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Pope John Paul II's Wednesday statement that "the theory of evolution [may be] more than just a hypothesis" generally sparked supportive reaction from Harvard's biologists, theologists and students.
Although the Pope did not specifically refer to Darwin or evolutionary biology, his words are an active step towards promoting the coexistence of scientific evidence and religious faith.
"There are people whose faith is upset by knowledge of science, and they wonder whether of not they can continue to believe," said Houghton Professor of Theology Presten N. Williams. "The Pope is making it possible for people who accept both theories to continue to hold onto them and use them for different purposes."
Assistant Professor of Biology Brian D. Farrell was more skeptical. "The Church has never taken a strong stance on this issue, so I figure it's a political move," he said.
Others didn't stop to question the Church's motives, but merely applauded possible consequences.
Assistant Professor of Biology David A. Baum applauded the Pope's recognition of scientific evidence. "The Pope's statement is good, given the great creationist push in this country. [Creationists] can't turn their backs on the evidence," he said.
"It is possible to hold any number of conflicting beliefs," Baum added.
"It's better to be able to hold both views, because it's difficult to resolve scientific and religious beliefs," agreed biology concentrator Kerlen J. Chee '98.
And biology concentrator Anne Marie Ryberg '98 said the Pope's acceptance of scientific theory as coexistent with religious faith affirmed her simultaneous practice of Catholicism and study of biology.
The Pope made explicit a provision for conflicting beliefs in his statement, saying that "in truth, rather than of a theory of evolution, one should speak of theories of evolution."
While the Pope did not address any of the apparent conflicts between Biblical and scientific versions of creation, he did maintain Pope Pius XII's stance that "the spiritual soul is immediately created by God."
Though the Pope usually delivers statements to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in person, Wednesday's statement was delivered in writing because he is recovering from an operation to remove his appendix.
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