The Catholic Beliefs on How the Earth Started

Catholic beliefs have evolved as the science of earth's origins become more comprehensive.
... Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

The first sentence in the Bible is: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Roman Catholic beliefs about the earth's origins are built on this sentence. When Catholics speak about how the earth started, they are talking about more than just paleontology or evolution. According to the Catechism, creation is the "beginning of the history of salvation."

1 Pre-existent God

The Catholic Church believes that God, the creator, predated his creation. Before the world began, God existed. According to Pope Pius XII, God chose to create the world out of the "necessary liberality of divine love." This creation was "ex nihilo," which means "out of nothing." Pope John Paul II, speaking to a general audience on January 15, 1986, declared that creation was "outside" of God, and God was "outside" of creation. The creation may bear marks of divine creation but God does not live inside his creation. In other words, Catholicism rejects pantheism. The world is not divinity; the world was created by divinity.

2 Evolution

The Catholic Church is not opposed to the theory of evolution. Pope Benedict XVI, in a 2008 address to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, spoke of the relationship between creation and evolution. He said that before anything in the world could evolve, that thing had to have come into being. In other words, the raw materials of evolution had to have been created by God before they could go on to evolve. In that 2008 plenary session of the Academy, members did not discuss the legitimacy of the theory of evolution but rather the relationship between the theory and the classic doctrines of creation.

3 Souls

The Catholic Church allows for the possibility that just as the earth and all the creatures within it evolved, human beings also evolved. Yet Catholics do not believe that the soul evolved. Pope John Paul II spoke of a "different ontological order--an ontological leap" that takes people beyond the mere physical. Section 360 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that human beings are composed of both a material body and a spiritual soul. In section 366 it states "every spiritual soul is created immediately by God." In other words, the soul is not "produced" by the parent in the way that the body is. Neither did the soul evolve as human bodies evolved.

4 Design

The Catholic Church does not wish to argue with modern science about the origins of the earth and the development of life on earth. The church has been trying to avoid asserting dogma as science. However, according to Christoph Schönborn, the Roman Catholic cardinal archbishop of Vienna, one issue where the church parts ways with "neo-Darwinians" is on the issue of design. In a 2005 editorial to the the "New York Times," Schönborn declares unequivocally that evolution, as the Catholics see it, is not "an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection." The Catholic Church sees the hand of God in all creation, the creation of the earth itself and the creation of all the creatures that populate the earth.

Susan Peterson is the author of five books, including "Western Herbs for Martial Artists and Contact Athletes" and "Clare: A Novel." She holds a Ph.D. in text theory from the University of Texas at Arlington and is an avid cook and gardener.