God as a Magician?
Pope Francis created headlines recently when he cautioned against “…imagining God as a magician with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so.” Less quoted is a much better translation of the Pope’s statement: “God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the Creator who gives birth to all entities.” A demiurge is a demigod, a platonic notion of a sub-deity. It relates to the pagan concept of formation of the world from chaos. Pope Francis was misunderstood on this point. He was not announcing his atheistic denial of God’s deity. Rather, he was voicing support for the concept of evolution.
The Catholic Church has long endorsed the concept of evolution beginning with Pope Pius XII in 1950 and continuing with Pope John Paul II in 1996 and Pope Francis in 2014. This endorsement amounts to agreement with the secular science community that natural processes are responsible for the sequential development of life from LUCA, the last universal common ancestor, to the historic development of millions of distinct species, and finally to full-fledged humanity. We characterize these papal endorsements as “molecules to man” evolution. The evolutionary LUCA hypothesis proposes that a simple organism about 3.8 billion years ago was the forerunner of every life form on earth existing at the present moment. Primarily, the foundation of belief in LUCA springs from the commonality of the genetic code: DNA and RNA are found in every living thing in various manifestations. From this commonality, bio-scientists infer evolution has occurred.
Our blog position stands against the theory of evolution. We have held that evolution is a weak theory notwithstanding the consensus of the bio-science community. Creation scriptures are interpreted to signal miraculous interventions of God to account for the sudden arrival of biochemically complex life on this planet, the dramatic appearance of new life forms exemplified by the Cambrian Explosion, and the “cultural big bang” marking startling changes in hominid ability and behavior within the last few tens of thousands of years. The theorized pace and operation of evolution acting under natural law conflicts with significant paleontological and archeological evidence and denies miraculous interventions of the monotheistic deity described in Genesis.
Substantial segments of church attendees endorse evolution. As noted above, the leaders of the Catholic Church have long accepted evolution as part of their belief structure. Almost all of their members accept evolution and believe, along with their leadership, that Christian faith and evolution are fully compatible. We highlight two other church groups whose origins beliefs are similar. Mainline Protestants largely accept evolution as do some evangelical Protestants. The three groups mentioned would almost unanimously acknowledge that “God is the Creator of all things.” A May 2014 Gallup Poll would doubtlessly place these three groups among 31% of the US population who accept evolution in their survey. Another 19% of the US population endorses evolution but they do not believe God had any part in the process. All told, about half of the US population accepts evolution. They would agree with Pope Francis that “God is not a demiurge or a magician” responsible for creating life forms at any moment of past time.
The Gallup organization reports that a separate 42% of Americans believe the Earth and its life forms originated in divine miracles of creation less than 10,000 years ago. We suspect Pope Francis refers primarily to this group with his cautionary advice not to imagine that God is a magician able to wave a magic wand. The Pope may also refer to old universe creationists who perceive periodic divine interventions initiating life and new life forms. The imagery of waving of a magic wand does not equate with divine, miraculous acts of creation. Evolutionists believe the naturalistic process of evolution occurs neither miraculously or suddenly. The process of creation, however, cannot be explained in naturalistic terms.
Pope Francis’ statements have many ramifications. The media reported his message primarily as affirmation that evolutionary science and biblical faith need not be in conflict. This is a chic and popular proposal in our culture. The Pope’s statements went even further. For example, he conflated evolution and the Big Bang. It is difficult to draw a parallel between these theories. In a future post we will return to these challenging issues.