I am by no means a Catholic or even a very religious person in the typical Judeo-Christian sense. I usually answer as "more spiritual" than religious if asked. There were many things I disagreed with Pope John Paul II about, most notably the absolutist christian agendas towards condoms and abortion, or his views about removing the Tyrant Saddam Hussein. However, anyone with any sense would have to recognize that Pope John Paul II was a man that for the most part transcended petty religious differences and sought to unite the planet under a common theme of compassion and good will.
The one area that I wish the Pope had been more vocal about were his views on evolution.
The Pope's Message on Evolution
In October of 1996, Pope John Paul II issued a message to the Pontifical Academy of Science reaffirming the Roman Catholic Church's long-standing position on evolution: that it does not necessarily conflict with Christianity.
An excerpt from his message:
5. The Church's Magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man: Revelation teaches us that he was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:27-29). The conciliar Constitution Gaudium et spes has magnificently explained this doctrine, which is pivotal to Christian thought. It recalled that man is :the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake" (n. 24). In other terms, the human individual cannot be subordinated as a pure means or a pure instrument, either to the species or to society, he has value per se. He is a person. With his intellect and his will, he is capable of forming a relationship of communion, solidarity and self-giving with his peers. St Thomas observes that man's likeness to God resides especially in his speculative intellect for his relationship with the object of his knowledge resembles God's relationship with what he has created (Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 3, a. 5, ad 1). But even more, man is called to enter into a relationship of knowledge and love with God himself, a relationship which will find its complete fulfillment beyond time, in eternity. All the depth and grandeur of this vocation are revealed to us in the mystery of the risen Christ (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 22). It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: if the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animal enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere inhet"; Encyclical Humani generic, AAS 42 , p. 575).
Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.
6. With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry? Consideration of the method used in the various branches of knowledge makes it possible to reconcile two points of view which would seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure the multiple manifestations of life with increasing precision and correlate them with the time line. The moment of transition into the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation,(ed.-emphasis mine) which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again, of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator's plans.
I hope that those who are hell-bent (no pun intended-or maybe I did?) on attempting to show that the Bible is a source of scientific background when describing the origin of the species would take the time to read that statement carefully. And this is coming from a man who has few peers, if any, when speaking of christian theology.
RIP Karol Wojtyla- Pope John Paul II. I hope you enjoyed that express ride through the pearly gates, you deserved it.