Today I decided to take a look at my own religious background and examine the Catholic Church's view on evolution. Considering the fact that there are numerous issues where the church's official stance differs significantly from mine, I was expecting something similar in this situation. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the last three popes have supported the theory of evolution as the explanation for human life. Specifically, I looked at a 1996 letter from Pope John Paul II entitled: "MESSAGE TO THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES: ON EVOLUTION." Included below are some quotes from the message that I think anybody interested in science and religion should read.
Acknowledgement of the Theory of Evolution:
"...findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory."
The difference between humans and other creatures:
"The Council recalled that 'man is the only creature on earth that God wanted for its own sake.' In other words, the human person cannot be subordinated as a means to an end, or as an instrument of either the species or the society; he has a value of his own. He is a person. By this intelligence and his will, he is capable of entering into relationship, of communion, of solidarity, of the gift of himself to others like himself. St. Thomas observed that man's resemblance to God resides especially in his speculative intellect, because his relationship with the object of his knowledge is like God's relationship with his creation."
On the definition of 'human' in the continuous context of evolution:
"With man, we find ourselves facing a different ontological order — an ontological leap, we could say. But in posing such a great ontological discontinuity, are we not breaking up the physical continuity which seems to be the main line of research about evolution in the fields of physics and chemistry? An appreciation for the different methods used in different fields of scholarship allows us to bring together two points of view which at first might seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure, with ever greater precision, the many manifestations of life, and write them down along the time-line. The moment of passage into the spiritual realm is not something that can be observed in this way—although we can nevertheless discern, through experimental research, a series of very valuable signs of what is specifically human life. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-consciousness and self-awareness, of moral conscience, of liberty, or of aesthetic and religious experience—these must be analyzed through philosophical reflection, while theology seeks to clarify the ultimate meaning of the Creator's designs."