Evolution is a theory but not an established fact, because the origins of human life are not now observable, since, according to the theory, life arose from inert matter millions or billions of years ago. If evolution were a fact, it would be scientifically testable, but it is not testable.
In 1996, Pope John Paul II gave an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in which he said that: “new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.” It is not altogether clear what the Pope meant exactly by the comment to the scientists, who were meeting to discuss evolution and the origin of man.
A scientific theory is composed of various hypotheses. Hypotheses and theories are working models, not established fact. They are conditional, that is, if all the assumptions are correct, then the theory is valid until such time as contrary evidence might show them to be false. Evolution is a theory in this sense: it is certainly not an established fact, because the origins of human life are not now observable, since, according to the theory, life arose from inert matter millions or billions of years ago. If evolution were a fact, it would be scientifically testable, but it is not testable. So evolution is not scientific in the sense that certain results of the physical sciences are observable, testable and, therefore, “scientific.” It is more correct to say, as many do today, that evolution is a philosophical theory, or metaphysical “faith” in the idea that biological evolution took place.
John Paul II’s statement about evolution suggests that he was much more favorable towards the theory of evolution than was his predecessor Pius XII, notably in his Encyclical Letter, Humani Generis (1950). If you wish to compare the two popes on evolution, I strongly urge you to get a copy of Humani Generis and study it carefully. Back in 1950, in a Letter that merits being called “prophetic,” Pius XII put his finger on most of the problems that are plaguing the Church and the world today.
In his remarks to the scientists, John Paul II did not define a doctrine concerning faith or morals in that he did not speak to the whole Church, but just to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences; he did not insist on his opinion, again and again. Papal infallibility and the Ordinary Magisterium were not involved, so Catholics are not bound to follow his opinion in this highly speculative area of science. If Pope John Paul II favored theistic evolution (which seems to be implied in his words) as opposed to the direct creation of Adam from the dust of the earth, the probability of his opinion on this scientific theory depends on the factual evidence that supports it.
An important book of evolution is Dr. Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. The evidence adduced by Behe from biochemistry against evolution is very convincing and, in my opinion, is a dagger in the heart of evolution—whether naturalistic or theistic.
Why did the major media in the United States give so much prominence to a minor statement of the Pope to a few scientists? They twisted his words to give the impression that the Pope has endorsed evolution as they understand it, namely: the material universe spontaneously produced the first form of life, from which all living beings have developed, including man. This means that man is a part of nature and not directly created by God. It results in a rejection of creation, the historical value of the Bible, Adam and Eve, the Fall and original sin, the need for redemption, the Incarnation, the divinity of Christ, the Church and the sacraments. In short, it leads logically to the denial of the Catholic faith. Obviously, that is not what the Pope meant.
Modern thinking in the social and physical sciences, in philosophy and theology, is shot through with atheistic evolutionism. It is taught as a fact in public schools, as well as in most Catholic schools. Secular humanism, communism and liberalism, are based on it. There is little hope for true human advancement, for the “civilization of love,” as long as evolutionism, which diminishes man as made in the image of God, marches on unchallenged. Thanks to Dr. Behe, and many other researchers, the days of evolutionism may be numbered.