Philadelphia Inquirer: Is the Catholic Church down with evolution?

I spent some time last week talking with Faye Flam, a chatty and engaging science reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer who doubles as a trapeze artist in her spare time.  Inspired (so to speak) by Pope Ratzi’s Easter Homily, which said strong stuff about evolution, Faye was writing a column about whether Catholics see evolution and their faith as compatible. She had already talked to Catholic scientists about evolution, and called me to get the take of an outspoken heathen.

Her column, “Catholicism and evolution: Are they contradictory?” appeared in this morning’s paper.  It’s a pretty good piece, and shows, for one thing, that Catholic scientists are all over the map.  But all of them, of course, claim that evolution and Catholicism are perfectly compatible.  How could they not?

Kenneth Miller (Catholic), who has previously written that God could have intervened to guide evolution through either setting up the laws of physics, or directing things by intervening on the quantum level:

Or, as Brown’s Miller puts it, “What makes us truly special is our ability to reason.”. . . [JAC note: Reason is not unique to humans, but has been seen in other primates, non-primate mammals, and birds!]

Miller says he rejects the ID position because it makes erroneous claims about biology.  Evolution, he said, explains many of the structures that ID theory cites as proof of a “designer’s” intervention,” including the flagellum.

And in Catholicism, he said, God wouldn’t micromanage that way. “Surely he can set things up without having to violate his own laws.”

In Miller’s view, God created the whole process of evolution. “We’re here because a creator God created a universe in which it was possible for beings like us to arise.”

Miller and other Catholic scientists say that even though they believe we were created by a creator, they are not creationists– a term they reserve for the official Intelligent Design movement and biblical literalism.

Whenever I see theistic evolutionists like Miller deny that they’re creationists, I remember the story (probably apocryphal) attributed to George Bernard Shaw.  He supposedly asked a woman at a party if she’d sleep with him for a million pounds.  She responded, “Well, I’d have to think about that.”  Shaw then asked, “Well, would you sleep with me for one pound?” The woman answered indignantly, “Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?”  Shaw answered coolly: “Madam, we’ve already established that.  Now we’re just haggling over the price.”  Miller, too, is just haggling over the price.

Martin Nowak, Catholic and Templeton-funded Harvard evolutionist, sees God as intervening in the evolutionary process (I understand that he refused to be explict about how this happens):

Catholic scientists say they are not Deists. “God is always present, not only as a creator but also a sustainer,” said Harvard biologist Martin Nowak, who is Catholic.

Stephen Barr, physicist and Catholic, is deeply confused:

Physicist Stephen Barr of the University of Delaware says it is possible to believe simultaneously in a world that is shaped by chance and one following a divine plan. “God is in charge and there’s a lot of accident,” said Barr, also a Catholic. “It’s all part of a plan. . . . God may have known where every molecule was going to move.”

I love Flam’s dry comment about this view, “There are quite a few molecules to keep track of, though he is God, after all.”  But if God knew where every molecule was going to move, and that movement followed a divine plan, then none of it could have been an accident.

The heathens include

Leonard Finegold, physicist:
The other problem with the pope’s words is that there really is randomness inherent in the natural world, said Drexel University physicist Leonard Finegold, who teaches a course in science and religion. And that is hard to square with a universe moving along some divinely directed course.
Et moi, and I absolutely stand by my words, though I object to the characterization of this website as a “blog”:
Catholics “cannot accept evolution as we scientists accept it – as an unguided, materialistic process with no goal or direction,” said University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, who writes about science and religion in his blog, “Why Evolution Is True.” . . .
. . .Many biologists are not religious, and few see any evidence that the human mind is any less a product of evolution than anything else, said Chicago’s Coyne. Other animals have traits that set them apart, he said. A skunk has a special ability to squirt a caustic-smelling chemical from its anal glands. Our special thing, in contrast, is intelligence, he said, and it came about through the same mechanism as the skunk’s odoriferous defense.

LOL!  I wonder if Bill Donohue is going to issue a Catholic Fat-Waah against me for comparing human intelligence to skunk butts. (Again, I stand by my analogy.)

Flam’s ending, which gives me an idea of whose side she’s on, came up when we were discussing my view that there are several bits of evidence against divinely directed evolution, including our knowledge of how the process actually works, and the amount of suffering involved, which doesn’t comport with a benevolent God.  Flam said it better:

This brings up some thorny issues with disease, natural disasters, and other sources of suffering. As one of Woody Allen’s characters put it, if God is in charge, it’s a wonder everyone doesn’t file a class-action lawsuit.

I’ve appended below some Pope-y statements that will give you an idea of the “official” Catholic position on evolution, which seems consistent in holding humans as evolutionarily different from other species.
_______________

Appendix:  Recent views of evolution by Popes.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII expressed some doubt about whether humans had ever evolved.  Sixteen years later, John Paul II deemed evolution more well established, but still insisted that humans differed from other creatures by the possession of a divinely installed soul.  This year, Pope Benedict regressed a little, asserting that humans could not have been the product of “random evolution.” It’s debatable what he meant by “random”.  Ratzi could have meant either 1) unguided evolution itself, which is actually a combination of random processes, mutation and genetic drift, and nonrandom ones, like natural selection; or 2) that evolution itself is purely “random.” Either interpretation bespeaks an ignorance of how evolution works.

Regardless, all three Popes have been unanimous in asserting that humans did not evolve like other creatures, for we not only have divinely installed souls, but the evolutionary process was somehow designed or impelled to cough up humans as its ultimate, god-worshipping product.

The emphases in the following statements are mine:

Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII (1950)

. . for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11] Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

Address to the Pontifical Academy of Science: Pope John Paul II (1996)

As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.

6. 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.

Easter Vigil Homily, Pope Benedict XVI (2011)

As believers we answer, with the creation account and with John, that in the beginning is reason. In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person. It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it. If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason. And because it is Reason, it also created freedom; and because freedom can be abused, there also exist forces harmful to creation.

94 Comments

  1. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    So, if they accept evolution, when exactly did god decide that the species had developed enough to put in that “special” soul and when did it decide that, now that they were human and not animals, that they had original sin (unlike their parents of course who, still being classified as animals, were free from original sin)?

    This must have caused some pretty strained parent/child relationships.

    • Dominic
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      I remember thinking this as a child. I never doubted the fact of evolution, & when considering that it made the idea of soul ridiculous. It is not even as if Jesus discusses what a soul is & lays down any doctrine about that (or anything else for that matter). It is all a matter of interpreting texts to find what JC said.
      Absurd.

    • Legal9ball
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      All you really need do is look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding is doctrine of original sin. It teaches as an essential article of faith that there was one man and one woman who sinned against god and from whom all home sapiens sapiens are descended. In other words, a genetic bottleneck of two. That claim is demonstrably false.

  2. Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    One says that god wouldn’t micro-manage, and another says that god knew where all the molecules would go.

    I am so confused! Religion results in more questions than answers! 🙂

    I wonder if the “God may have known where every molecule was going to move” guy realised that he just described pre-determinism, a system under which NONE of us are truly accountable for our actions?

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      Ah, but since God can do everything, so why not have free will and pre-determinism? It’s mysterious, you see! </sarcasm>

    • MadScientist
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Not only that, but it demonstrates that some physicists simply don’t understand the concept of entropy. Apparently entropy applies to everything but god.

  3. Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Miller, too, is just haggling over the price.

    Priceless!

    • Tyro
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      I agree. That’s a perfect metaphor – apt, memorable and funny.

  4. Sigmund
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    The current pop is near the mark.
    I’ll fix it for him.
    “It is the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within nature, or to bring rationality into it.”

    As for the skunk butt analogy, OK, it works – but I’m not going to get it done as a tattoo!
    A better and more beautiful analogy for human intelligence and imagination that I’ve heard is the analogy to the development of winged flight.

    • Sigmund
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      current “pope”, I mean

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:42 am | Permalink

      I don’t see why flight is better than skunk butts.

      • Sigmund
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        You are clearly using the wrong airline!

        • Stephen P
          Posted May 9, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

          Good thing I’d finished my tea when I read that! 😉

      • Dominic
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:37 am | Permalink

        We love your skunk butt.

        Really!

      • Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        Just once, do you think you could work in a more religiously-appropriate analogy?

        Like, say…”Our special thing, in contrast, is intelligence, he said, and it came about through the same mechanism as the skunk’s odoriferous defense. It’s what allows people to trick themselves into thinking that the ultimate goal in life is to become zombies so they can fondle the intestines of an ancient Jewish zombie king. We’re still trying to figure out what the evolutionary advantage actually is.”

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

          Ahh, I remember those intestines – fondly.

          • Posted May 12, 2011 at 12:13 am | Permalink

            Has He been touched by His Fondly Appendage?

    • Michael
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      A better and more beautiful analogy for human intelligence and imagination that I’ve heard is the analogy to the development of winged flight.

      … But the pun doesn’t work half as well there as it does in …ology . ’nuff said.

  5. Anders
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Just curios, why do you object to calling this website a “blog”. I’d certainly call it a blog, but its by no means meant as a derogatory term. If it isnt a blog, then what is it? A book website? science blog? I mean it fits all the descriptions of a blog, you are a scientist writing about science, but also about Cats, boots and good eats.. Again, nothing wrong with any of that, but as far as I can see, thats a blog.

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      I’ve yet to meet anybody who can pronounce the word, “blog,” without sounding like they had just discovered that the “good eats” they had been enjoying were really booted zombie cat intestines….

      b&

      • Tyro
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        Sort of how people react to the word “atheist” then?

        Why then should we defend the term “atheist” yet recoil from “blog”? If anything, the high quality of WEIT’s blogginess embiggens us all.

        • Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

          Yes, it’s a perfectly cromulent bog.

          • Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

            blog

            • Tulse
              Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

              A truly cromulent blog would have an edit function.

    • Tulse
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      The site has postings done by a single person, posted in chronological order, discussing primarily a single topic but often veering into very personal idiosyncratic interests. Sorry, Jerry, but that’s a blog.

      • Anders
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        Its actually reverse chronological order, which is the usual order of blogs.

        Yup Jerry, as a taxonomist, you’d think “If it quacks like a duck..” would resonate with you, no?

        • Dave J L
          Posted May 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

          Just to quibble a bit, surely the blog displays in reverse chronological order but the entries themselves are posted in chronological order, as Tulse says?

          • Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

            “the entries themselves are posted in chronological order”

            I defy Jerry to post them in any other order.

        • Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

          A quaxonomist?

      • Badger3k
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        I think the idea is that a blog is like an online diary, while Jerry has more than that. I agree in a way – we are now on Jerry’s blog which is on his website.

        • Tulse
          Posted May 9, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          None of the things labelled “blogs” that I follow are online diaries. I think one can distinguish between “personal blogs”, which are indeed primarily about the author’s life, and “subject blogs”, like, for example, those on ScienceBlogs, which are individuals writing in their individual voice, but about specific topics. (And given the posts here on Jerry’s boots, meals, and taste in music and pets, this site is far more like a personal blog than, say, Larry Moran’s site, which he explicitly calls a blog.)

          All that said, this is Larry’s joint, so he can call it whatever he wants.

          • Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

            I’m reminded of discussions with atheists who want to be called “agnostic” rather than “atheist”….

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      I don;t get this either. Although Dr. Coyne is of course at liberty to call his…internet place…whatever he wants (hey, remember when people had “home pages”?).

      It is inarguably true, however, that what he has going here is exactly what everybody else calls a ‘blog’.

      Does he object to the neologism/barbarism ‘blog’ and/or ‘weblog’ itself? A strange position for a habitual user of ‘LOLzy’ to take, imo, but whatever.

  6. Hempenstein
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    PP XII: . . for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that…

    Translation: You sign on with us and we tell you what to think. (And BTW, if you read a few more things I’ve written, your head will hurt so much that you’ll be happy that you won’t need to use it anymore.)

    Skunk: brilliant. Anyone reading that will be far more likely to mention it to someone else than flight.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      Well yes. Being a member of the Holy Roman Catholic Church entails accepting the guidance of the Pope on matters of faith and morality. “Liberal” Catholics who believe they can still be Catholic while disagreeing with the Pope on matters of faith and moarlity should consider this. More in comment #10.

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      “…the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that…

      Translation: You sign on with us and we tell you what to think.”

      Oh no, only what to SAY you think.

  7. MosesZD
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Actually, Dr. Miller, what makes us different (from the other animals) is how much total bullshit we make up to salve our fragile, narcissistic, center-of-the-universe viewpoint… Because, really, what’s more self-important than thinking you’re the fucking be-all and end-all of the universe and the most powerful being in/near/hiding it?

    • Dominic
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      Well said.

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      Hehe, that’s how I always want to reply to this kind of nonsense but end up biting my tongue and trying to be polite. I may have to let loose the next time the topic arises 🙂

      By the way, I’m also puzzled as to why ‘blog’ would be considered a bad description for this, erm, blog.

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      what’s more self-important than thinking you’re the fucking be-all and end-all of the universe and the most powerful being in/near/hiding it?

      Thinking that this belief is a sign of humility and, therefore, moral superiority over those who don’t hold the belief?

    • SteersmanOA
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      “… total bullshit we make up to salve our fragile, narcissistic, center-of-the-universe viewpoint …”

      Maybe understandable when we were no more than naked Bushmen leaping around tribal fires, but one might have hoped that we had evolved psychologically a little since then. But apparently not and seems there’s even a generic term for it: exceptionalism. While the Wikipedia article on the phenomena notes that every nation subscribes to some form of that it seems that there’s a decidedly problematic and quite disturbing merging of the political and religious species of it in the Republican Party:

      On Oct 2nd [2008], Sarah Palin ended the Vice Presidential debate by voicing her strong belief in American exceptionalism, – that America has a unique blessing by God and a special mission to the world.

      Just a couple weeks later this belief has been clarified – she meant Republican exceptionalism.

      In recent days it is clear from the emerging rhetoric of Sarah Palin and her doppelganger Congresswoman Bachmann that it is not really all of America that is blessed by God or fully comprehends God’s mission for this country. Only Republicans. …

      The gist of these attacks is that if a person or a group of people aren’t for the Republicans then they are anti-American. And by the extension of American exceptionalism – these same people are anti-God and God’s mission.

      It’s one thing to be a little self-centered as far as one’s country goes – which is frequently tempered by a little good natured kidding – but when that center is baldly and dogmatically asserted as being in Jehovah’s pocket, if not synonymous with “Himself”, then that begins to look like the proverbial recipe for disaster.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/idolizing-ideology-republ_b_135990.html

  8. Dominic
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    I like the Shaw anecdote, but you may recall that he detested Natural Selection. Our old pal Michael Ruse quotes him –
    “What damns Darwinian Natural Selection as a creed is that it takes hope out of evolution, and substitutes a paralysing fatalism which is utterly discouraging. As Butler put it, it banishes Mind from the universe.”
    I think Shaw was wrong about this (& most other things).

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      Well, “Darwinian Natural Selection” isn’t a “creed”, it’s a scientific theory. And even if Shaw was right that it leads to a “paralysing fatalism”, it still wouldn’t change anything about the validity of natural selection.

      • Dominic
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

        Of course, I merely point him out as an Enemy of Reason.
        🙂

        • Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

          I got that, but I figured I’d helpfully add why he was wrong 🙂

    • Tulse
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      Shaw may have been wrong about a lot, but he was certainly funny as well.

      • Sigmund
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink

        He was both a contrarian and a shameless self publicist so it’s hard to know whether he was giving his actual views on a particular topic. He was often trying to get in the paper so that his latest play got a bit more publicity.

    • Tulse
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      And, to further defend Shaw, he lived most of his life before the Modern Synthesis, and prior to that movement a lot of biologists were themselves dubious of natural selection. (It’s important to remember that Darwin’s notions were not an instant triumph, and indeed declined in popularity in biology until the Modern Synthesis put various previously disparate pieces together.)

      • Dominic
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        hmmm… he had some strange views & was not above courting controversy. I will leave the defence to you!

        • Tulse
          Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

          he had some strange views & was not above courting controversy

          That describes most interesting people.

    • Steersman
      Posted May 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      “What damns Darwinian Natural Selection as a creed …”

      Nice quote. But I wonder why you think it is wrong. That Darwinian Natural Selection [DNS] does not substitute a paralyzing fatalism? Does not banish Mind from the universe?

      If the latter then I would tend to agree with you. And it seems to me that it should have been evident to Shaw in particular that the DNS had hardly banished “Mind” from existence. Might have been more appropriate for him to argue that “Mind” was at least inconsistent with DNS – as it was formulated then, although maybe those statements of his are what they call hyperbole or poetic license.

      In addition, it would seem that one might argue that “Mind” – consciousness to one degree or another – plays and has played a significant role in evolution. As Ernst Mayr put it in his Toward a New Philosophy of Biology:

      It is quite likely that Darwin did not see the obvious analogy between artificial and natural selection until sometime after the Malthus reading. [pg 227]

      And if artificial selection – animal husbandry – by man has produced such substantial evolutionary changes in various species – animal as well as plant – over the millennia then it seems not unreasonable to suggest that consciousness – and Dr. Coyne acknowledges its presence, at least a concomitant (reason), in lower animals – can and does, by conscious selection, direct evolution in general by and in many other species.

      But it is a curious fact – at least to my mind – that there is an apparent aversion by many in the field of biological evolution to consider that idea. Possibly because it may be far too close for many to intelligent design. Although, thankfully, not everyone balks at the idea or thinks it apostasy:

      One possible advantage of consciousness for natural selection is the ability to make choices. As Margulis and Sagan (1995) observe (echoing similar, earlier thoughts by Erwin Schrödinger), “If we grant our ancestors even a tiny fraction of the free will, consciousness, and culture we humans experience, the increase in [life’s] complexity on Earth over the last several thousand million years becomes easier to explain: life is the product not only of blind physical forces but also of selection in the sense that organisms choose. . .” (Scott, 1996).

      http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/penrose-hameroff/cambrian.html

  9. Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    ID thinks most things evolved (they often accept “micro-evolution”), except for a few things that are too complicated, like flagella, blood-clotting mechanisms, and DNA. As far as I can tell, Catholics think everything evolved, except for a few things that are too complicated, like morality and souls.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Yes, that is about the size of it I think.

      Creationists – the greatest joke on humanity ever made.

  10. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    On the question of whether Catholicism is compatible with anything, what is the point of soliciting views from Catholic scientists? Those people do not set church policy. The doctrine of Catholicism is not determined by experts, nor by democratic consensus.

    What sets the Holy Roman Catholic Church apart from other Christian churches is the acceptance of the authority of the Bishop of Rome; i.e. His Royal Popeness, on matters of faith and morality. Schisms have occurred over this very point. Jesus H. Christ (allegedly) said to Saint Peter: whatsoever you bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven.” (Matt 16:18-19) Oddly enough, Ken Miller is not singled out as an authority in any of the Gospels (even including the gnostic gospels).

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      But of course, since many Catholics ignore the Pope on many issues, we atheists can’t even quote the Pope as an authority on what Catholics believe either, because then we would be too simplistic.</sarcasm>

      • truthspeaker
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, next you’ll try to tell me that just because I made a public statement saying I believe X, that I believe X. How narrow-minded of you!

    • lamacher
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      Seems to me that these varying opinions of the pope dudes tosses the doctrine of papal infallibility into a cocked hat.

      • Steersman
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        It never ceases to amaze me, the logical contortions the Vatican performs regarding Papal Infallibility and Church dogmata – and this one on evolution is destined for the Guinness record book. They did the same thing over the nature of hell: at one time it was a real place and then next moment – prestidigo! – it’s only a state of mind through the divine miracle of PI.

        Although they never explained what happened to all of the souls that had been sojourning in hell for the last 2000 years … truly awesome powers of rationalization. Probably not surprising given the perspective of Ignatius Loyola in his “Rules for Thinking with the Church”:

        “That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.”

        Group-think long before Orwell ever put a name to it.

        • Ichneumonid
          Posted May 10, 2011 at 5:09 am | Permalink

          I thought that was ‘Limbo’ for unbaptised kids that was now declared non-existent?

          On second thoughts, and having now consulted Wikipedia, I see that Limbo is a kind of sub-branch of hell, but on the outskirts of town, as it were.

          This sophisticated theology sure is tricky!

          • Steersman
            Posted May 10, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

            This sophisticated theology sure is tricky!

            That it is. 🙂 Sort of like a serious and entirely appropriate and germane discussion as to whether different isotopes of dilithium crystals will give you warp factors greater than 10 … Reminds me of, I think, Steven Pinker’s observation in his How the Mind Works (highly recommended) about a viewer of a soap opera who, in response to a segment about a woman who had recently given birth, sent in a gift for the child. Seems a great many people are, sadly, somewhat deficient in their ability to differentiate between the real and the fictional – the basis for religion, one might argue, and food and drink for all manner of charlatans.

            But you might be right on the limbo and hell thing, at least as far as the Papal Infallibility goes. Seems that the Vatican hasn’t included pronunciations on that topic under the heading of “infallibly received bulletins from God” [miscommunications? Maxwell’s Demon is adding noise in the channel?]. But the Pope seems definitely to be waffling on the topic, possibly because they’re still scoping out the degree of gullibility of the “faithful” (Would you believe? …):

            Pope John Paul II stated that in speaking of hell as a place the Bible uses “a symbolic language”, which “must be correctly interpreted … Theologians have historically held that hell is a place – a metaphorical interpretation has historically been rejected by the Church – and have generally located it in the earth, but not all have accepted this location.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_Hell#Roman_Catholicism

            I’m really not sure that the Vatican has progressed – evolved? – much past arguing over the number of angels who can dance on the head of the proverbial pin …

  11. Kieran
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Firstly the million pound quote is churchill or at least it appears more times for churchill than for anybody else.
    You won’t get a straight answer from the catholic church in regards to evolution. It will be taught brillantly in the classroom in science then carefully ignored in a religion class. This isn’t backsliding by the pope in regards to evolution but just more targeting of non-theists as the root of all evil. It is part of the the churches plan called “pone digitum in aurem dicere et cantare problema discedit”.
    I’ve heard Miller describe himself as a creationist because of his belief in god?

    • Rootboy
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      “It will be taught brillantly in the classroom in science then carefully ignored in a religion class.”

      Indeed that was exactly my experience (see my comment below). The church vaguely respects science in a “better understanding God’s creation” kind of way, and maybe a bit of a “we’re still embarrassed about that Galileo incident” way, with a side of “see, we’re better than those silly Protestants and their creationism”. But they pretty much just shut up and sputter when faced with evidence against their teaching, and just assert that there is no conflict.

  12. Rootboy
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    One of the best teachers I ever had was the biology teacher at my Catholic high school, who taught us the same evolution curriculum as the public schools. I first learned about natural selection from her, and found the idea tremendously exciting. She was also quite religious – a great deal of her effectiveness stemmed from the discipline of her class, which involved making 14-year-olds give money to “the missions” as punishment for disrupting the class.

    I don’t recall how precisely she navigated the differences between Catholic teaching and naturalistic evolution here, but I remember thinking that the answers I got to those questions were very muddled and unsatisfying. Especially since one period later we were off to religion class to hear about Adam and Eve (and the evils of abortion, homosexuality, and condoms) – I believe the official line was that they weren’t historically real, but “two people were tested” and so we still have original sin.

    No particular point to this anecdote, just musing on my Catholic upbringing a bit.

    • Sigmund
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      Catholic theology treats scripture as both literal and metaphorical.
      Depending on who is asking.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        It is the Augustine uncertainty principle.

      • Badger3k
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        And on what you are asking about – they can switch metaphorical and literal at the drop of a subject.

      • gillt
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        It’s such a waste of time trying to figure out what parts of scripture are figurative or literal for any given sect when there is no objective answer. The deck has always been stacked so to speak.

    • Dominic
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      “how precisely she navigated the differences between Catholic teaching and naturalistic evolution” – we humans have an easy abiliy to hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time. The same for these scientists above. We are layers of personality or better mosaics of personalities.

      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted May 20, 2011 at 12:09 am | Permalink

        “Onions have layers; Ogres have layers.”

        “They both stink?”

    • timh
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Rootboy wrote:
      One of the best teachers I ever had was the biology teacher at my Catholic high school, who taught us the same evolution curriculum as the public schools.

      If only that were true. The sad fact is that an American high school student is more likely to be taught evolution in a Catholic high school than in a public high school, where only 28% of biology teachers are brave enough to teach evolution. This is not an endorsement of Catholic schools, (which I think should be illegal, along with all private schools), but rather an indictment of public schools. Religious parents and school boards hold public high school science classes hostage to their beliefs.

    • Larry Delaney
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      I was educated in Catholic schools through the 12th grade. I was in what was called the ‘College Entrance’ program. During all these twelve years I never heard the word Evolution mentioned in any science class nor did it appear in any of our textbooks.

  13. Dominic
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    How do Catholics stand on Robots? Do they think that if they become human-like they will have souls?

    This PLoS One article supports the evolution of altruism using a ‘simulated system of foraging robots’ –
    http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1000615
    They say, “this study reveals that a fundamental principle of natural selection also applies to synthetic organisms when these have heritable properties.”

  14. steve oberski
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    But if God knew where every molecule was going to move, and that movement followed a divine plan, then none of it could have been an accident.

    If god is omniscient and knows the future disposition of each and every component of the universe then god is by definition not omnipotent as it is powerless to change the outcome.

    Which just illustrates my (and other’s) assertion that the common theist definition of god is logically incoherent and it is counter-productive to engage believers in any sort of conversation about their god until a mutually agreed upon definition is forthcoming.

    As David Barash put it in his “Does God Hate Amputees?” article:

    The Vatican’s preoccupations and machinations in this regard are literally none of my business, although I’m inclined to applaud the whole rigmarole as an inoffensive act of organizational onanism, the sort of in-group self-pleasuring that provides innocuous outlet for energy and which, albeit unproductive, is at least un-harmful to the rest of us. If masturbation is the epitome of safe sex, beatification—and presumably canonization as well—represents its theological equivalent: Good clean fun.

    As long as the faithful keep their intellectual circle jerks private then they can knock themselves out trying to wedge their god into increasingly smaller gaps but when this mystical mumbo-jumbo enters the public sphere it wastes valuable resources and it’s proponents should be marginalized.

    • lamacher
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      Heh! Agree, absolutely, Steve.

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      You don’t even need to put the omni-properties against each other to conclude that they’re bullshit.

      No gods, no matter what their special powers, can use a compass and straightedge a finite number of times to construct a square and a circle with the same areas.

      Therefore, there are things which truly are impossible.

      Therefore, anything which actually happens is a natural phenomenon.

      That some entities can do particular tricks that others can’t is no more remarkable than the fact that skunks can stink up a whole room with one shot from the butt but a theologian needs two shots from the mouth to achieve the same effect.

      And, finally, that we have no evidence of any gods that can do the special tricks the theologians insist they could do if they really wanted to…well, that’s just frosting on the zombified skunk intestines cake.

      Cheers,

      b&

  15. Roi des Faux
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Going by definitions

    Fact of Evolution: The observation of species changing over time as evidenced by fossils, genetics, biogeography etc.

    Theory of Evolution: Description of how evolution occurred, via descent with modification and natural selection

    it sounds like the official Catholic position is that the FoE is true, but the ToE is false.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      The same claim can be stated by IDists.

      The problem with that is that science is not without theory, and a theory is not without observation. Ultimately the whole process depends on the ability to form such entities, or we would make little progress.

      And a tested, by time & data robust theory is the strongest entity we can have; certainly stronger than ad hoc observation.

      Which makes the catholic position untenable as much as IDists. What do they propose to replace the current theory? Creationism can’t swing it: a human brain is no different from a skunk butt. (Or so I’m told. LOL!)

  16. Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    In his article, “Is the Pope Catholic?” Brian Bethune describes Benedict XVI as “a surprisingly activist Pope.” That’s a big surprise to me.
    See http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/04/18/rebel-with-a-cross/

    • SteersmanOA
      Posted May 11, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      One might suggest that he could be considered “surprisingly activist” in comparison to the blocks of stone that many of his predecessors would seem most to have resembled.

      Definitely an interesting article though, but apart from some of the apparently byzantine political peregrinations of the Pope I was intrigued by his comments about that perennial chestnut, the interplay of or contest between faith and reason. Or, as Gould defined it, the “non-overlapping Magisteria” [NOMA] which I think Dr. Coyne – and Richard Dawkins in his The God Delusion – rightly criticized.

      Though I will certainly agree with this comment by the author and the position of the Pope:

      Faith and reason, for Benedict, are not only reconcilable, but must be reconciled for a viable human society to flourish.

      However, it seems critically important for the Vatican and the Pope to differentiate between blind, dogmatic, literalist faith and the educated and rational version. And one might suggest that with regard to the former the Vatican and the Creation Museum, for example, look more like fellow-travelers – with the exception, at least, of evolution – than opposite sides of a coin. Although to be fair to the Vatican it would seem that the Jesuits (some) are prepared to take a substantial step back from – going so far as to mock with the following letter (portion) – the Biblical literalism of nominal Christian fundamentalists:

      This letter, which has been widely circulated on the web since it first appeared in 2000 (despite difficulties in ascertaining its origin), is a healthy antidote to Scriptural literalism of any sort:

      Dear Dr. Laura:

      Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination…End of debate.

      I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

      1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

      2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

      Now if only the Vatican could apply the same yardstick to the Eucharist and the Resurrection …

  17. saintstephen
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Chris Mooney, we’ve already established that. Now we’re just wondering about your price.”

    (Whadda great blog dis is. Ceiling Cat as rendered by Michelangelo. Priceless!!!)

  18. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    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

    Wojtyla haven’t made any advances on YECs though. The idea to deny qualitative differences from a quantitative process is the same; say, denying speciation. In that sense he splendidly exemplifies his argument.

    But tell that to the egg I just dropped, I’m sure the transition between non breaking/breaking will be characterized as observable and caused by (varying) drop height vs shell tensile strength.

    Nitpick:

    LOL!

    Webspeak is full of arcana. (And I’m certainly not sure of this.)

    But I don’t think it is any more common to LOL one’s own texts than it is to remark after a joke that “I really nailed that one, wasn’t I a blast?” (Or, say, claim that a functional blog on a website isn’t a blog. =D)

  19. pittige maki
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    it’s the last wriggle of the eel before it dies. They have nothing anymore to stand on and they know it and that shall make them dangerous, the last thing they gonna do now is start a new inquisition (their last hope) because they have always used torture to prove their right.

  20. Sili
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    God may have known where every molecule was going to move.

    Lovely … a physicist who doesn’t understand – or accept? – Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

    What’s next a mathematician who claims that God knows if the Continuum Hypothesis is true?

    not only as a creator but also a sustainer,” said Harvard biologist Martin Nowak, who is Catholic.

    A Catholic? I thought the triune Creator, Sustainer, Destroyer deal was Hindu.

    JAC note: Reason is not unique to humans, but has been seen in other primates, non-primate mammals, and birds!

    Well, you don’t see birds building cathedrals, so there *prrrtfff*

    • Notagod
      Posted May 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      Errmm, bower bird?

      • Notagod
        Posted May 10, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

        My video and sound has made like Christ, thus nonexistent. Checked the link as an after thought.

  21. Mike from Ottawa
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Your scientism is showing when you lump Ken Miller in with the enemy.

    • tomh
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      @21
      So, discussing Miller’s very public religious stance, is lumping him in with the enemy? What does that even mean?

    • Posted May 9, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      Supporting your statements with evidence and logic is “scientism” now? Good thing you didn’t, then.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      Your scientism is showing when you lump Ken Miller in with the enemy.

      is the enemy of my enemy necessarily my friend?

      Miller’s religious ideas are simply antithetical to reason.

      that makes him just as much an enemy of reason as any creationist, as far as this, specific, idea goes.

      you can claim the mantle of reason if you want to shove imaginary constructs underneath it.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        er, can’t, I mean.

        😛

  22. MadScientist
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    “Miller and other Catholic scientists say that even though they believe we were created by a creator, they are not creationists…”

    Yes, because for them the ‘creationists’ are idiots, while they know The Truth. I could never understand why so many people get angry with me when I say that Ken Miller and Francis Collins are creationists – they are simply creationists who claim not to be because they have a better understanding of their god than the likes of Ken Ham do.

    • YourName's notBruce?
      Posted May 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Yes, isn’t it amazing how all these people have a perfect understanding of their favourite fictional character, yet they all disagree.

  23. leebowman
    Posted May 9, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Well done, Jerry. A good summary of what we may now term the Pope’s Dilemma, or ‘dilemma del papa’.

    I’m late checking in (long weekend), and I commented Fay’s blog as well, which approaching the midnight hour is being held in moderation. It might or might not post, but here ’tis:

    Hi Fay,

    As usual, you’ve covered the subject well, and I applaud your piece. The nice part about reporting a little late, is that you can now comment on the science community’s appraisal as well.

    Key questions arise … or were these questions always around? Obviously. Like to what degree our existence here is random, and of course that depends on what the meaning of is is, to quote a past president. IOW, how do we define ‘random’?

    While science proclaims that natural selection is anything but random, look at what it has to select ‘from’. Whether a folding error that persists along with its replicator gene, or a plethora of neutral mutations that just ‘might’ find a use some day (or millennia). These are essentially the basis for all we observe in nature.

    So yes, shame on the Pope for not realizing this, and as Ken Miller stated, keeping in touch with his science advisor. Or somewhat more resonant with the Pope’s dilemma, Prof. Gilbert was correct in asserting:

    “I think that Benedict was trying to find, like so many other religious people, a middle ground between creationism and evolution.” All together now, NOMa, NOMa ….

    But even harder to deal with perhaps is conjoining TE Scientists’ religious beliefs with their day jobs. Not only do they have to deal with the question of how to reconcile Divine providence with the purported mechanisms of evolution, but also with the growing body of scientists who put them squarely in the camp of ‘brain-washed religionists.’ And to the detriment of all concerned, that chasm seems to be growing.

    I may have a solution, however. We come to arms over things like WMDs, however fictionalized, then why not over ‘natural evil’ as well? To summarize the theodicy issue, your paraphrase from Woody Allen says it well:

    “ … if God is in charge, it’s a wonder everyone doesn’t file a class-action lawsuit.”

    Don’t worry my dear, given a little time to brood about it, and with a few signed petitions added to the mix, the ACLU and NCSE just may fulfill that request!

    At least until then, Cheers …

    So does the ‘skunk butt’ correlation really stink? Literally perhaps, but I think that Ben Goren got it right:

    “That some entities can do particular tricks that others can’t is no more remarkable than the fact that skunks can stink up a whole room with one shot from the butt but a theologian needs two shots from the mouth to achieve the same effect.”

    Later …

  24. JamesA1102
    Posted May 20, 2011 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    I went to a Catholic elementary school and was taught evolution by Nuns. I also went to Fordham University where I was taught that evolution was a scientific fact.


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  1. […] associated with her column, also called Planet of the Apes. Last week I wrote about her column on the Catholic Church’s non-acceptance of the modern theory of evolution; this week she’s published some angry responses from Catholic readers, including this gem: […]

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