Monday, November 17, 2014

The Franciscan Feint: Evolution

We Shouldn't Have Burned Galileo at the Stake for Teaching Evolution

The Bear thinks he may have mentioned the bestseller Darwin's Doubt and how it makes a compelling case against Darwinism. Darwin's Doubt is a fascinating book about paleontology, full of the wonder that science used to evoke, before it was just another stick to beat religion. Then there's the new kid on the block, epigenetics -- the passing on of traits by mechanisms other than DNA. You can forget the Copernican Principle after you read Privileged Planet. We may not be in the center of the universe, but there sure seem to be a lot of coincidences for us to be anywhere at all. The Big Bang is just the beginning of the story. The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Soul (and the more introductory Brain Wars by one of the same authors) land some solid blows against reductionist neuroscience.

The point is, the Catholic Church doesn't need to have an inferiority complex over science, if you look beyond the bogus Scientists Say articles. Yet it does. Why?

As everyone knows, the Church burnt Galileo at the stake because he claimed man descended from monkeys. This was a PR blunder that will likely last until we're all dead from global warming. Just like exterminating Islam in the Crusades, and helping Hitler round up Jews in WWII.

But, if we abase ourselves enough, perhaps everyone won't drag out poor old Galileo's charred bones to rattle at us.*

The Church has imbibed the Western poison of needing to be liked by everyone. Pathetic is the only word for it.

 She Blinded Me With Science

You won't have read it in the news, but the jury is still out on Darwinism.** (Too many new little critters in too short a time, see Cambrian explosion, and that's just one problem.)

Thousands of very smart guys are beavering away in front of blackboards whose size is measured by the acre, doing their best to gnaw away at the Big Bang. They'll prop up String Theory, the Multiverse, or some other gimcrack, flavor-of-the-month idea; anything rather than that horrible Genesis 1:1 Big Bang. Yet the Big Bang still echoes.

Neuroscientists are parroting Gertrude Stein's comment that "there's no there there." Only they're saying there's no "you" to have a "you," and that consciousness and free will (not to mention the soul) are illusions. But there's a reason it's called "the hard problem of consciousness:" nobody has come close to solving it.

In summary:

  • science is more uncertain in many areas than we are led to believe
  • Darwinism faces seemingly insurmountable challenges from paleontology and genetics 
  • the Big Bang may be the front runner among origin theories, but is not an article of faith
  • there is evidence to suggest that the brain may mediate, not originate consciousness, and that consciousness may be non-local (wow)
  • while Catholics have nothing to worry about from real science, unproven theories are being used as a beat stick against religion

The Bear thinks it is dangerous to link faith to any current scientific theory (e.g. Big Bang), lest they both be some day shipwrecked on the same rock. It is good, however, to educate yourself beyond the pop-science articles if your faith is troubled by our new secular religion of aggressive scientism. No matter what impression they want to create, science is not our enemy.

But that does not mean that miracles are, either.

What Does the Pope Mean? (Again)

After saying God is not a "magician," the Pope said: “evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

What does the Pope mean by "demiurge" as in "God is not" one (translated "a divine being" in English, which is bad enough)? Are the Gnostics a threat? Here's a good example of one of those Bergoglioisms that are just odd.

And what about God not being a magician who waves a magic wand and accomplishes things instantly? [Cue superior chuckles.] The Bear can't even guess, but it seems to be some sort of humorous contrast between clever people and the simple and superstitious. Are we supposed to drop a knowing chuckle at the idea of Jesus instantly changing the water into wine, too?

What does he mean by "evolution?" The Bear doesn't know, but he knows what reporters and editors think he means: Adam and Eve is just a myth, and, at best, God is carrying the water for Charles Darwin. They trot out the Aren't-Americans-In-Flyover-Country-Stupid poll showing 42% of us don't believe in evolution. Jolly good, Pope Francis! First homosexuality, now evolution! Once again we find you're one of us!

Does the Pope Believe in Adam and Eve?

Now, you wouldn't know it from the Pope, but it is at least theologically certain (to use the official term for those teachings near the top of the hierarchy of teachings) that two unique human beings, Adam and Eve, existed in time and place, and their transgression is the source of original sin. That means it is the teaching of the Church, should be believed, and is not subject to dispute. The proposition itself is not de fide (the very highest must-believe) but original sin is, and is hard to explain without an Adam.

Furthermore, the media cannot contain their joy over Pope Pius XII's provisional, non-absolute-rejection-in-principle mention of evolution in Humani Generis. (Finally, the press likes Pope Pius XII. Maybe he'll benefit from the Francis Effect as The Evolution Pope and finally be canonized.) First came the breathless, Francis Changes Church's Teaching on Evolution, followed by stories headlined: Shrug: Church Has Always Believed In Evolution. Both were equally ignorant.

Pius XII's 1950 encyclical could hardly be more cautious, and it reaffirmed the literal existence of Adam and Eve, from whom all humans have their beginning, while rejecting polygenism (human race came from many parents). To suggest that the Church "has always taught evolution" could not be more misleading. To the extent the Pope's statement suggests we "have outgrown" belief in Adam and Eve, it is flat wrong.

What does Pope Francis believe? Who cares as long as the press is eating it up! The Bear's most hopeful guess is he thinks God contrived to create the universe in an instant (Big Bang), very much like a magician with a magic wand. Then God twiddled his thumbs for several billion years because making a man (something even the Bear and his missus accomplished at regular intervals sometimes two at a time when we wished to show off) was beyond his "magic."

The main thing is that people like Pope Francis, and believe him to be a forward thinker very much like the reporters who write about him. His halo effect seems to best illuminate Pope Francis, though, rather than accomplish anything for the Church.

The Real Story

The Church formed an intellectual climate that fostered inquiry. Islam is said to have invented algebra in a spasm of uncharacteristic curiosity, but it was the Church that gave the scientific edge to the West. The occasional scientist or thinker, like Galileo, may have run into trouble, but, a little diplomacy could have saved Galileo a lot of trouble. We don't need to put the prestige of the Church behind paradigms that may not last the next generation. We certainly don't need to mislead people by omission about what the Church believes.

The Bear used to have issues with Adam and Eve. But if you're going to accept the Big Bang, everything else seems easy. God may not be a magician, but he is God, and can do things quickly as easily as he can do things slowly. We as Catholics hope that the Divine Magician will repeat his creation of Adam and Eve trick billions of times at the resurrection. The Bear doesn't know for sure, but has failed to be convinced by Darwinism. If some other mechanism, such as epigenetics, satisfies his questions, then, great. It's just not that important to him. What is important is that:

  • Adam and Eve's existence and Original Sin is taught by the Church
  • As a loyal son of the Church, he gives his assent, but doesn't think about it much
  • The Pope should not deliberately mislead people about what the Church teaches

This is a Pope Francis story we are familiar with now. Some ambiguous comment wins the adulation of the press, and causes confusion to Catholics. From now on, let's call it The Franciscan Feint.
*As the Bear is sure his readers know, the Galileo controversy was a bit more complicated than most people think, and had nothing to do with evolution, nor was he burned at the stake. The Crusades were an episode in a long, long series of defensive wars against a militant Islam, and the Church did more to help Jews in WWII than any agency in the world, especially Pope Pius XII.

**Darwinism here means change from one type of animal to another by the mechanism of blind chance. It's what secular media mean by "evolution." It fails to explain the "Cambrian explosion," the fossil record, "specified complexity" and other problems with Darwin's theory.


  1. Jim Kalb wrote one of the most convincing protrayals of Pope Francis over at The Orthosphere, in an article titled Our Ecclesiastical Revolutionaries. Kalb writes:

    [Francis is] intelligent but not a thinker. He rejects concepts, logic, and systematic analysis as guides but only cares about how things look to him right now...His faith is of a basically concrete and popular type: Marian devotion, the Bible, personal relationship to Jesus, concern about the devil, complaints about the powerful, and lack of interest in theology or history.

    In a postscript to the article, Kalb points out that Francis wants people to support him, and he's not principled enough to argue and persuade them, so he says different things to different audiences. People who try to put all his utterances together and make sense of them are committing what philosophers call a "category mistake."

    And to your point, I think that's what we have here. The Holy Father was speaking to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, so he said nice things about science. Just as he (almost certainly) told an Argentinian woman that "a little bread and wine does no harm" in encouraging her to receive Communion, or led Eugenio Scalfari to believe that atheists could be saved by doing good, he seems to say whatever he thinks will please his current audience, with an almost complete lack of interest in whether it coheres with Church teaching, other statements he's made, or even basic logic.

    (The "bread and wine" statement, by the way, gets my vote as his most troubling statement, just in front of his conjecture that the Blessed Mother accused God of lying to her.)

    And so we had the by-now wearying spectacle, this past weekend, of the normalists crowing about the fact that the Holy Father had made an unambiguously orthodox statement. This time he condemned abortion and euthanasia while speaking to ... a group of Catholic doctors. I mean, I'm glad he said it and that it got attention, but I don't take it as indicating anything in particular about the pope's true beliefs.

  2. Not sure if this Pope is Marian. Remember how he told a visiting group from the conference of Latin American religious that he received a spiritual bouquet of over 3,000 rosaries from some traditionalists? He laughed and mocked "these groups who return to practice what I live through that are no longer valid today." Or words to that effect.
    This Pope always warned against gossip. But there he was, bad-mouthing traditionalists for the authentic Catholic practice of praying Our Lady's rosary. For his intentions, to boot. Apparently, he didn't even thank them. Rude.

  3. I think the Pope is an elderly gentleman of average intelligence who holds conventional views he thinks are appropriate for the age. He enjoys approval by the right sort and, yes, will tell his audience what he thinks they want to hear. (Conclave clue?) I think you're right on all counts, Murry, except I see him as Marian only in the sense of not having suppressed Marian devotion. And when he says he believes in the Devil, are we sure we know what that means, or is it another Franciscan Feint? It is dangerous trying to predict what history will say, but one possibility is that he will be remembered as truly a decent fellow who was given responsibilities that did not correspond to his strengths. And how they do things in Argentina and how they do things in Rome may be two different things.

  4. And don't forget that Jesuitical casuistry is his primary substitute for real thought. Of course marriage is one man, one woman, one time, but in this case... Of course homosexuality wrong, but in the case of one who is seeking God... Maybe that's just the way his mind works, not from generalities, but from particulars.

  5. possibility is that he will be remembered as truly a decent fellow who was given responsibilities that did not correspond to his strengths.

    Well, that's one possibility. I should say that on reflection, I think Kalb's postscript overstates things. The pope does appear to harbor a number of core convictions that reappear over and over again in his speeches and writings, and on the whole, those notions are not comforting to orthodox Catholics.

    But (I conjecture) his approval-seeking behaviour overlays those core convictions, which muddies the waters considerably. If we look at the consistent themes of this papacy, it's pretty bleak: ecumenism as giving away the store, hostility to orthodox and traditional Catholics, a Peronist variant of Liberation Theology applied to global economics, silence on gross persecution of Christians so as not to endanger interfaith talks, and so on. Then, once in a while, when he finds himself in front of an audience of faithful Catholics, he says something solidly orthodox in order to please them, and we're left scratching our heads trying to reconcile this view with the stuff he says on most other occasions.

    Shorter version: we get confused when we try to reconcile the Holy Father's orthodox statements with his other output, but if we pay attention to his persistent themes, it's a lot less murky.

    1. I did some research (don't worry, not much) on Peronism, and I think there are some things that really influence Pope Francis that are on a wavelength our Northern eyes don't register.


Moderation is On.

Featured Post

Judging Angels Chapter 1 Read by Author

Quick commercial for free, no-strings-attached gift of a professionally produced audio book of Judging Angels, Chapter 1: Last Things, read...