Commendation of Evolution
Sir,—Dr. Hodgson's praiseworthy article about the need for Catholic scientists seems to have called forth some opposition to evolution, and now Human! Generis has been called in to support the statements of the anti.eyolutionists. It is truly nonsense to assert that evolution is about to be discarded for the certitude of the idea increases year by year. To deal with the validity of evolutionism would take more space than the editor could grant me, but perhaps I may be allowed a few remarks about Humani Generis from the standpoint of a professional biologist and evolutionary writer.
11 there is one Papal document which Catholic biologists have welcomed it is this Encyclical. The anti-evolutionists have had a good time in the past attempting to show that evolution is on the way out and that Humani Generis supported this contention. Perhaps I may suggest that many of them have not interpreted this document in the spirit in which ii was conceived by Pius XII. It is perfectly clear that in Humani Generis evolution is left an open question. both as regards evolutionary theory in general and as regards the evolution of man's body, but always on the understanding that each human soul is a unique creation (which is de fide), and that Adam was the progenitor of the human race (any other view would seem to raise difficulties regarding original sin).
The statements by the Pope on these matters in the Encyclical are quite definite, and there seems to he no reason why they should not be interpreted literally, and even more so when we consider the historical background to the document. This is precisely the feature which is completely ignored by so many Catholics hostile to evolu tion. The Encyclical appears in a completely different light when viewed from the historical standpoint.
Consider that for years (indeed from about Darwin's time) many influential Catholic theologians, philosophers and writers in general have propounded antievolutionary views ad nauseam: then suddenly, when the exact opposite was expected by them. Pius XII published Humani Generis in which for the first time evolution was mentioned specifically by the Pope in such a way as to invite further investigation and discussion on evolution in iota.
Under the circumstances surely this action of the Holy Father amounted to a commendation, not a condemnation of evolution. But just as he warns evolutionists not to he too absolutist in their interpretations. so also the document warns anti-evolutionists to be careful in their rejection of the idea. The attitude of Pius XII in this Encyclical is thus one of considered support rather than the opposite , and, considering the strength of the anti-evolutionary camp, such an attitude would scarcely have been adopted by the Pontiff unless the certitude of evolution was fairly high.
That is why Catholic biologists welcome Humani Generis, hoping thereby to see anend of the eternal pinpricks which Dr. Hodgson mentioned. They hope to see a change in attitude in Catholic schools and Colleges and among the clergy in general so as to foster a scientific vocation among suitable young Catholics. Only in this way will we come to have any influence on scientific thought in general.
P. G. Fothergill, F.R.S.E.