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.
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
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.
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.
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. 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.