The Association of Catholic Priests Supports Anti-Scientific Creationist Teaching in Catholic Schools

The Association of Catholic Priests Supports Anti-Scientific Creationist Teaching in Catholic Schools.

While the Roman Catholic Church is broadly supportive of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, their formal doctrine continues to insist on “human exceptionalism”. That is, the Church requires that some dogmatic qualifications are applied to the science, when it comes to human evolution. In the context of Catholic schools, which comprise 90% of State-funded schools in Ireland, the Association of Catholic Priests has stated that children must receive this anti-scientific teaching.

The contemporary Roman Catholic teaching on Evolution was described in 1950, within a Papal Encyclical called Humani Generis. In this document, Pope Pius XII defined the Church position as follows:


“When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”


In this paragraph, Pope Pius XII describes both where the Roman Catholic Church insists that the science is wrong and also describes why the Church requires that this must be the case. The reason why the Church insists that the science is wrong, is in order to preserve the doctrine of Original Sin. This doctrine requires that all humans throughout history, were directly descended from an actual historical character called Adam, who was responsible for The Fall of Man as an actual historic event.

The area where the Roman Catholic Church insists that contemporary science is wrong, is what Pope Pius XII refers to as “polygenism”. That is, the Roman Catholic Church cannot abide the proposition that humans evolved from a broad population of ancestors, rather than from a single couple, Adam and Eve. Unfortunately for the Church, the consensus among contemporary evolutionary biologists in this area is independently supported by overwhelming evidence from many different disciplines. These include the study of genetic diversity, archaeology, anthropology, evolutionary anatomy and population genetics.

There are various estimates of what the minimum human population was during historic population bottlenecks. The lower end of these estimates shows that there could not at any point have been fewer than 10,000 human individuals. Certainly, contemporary science definitively rules out the idea that at some point there were only 2 humans, Adam and Eve. Consequently, whichever human male throughout history the Church may call Adam, there were certainly other humans who lived after Adam who were not directly descended from him. In other words, the human exceptionalism described in Humani Generis cannot be reconciled with contemporary evolutionary biology.

In this context, Atheist Ireland has asked the Association of Catholic Priests how the anti-scientific teaching of the Church is reflected in Catholic schools today. Specifically, we asked what the response might be in a Catholic school if a student asked the following question:


“Was Adam, as the first ever human, an actual character from whom all subsequent humans descended or should we view Adam in a similarly symbolic manner to the talking snake?”


Of course, a science teacher should immediately respond that any Adam, who is supposedly the “first human” from who all subsequent humans descended, could not possibly have existed. However, the response from the Association of Catholic Priests stated that:


“The answer would focus on the symbolic and that the emergence of the various species was gradual with one coming before the other even if ever so slightly. So therefore you can speak of the first. The offspring are just that. They sprung from that which emerged first and thereafter.”


This is an answer that supports the anti-scientific doctrine from Humani Generis. Specifically, that there was a “first human” from whom all subsequent humans are the “offspring”. The Association of Catholic Priests is one of the most vocal supporters of Catholic patronage for State-funded schools. When asked to choose between the overwhelming evidence of contemporary science and the Creationist tropes used to justify Iron Age scriptures, the Association of Catholic Priests chooses the latter teaching for our children.

This is consistent with how science teachers within Catholic schools are instructed to deliver courses to students. For example, the Religious Education Department within St Patrick’s Teacher Training College in Drumcondra, made the following submission on the Science Curriculum, to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism:

“Religious Education will integrate with the following strands of the Science Curriculum … Plants and animals: exploring God’s creation.”
Section 15.2(b) of the Education Act 1998, obliges school boards to “uphold, and be accountable to the patron for so upholding, the characteristic spirit of the school”. This legal requirement to uphold the spirit defined by Catholic patrons is also reflected in Rule 68 for National Schools, which mandates that “a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school”. In the case of Catholic schools, we know what this means. Where Catholic doctrine on creation conflicts with contemporary science (for example, Humani Generis cannot possibly be reconciled with contemporary evolutionary biology) then dogma wins. Objective scientific truths must be made bend into whatever shape the Catholic Bishops feel that The Book of Genesis requires. Our education system would be better off if science was not diluted by religious dogma.

John Hamill


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    Cathal Ó Broin September 22, 2015

    “That is, the Roman Catholic Church cannot abide the proposition that humans evolved from a broad population of ancestors …”
    Polygenism seems to be a different than that; a proposal which was strongest in the 19th century that different “races” evolved in different places separately. It’s not the same as the view that there is one common pool of progenitors for humans.

    • Avatar
      John Hamill September 22, 2015

      Yes … at Atheist Ireland we’ve discussed exactly this issue with a number of evolutionary biologists who are actively working in this field today (that is, genetic diversity and the contemporary implications of human evolution). In general terms, the word “polygenism” can be used to mean a number of different things, including the meaning you ascribe around the origin of the races. However, if you follow the Humani Generis link and read the context of Pope Pius XII using this word in his Encyclical, he’s using it to refer to human origin deriving from a broad population of ancestors. This he rules out in favour of human origin deriving from a single couple, Adam and Eve. This model of human evolution suggested by the Church, whereby a historic Adam character actually existed (from whom all subsequent humans were directly descended) simply cannot be reconciled with the evidence. Not least the very strong evidence that our Homo sapiens ancestors interbred with a Homo neanderthalis, which was a different species altogether (and if not a different species, then a very different population in genetic terms).

      So while there are indeed different usages and meanings of the word “polygenism”, in his Papal Encylycial (Human Generis, 1959) Pius XII clearly uses the term to defend the historicity of Adam and Eve. He then gives the reason for ruling out a broad population of ancestors as the damage this would do to the doctrine of Original Sin. That is, the scientific consensus is brushed aside and replaced with a demonstrably false narrative, in order to preserve religious dogma.