mistakes.”
    Here are 2 photos of science vs religion:
    http://rote-hahn.blogspot.com/2013/09/science-vs-religion-round-xxxiii.html
    http://pic.twitter.com/9DebWa5F

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  4. I definitely believe religion and science should not get mixed up. I believe God made us and science explains how. Religion gives you the who and science the how. Many people believe science over religion because they argue that science has facts while religion doesn’t, but I believe both depend on faith. You chose to belief in God as well as you chose to believe that a scientist proved what he is saying. Since you were not there to see it happen or to when he/she proved it then you are also relaying in faith. In fact, many scientist are religious so I definitely think there is space for both. Even Albert Einstein once said “The more I study science the more I believe in God”.

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    • It is important to note that—and I’m not saying this to undermine faith—scientific reasoning deals with facts. A scientist does not choose to ‘believe’ his findings; a scientist, with enough proof, such as the ones given by theories, accepts scientific knowledge as truth. Now, Truth (note the capitalized used of ‘truth’), is left to faith. And that is a very personal thing that a scientist has all the right on the world to have, or not.

      Also, keep in mind that the God that Albert Einstein refers to is a deistic god, a very different concept of god from the one used in Christianity.

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      • Exactly. I was not saying that scientific experiments are done based on faith, I was trying to say that it requires faith in the scientist who performed the experiment in order for you to regard the outcome as true.

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  5. Its truly amazing to see the two sides off this coin (religion) but it is even more amazing to see the two sides getting along and complementing one another. We have seen many important scientist and philosophers that have grown in a Christian based community, few of them living in place surrounded by monks and nuns. With this article we see the other side, we see how the church acknowledges the facts or theories that have been proven with science. It is not for me to judge which is right or which is wrong, but we can certainly learn from both. We as humans can use both to learn and gain more knowledge. Although the church has been influenced with science, science has also been influenced by Christianity. When we study the life of famous scientist in history we observe that many of this people came had a Christian base. Isaac Newton said that the Bible cannot err, and he explained his ideas as an alternate way of interpretation the biblical text. Robert Boyle was a Protestant and even gave money for the printing of the translation of the New Testament. Even Gregor Mendel was a monk.
    http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/sciencefaith.html

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    • I hope that the XXIST century sees even more reconciliation between religion and science. I encourage you to do some research on Alan Lightman, a novelist and physicist that has very interesting things to say in regards to religion, art, and science.

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  6. I’ve always wondered how the church accepts some theories in science knowing that it contradicts their teachings. I did a search for it online and found this website that shows some frequently asked questions about the relationship between God and evolution: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-god.html
    After reading it my point-of-view slightly changed but there are still many things that don’t make sense to me. I also know that those answers were written by someone who is faithful to their God, and because of that, has a biased point-of-view.

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  7. I think one of the problems some religions have with science is that they think scientists are telling them that what they believe in is wrong, and people just don’t like to be told they are wrong. For example, some religions believe that everything was designed by a being superior to us for a certain purpose. And since the theory of natural selection is purely a mechanistic theory of change that does not appeal to any sense of purpose or a designer, they are inclined to believe that they are being contradicted in their beliefs. I don’t get that, since some of the scientists who make these discoveries are religious themselves. I believe that we may never know if there really is a superior being watching over us, so why waste our time fighting.
    http://www.iep.utm.edu/evolutio/

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    • Even when there are some obnoxious scientists out there who do not respect other fellow scientists’s opinions—Richard Dawkins, the guy who coined the word ‘meme’ is an example—, that does not mean that all scientists are disrespectful.

      Unfortunately, that’s the popular opinion regarding scientific research.

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  8. I honestly don’t understand the clash between religion and science. I believe that it is entirely possible for both to coexist. Just because evolution is scientifically proven it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a God. It’s really good that the Catholic Church accepted the theory of evolution, I hope that one day both religion and science can agree and work together to find the answers of where did we come from because at the end of the day it is not about who is wrong and who is right, it’s about finding out the truth.

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    • I agree with your statement, but keep in mind that religious beliefs are very personal, almost like an organic extension of the person. Thus, its not surprising that so many religious people are uncomfortable with concepts such as ‘natural selection’, ‘big bang, etc. This is why scientists, college professors and high school teachers have to do a better job when dealing with religious beliefs; they need to put forth a little more effort to develop empathy; respect the beliefs of everyone, even if these beliefs are not aligned with scientific literacy.

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  9. I really think that the church believes and the scientific world can coexist. God may have created us, but he and all of us are part of a greater picture: evolution. It’s hard to think back when the church prosecuted people that wanted to investigate more about the origin about Earth. Everyone has the right to an opinion and no one should be prosecuted for that. The people during that time provided us with the bases of evolution and other science related stuff. Thanks to them we now have a really advance scientifical community. I think that there must come a time when these two oposite “ideas” (the church and the sciences) come together. Maybe when this happen, together they will create a new and more sophisticated idea of evolution that may later be proven wrong or true. But the point of that is for everyone with different ideas to come together and put aside their honor.

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  10. Sometimes I wonder why the church is so strict with what they believe and do not accept another person’s belief like in this case of the evolution. In my opinion religion only thinks that god was the one that created us and the universe but what about all the experiments and investigations that scientist have been doing all these time to come to the conclusion that our evolution and existence has to do with science also?
    Here is a link that explains these controversies between God and evolution.

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  11. The subject of Church having any opinion towards any type of evolution that confronts their own beliefs has to be analyzed carefully. If it is to where proven that evolution is 100% accurate without the many holes and doubts that this theory has, it would encounter a very serious dilemma between the Church’s beliefs and reality. Evolution is something that over the years has been subject to numerous criticism and I consider it is important for Church and science to keep different paths because they will always have different views on how life works.

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    • Remember what we’ve said regarding the concept «theory». Evolution is a theory that explains a natural phenomenon. And the current topic we are discussing, genetics, provides a wealth of information that further proves how species developed from a common ancestor. Evolution by means of natural selection is one of the many truths—along with the major truth of the Sun being the center of the solar system—that most western religions had to accept.

      Read carefully what each of the pontiffs said in regards to evolution, Big Bang, etc. They are theologians and academics. They’ve studied philosophy for decades. Pretty smart people. And they’ve all reached the same conclusion: that there should be no conflict between facing facts—such as Earth revolving around the Sun; or human beings, chimps, and apes having a common ancestor—and faith in a supreme being, God, etc.

      There are many Hindus, Buddhists, Islamists, and Christian scientists that accept all major scientific truths. And many of them have actually said that science has enriched their faith.

      The complexity of a galaxy, the eye of a fly, the fractal pattern of broccoli, the behavior of a peacock… All of these can be explained by evolution and science; all of them provide a sense of wonder and amazement that anyone—religious or not—will benefit from. And this sense of wonder can be found in religion, art, and science; neither one should occupy some sort of privileged spot in a hierarchy that, quite frankly, has done more harm than good.

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  12. Since very early in history there have been many conflicts between science and the Catholic Church. Science is a very big part in one’s life; it explains basically everything we could ever wander about, but the Church also explains many things. Not everyone needs to believe in them. I don’t think there should be any conflict between science and the Church because if you believe in something it should be because of your own opinion and your own judgment, not because someone told you to or forced you to. I really like this topic because you see two very powerful things, the Church and science, treat each other a inferiors when in reality the are equals, it just depends on who’s point of view you’re seeing it from.

    http://www.livescience.com/27790-catholic-church-and-science-history.html

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  13. In our history, the Catholic Church has had so much power over societies that it caused the people to be ignorant to what is really going on with the world and anyone who said otherwise was prosecuted somehow. Still today there are people that believe that the Earth is the center of the universe even though we now know that the sun is the center of our universe.

    http://curiouspresbyterian.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/the-roman-catholic-church-has-its-own-version-of-science-denying-creationists-small-group-of-geocentrists/

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  14. This post is very intriguing. I think that religion and science should complement each other. If there is a scientific discovery that can be controversial to any religious belief and that it is backed up with a lot of proof that came out from precise experiments, findings, etc., then religion should make a little space in their world for these specific discoveries. I am personally a Catholic, and there are some things in my religion that are questionable because the beliefs are backed up by faith and not proof. But since I’m human, I decide to believe and have faith because it is part of who we are. Faith is part of us humans and it should never end being a part of us. I also believe that science and religion should be considered as “brothers”, here’s why. They have differences in beliefs and they kind of “fight” in certain ways but both make us who we are and what we are composed of. Neither should be rejected from our lives. We have to learn to accept faith and also accept science and facts. I also believe that science should not reject God and religion should not reject scientific facts.

    Watch this video to see the Big Bang Theory and religion coping: http://youtu.be/q3MWRvLndzs

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  15. Since Charles Darwin and the origin of species the view of the church on the theory of evolution evolution has slowly been refined. Today, the Church supports evolutionary creation,although Catholics are free not to believe in any part of evolutionary theory. , According to which God created, evolution occurred, human beings may indeed have been descended from more primitive forms, and the Hand of God was required for the production of the human soul.

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  16. Science and faith usually tend to clash because science doesn’t believe in things it cannot prove and faith believes in things that cannot be scientifically proven, which is probably the reason why the church rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution even though he had evidence to support his theory.

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  17. Since the theory of evolution appeared, it met resistance. In history it was seen how religions, especially Catholicism, rejected ideas presented by science. The theory of evolution was one of the most rejected because of two major reasons. These were the incorrect idea that the theory excludes supernatural involvement in the development of the natural world and the general public’s limited understanding of the scientific evidence. Thankfully after many years of conflict, parts of the Catholic church accept the theory of evolution and acknowledge that it doesn’t need to threaten faith.

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  18. I believe this post is very interesting and lead to very different opinions. I have grown in a christian home and have been raised in the beliefs of the church yet as time passes i have developed my own personal opinions on the theory of evolution. I strongly believe one should have the right to ponder among the many scientifically proven facts on these theories. In my opinion i do believe christian beliefs and scientific theories contradict each other at times. It should be left to each person to determine what they believe. In my case i believe God created the universe and everything in it scientific theories just help us understand their complexion and how they came to be. I found this link on the debate of the Theory of Evolution and Christianity, i think it can appeal to many different frames of mind. http://www.raptureready.com/rr-ec-debate.html

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  19. I find it very hard to find a way that religion and science can go hand by hand… I believe the catholic church has abused of its power in past times and will never have my full credibility for that same reason. They found an easy way in controlling people and their ways of thinking, while science has always taken a more concrete stance. Personally I believe in a superior power that created the World and everything we stand for, but at the same time I acknowledge the truths of all science discoveries. Finding a balance, and feeling comfortable with our personal beliefs should be the key to the dilemma.

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    • I agree with your statement about balance.

      It has taken centuries for mankind to reconcile its true role in the universe with what many religions said for millennia: that human beings are the apex of creation.

      Imagine yourself being a common citizen in 15th century Florence and someone told you that Earth orbits the Sun. And the guy that told you this was the only person in the world—possibly another dude in Holland knew about it—that was aware of this earth shattering piece of knowledge.

      This new piece of information goes against your very senses! How can this be?!

      I’ve done this thought experiment several times before; and it never ceases to amaze me how brave scientists had to be, considering that the public utterance of such statements could get you killed by the church and the government, which were pretty much the same thing.

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  20. http://nautil.us/issue/9/time/evolution-youre-drunk
    Even though this blog post states that Evolution is a pretty straightforward theory, it is very true that there are many misconceptions and controversies to it. One of the most common controversies is the clash with religion and evolution, but I found a link where the controversies are seen by evolution clashing with itself. This link gives a very different approach to evolution and its already established simple to complex evolutionary tree. With different experiments and researches, they compare the complications and number of genes of very complex beings to very simple ones, having weird and not expected results, where less complex, and very ancient beings, have more genes than more modern and complex beings. Another change they found to the evolutionary tree was that by eliminating the arrows for how similar organism look to one another, and placing them based on DNA and protein sequence similarities, they ended up not with a tree, but with a forward and backward and forward again structure.
    Evolution is accepted as a theory, but this lets us know how complicated and unpredictable life and nature truly are.

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    • I loved this quote: “DNA analyses are rearranging evolutionary trees, suggesting that the arrow scientists envisioned between simplicity and complexity actually spins like a weather vane caught in a tornado.”

      Responsible scientists should welcome with open arms updates to the theory. The word theory does not mean “monolithic”. Science can update itself. And, contrary to what scientifically illiterate people might believe, the fact that science can accept updates and rewritings is its main strength.

      This clip, taken from a recent debate between a prominent scientist and a prominent creationist, illustrates my point on the plasticity of science:

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  21. This blog post presents us with two perspectives on how people view the different aspects of how life began etc. I believe that since the beginning of time people have been looking for answers to why things happen and how they are the way they are, while religion (Christian), doesn’t have to look for answers on how the universe or life came to be, because they have faith in God and God made everything, and they strongly believe in this without looking for an explanation. I think that this is why these two views clash so much since they are so different, but I still believe that differences can be set aside and they can both integrate their views and opinions with one another.

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  22. This is definitely one of my favorite posts so far! It’s so great to see leaders of an institution as powerful as the Catholic Church come forward and express their thoughts concerning science theories that may challenge and contradict their already established teachings. The clash between science and religion is a very controversial one, and I hope that all those people that insist that the two can’t coexist will take a note from these wise men who manage to both retain their beliefs and open their minds to new possibilities.

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  23. Personally, I have always been truly fascinated by religions. They set a path for humans to believe in and follow. It’s history, and they are a great read. The church on the other hand has had problems, but its opinion still stands high. Evolution does explain this natural phenomenon. The typical question that all religions basically answer too: “Where do humans come from?”. This question has transcended into different ones. Regardless I feel that, religion is more of a spiritual guide, rather than a physical one. In my opinion, both of them do not mix, but they do compliment each other.

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    • We cannot account for a proper description of the human experience without considering religions. The same can be said of art. I’m fascinated by them as well.

      I’m currently reading a book called The Golden Bough, by James George Frazer. It was written in the XIX century, and it is basically an anthropological text that describes, with a lot of detail, many religions–from the hellenistic religions (Greek), to the african religions, semitic religions (Egypt, Syria, Israel, Babilonia, etc). I strongly recommend it if you have a genuine interest in art, culture, religions, etc.

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  24. The church ad science have never gotten along. They have keep fighting for centuries and every time a scientist found something that went in the other direction then they either tortured, arrested or forced the scientist to change their views and because of this I for one do go against the church. The church used their power over the majority of the people to make the scientist loo bad and have to destroy their work. If not for the church science would have progressed even faster, we could know things that we still don’t know today. Religion has always affected science because thousands of years ago religion still destroyed science sometimes. I choose science and evolution over religion because they have some evidence to support their claims while religion follows some books written by whoever wanted to write them and wrote what ever they wanted in them.

    This article shows us how people reacted to a pope accepting or a least supporting evolution:http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1996-10-25/news/9610250130_1_humani-generis-evolution-theory

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  25. I believe religion should be about making inner peace with oneself not about explaining the ways of nature, that’s what science is for. Maybe the Church started to explain why the world was created to give religion a superfluous feeling of authority or because science didn’t exists (yet) to explain it to us. And maybe now that science does exists, the Church feels it is losing control over its followers and maybe that’s why it is so stubborn to go against science. But these are modern times and with so many advances in our society the Church has to modernize its principles and some beliefs too.

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  26. A family member once told me I’d go to hell for slightly questioning something the bible said, and instead of being hurt by it, I found it sort of sad. How can a person trust so blindly in the bible? Doesn’t the bible say that Eve emerged from Adam’s rib? It’s very upsetting to see how in the past centuries, so many lives were lost for believing in something else that isn’t Catholicism, and it’s even sadder seeing how great minds like Galileo Galilei were suppressed from the world just because they suggested something that the bible doesn’t say, even when he himself was a devout Catholic. I’m glad that there have been some advances on this subject, that some Catholics accept and/or believe in the facts of science, but there’s still that group of Catholics that sees science as something unholy. I hope that someday, all religious people (no matter what religion) can respect science, as for all scientists (religious or not) can equally respect religion. Once this happens, I believe that the world would be a much better place.

    “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” –Albert Einstein

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  27. I, personally, being Catholic search for answers within my religion. But, when answers and theories, like evolution, come forward you can’t ignore them. They are facts and proven evidence leading towards it that can’t be easily ignored. I think that science and faith are two different things. In science, when you prove your hypothesis you have true answers on what is happening with our world, but when those answers are not known you can’t help but turn to something higher than us. There was a point in our humanity when no person could question the church’s faith and no science could overrule the church’s believes, but this comment make us see how we have evolved as human beings and how our minds are more open to more things. Seeing this, you can conclude that science and faith are two completely different things.

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