Pope signs up to Big Bang theory! So a recent headline goes. Others were more restrained, reporting that in addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences he said that the Big Bang is compatible with the Catholic Church’s teaching on creation. Belief in both is possible. He also saw no problem with believing in a creator God and the theory of evolution.
Why should this be news? The Vatican has had an astronomical observatory at Castel Gandolpho (above the Papal summer residence) since 1789 , staffed by Jesuit priests who also work at the sharp end of academic astronomy up a mountain in Arizona. The first theoretical suggestion of the Big Bang as a theory of origin of the universe came from a Belgian catholic priest, Fr Georges Lemaitre, in 1927. Saying that the big bang is the best account of the creation of the universe and that evolution was God’s way of bring life into being is nothing new for Popes: Pius XII and John Paul II signed up to this.
Pope Francis was more concerned to say that “When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so”. That is more interesting: God cannot do everything!
God has given the permission for this amazing universe to come into being and with a mechanism that produces free, self-aware, moral beings – me and you. He has set in motion a universe that is able to create itself. Our blood contains hydrogen that was created in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago and iron that was formed by the explosion of primary stars many million years ago. We are indeed star dust. And Francis is quite right: God cannot wave a magic wand. Not having given us a self-creating universe. He also waits to see what his creation will reveal. We are fearfully and wonderfully formed.
The Revd Canon Dr Mike Parsons, Priest in Charge for St Oswald Coney Hill with St Aldate, Gloucester