Can Catholics accept scientific explanations?

One of our students asked if they can take a scientific approach to creation. Such as the Big Bang theory or perhaps evolution.

Yes, science is a perfectly acceptable method for determining how things physically happened. However science can never give us the why of creation.

The “Big Bang Theory” was actually put forth in the 1920’s by a Catholic priest who was also a scientist. His name was Fr. Georges Lemaître. The Church has never had a problem with the theory. In 1951 Pope Pius XII appeared to give official acceptance of the validity of this theory in his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by mentioning it:

  1. …If we look back into the past at the time required for this process of the “expanding universe,” it follows that, from one to ten billion years ago, the matter of the spiral nebulae was compressed into a relatively restricted space, at the time the cosmic processes had their beginning.
  1. …In fact, it would seem that present-day science, with one sweeping step back across millions of centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to that primordial “Fiat lux” uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, while the particles of chemical elements split and formed into millions of galaxies.

And in 1996 Blessed Pope John Paul II said the following about evolution in his message delivered to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

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 an 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.

And as Pope Benedict XVI wrote before he became Pope:

We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the ‘project’ of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary—rather than mutually exclusive—realities.

— Cardinal Ratzinger, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Eerdmans, 1995), p. 50.

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