This may not be such big news, in that the Vatican gave its blessing to evolution as God’s means of creating life in the world under John Paul II. Pope Benedict has simply taken the next logical step in affirming that scientific theories pointing to the origin of the universe approximately 13.7 billion years ago are compatible with Roman Catholic teachings.
The pontiff’s declaration also included a reference to the non-scientific nature of the first three chapters of Genesis. On one hand, that could easily be greeted with a “well, duh.” It doesn’t read like anything we would normally expect from a science book. And the more one reflects on the nature of origins myths from the Middle East at the likely time of the writing of Genesis, the more one might conclude that it is written as a polemic against those myths. On the other hand, connecting a mythical interpretation of Genesis 1-3 to the real human beings who follow in the subsequent chapters is fraught with challenges of its own.
What I find ironic is that the report from the Vatican comes shortly after the release of those Top Ten stories of 2010 noted in recent posts on this blog. Among those stories was the case of Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke, who was “encouraged” to resign from his teaching position at Reformed Theological Seminary. His transgression was to advocate a reading of Genesis which would appear to be very much at home within Roman Catholicism, questioning the historicity of one named Adam.
What is also at issue here is authority, an issue I’ve been raising repeatedly. Here, it is not only the locus of authority, but the extent of that authority as well. What are the matters over which a recognized authority is competent to speak? Does orthodoxy extend over matters of doctrines of salvation only, or is it equally valid in matters such as the interpretation of science and the means through which God created the heavens and the earth? In answering this, we must also bear in mind that the traditional conservative reading of such passages as Genesis 1-3 is itself dependent upon a certain hermeneutic–a way of reading and interpreting the text. Does a recognized church authority have the right and/or the responsibility to dictate a hermeneutical approach to Scripture? If not, are there any boundaries, and who would determine them if there are?
So let’s get controversial for the new year. What do you think of either the papal position or of Waltke’s situation?