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Roman Catholic priests and science experts have said that recent discoveries suggesting that humans evolved from one species is compatible with the Christian faith.
"Certainly, confirmation of humanity's origin in one single lineage, just like modern humanity belonging to one species (as is proposed by the recent study), fits better with the understandings of the faith," said Msgr. Fiorenzo Facchini, an expert paleontologist and anthropologist and a priest of the Church of Bologna, according to Catholic News Service.
Recent research published in the journal Science of an ancient human skull unearthed in 2005 at the site of modern day Georgia in Europe has suggested that humans might have evolved from a single source rather than branching from a tree of multiple species. The skull, named "Skull 5," is believed to be 1.8 million-years-old.
"This is the most complete early Homo skull ever found in the world," said lead study author David Lordkipanidze, researcher at the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi.
Lordkipanidze added that variations in physical features among the Dmanisi hominid specimens can be compared to modern-day differences between humans, suggesting they all belong to one tree. The author noted that "if you will put separately all these five skulls and five jaws in different places, maybe people will call it as a different species."
The researcher added that the specimens may all be a part of a single evolving Homo erectus species, evidence for which has also been found in Africa and Asia. The study proposes that fossil records that had seemingly identified different species such as Homo ergaster, Homo rudolfensis and Homo habilis could possibly be variations on a single species, Homo erectus.
Facchini, who served as Head of the Museum of Anthropology of Bologna, added that the Science journal study calls into discussion "the tendency to readily identify a species on the basis of morphological differences."
"Besides (the problem of) the scarcity of remains, identifying species ... in human fossils is very problematic," he wrote. Addressing the physical differences sometimes found in fossils, he offered that environmental factors like diet or climate can play an important role. While the priest did not offer his thoughts on whether there was more than a single human species in prehistoric time, he said that he has no doubt that there is a single "human lineage with its roots in an African population."
Legionaries of Christ Father Rafael Pascual added that the discovery "is close to what one finds in the teaching of the church: the origins of the human being from one single 'source.'"
The priest, who is the director of the Institute of Science and Faith at Rome's Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University, shared with Vatican Radio that 'the church is open to science and any findings that are not in conflict with the faith.'
"To maintain that God has a plan and he wanted to create mankind and that God could also have used the process of evolution is not a contradiction," Father Pascual said.