Evolution as Metaphysical Fig Leaf

If I were to stop you on the street and say, “Hey! What do you believe about particle physics?” and you were *super* on the ball you’d shoot back, “Whaddaya mean ‘believe’?  Particle physics is not faith.  It’s science.  It’s about the measurement of the metric properties of time, space, matter and energy.  It’s not about faith in a supernatural Trinity of Persons or angels or love or mercy.  Why are you babbling about ‘belief’?”  If you weren’t that much of a stickler for precision, odds are pretty good that you might still be able to babble out something you remember from high school or Popular Science about smashing atoms, or the word “quark” or maybe even something something E=MC2. You could probably give a rough account of how a nuclear bomb works. But mostly, at the end of the day, you wouldn’t know all that much about particle physics, or hydraulics, or the Krebs Cycle, or how all that petroleum wound up under the earth’s crust, or why an “a” shows up on your computer screen when you press “a” on the keyboard or a great many other areas of scientific expertise. You’d have a vague general knowledge you gleaned from TV or the web. If pressed, you might realize that there were aspects of all these fields that didn’t make sense to you and prompted questions. Or you might have no knowledge at all. And that would be okay. Nobody would regard you as a reprehensible moral and intellectual defective for not knowing all that much about these areas of science.

But when people express ignorance and lack of expertise in the matter of evolution, all of a sudden secularists appear from nowhere to wring their hands about the horrific vast metaphysical implications of our “shocking” lack of knowledge and the Dark Threat of Faith to Reason and Intellect:

Issues like evolution and the age of our universe and the planet Earth are more than just differences of opinion, they are the great divide between faith and knowledge.

No. They are a relatively unimportant divide between ignorance and knowledge for ordinary people on a day to day basis, because outside the fields of study which deal with cosmology and evolutionary theory only a tiny hothouse of Christians and atheist fundamentalists are passionate about this stuff. As Rod Dreher says:

I don’t know a soul — aside from scientists, science educators, theologians who work in this area, or former colleagues at the Templeton Foundation — who ever talks about the age of the earth, God, and evolution. I care about this stuff more than most people I know, but until I went to work for Templeton, I rarely gave the topic much sustained thought, except episodically, e.g., when reading newspaper stories about the controversy in this or that school system. It’s just not the sort of thing that comes up, and when it does (or when it did with me), I would tend not to engage, because the last thing I wanted to do was argue in a social situation about religion, unless I had to. Granted, for some churches, this is a very big deal, but they only really talk about it with people who already agree with them.

And this is even more true for atheist fundamentalists than it is for Christian fundamentalists.  Christian fundies can take a break from polemicizing about the War Between Godless Secular Humanist Evolutionism vs. God to talk about other stuff.  But people who run sites like Evolution is True are more or less committed to making the same cramped and monotonous atheist arguments sneering at God and Christianity over and over again.  I frankly admire their stamina, if not the folly of their commitment to this boring chore.   But for those not fanatically dedicated to the cause of Evolution vs. God, it gets old pretty fast.  And so does the hue and cry about the crisis we all face if everybody does not believe (note that word) in evolution.  And if *that’s* boring, more boring still is the curious class consciousness of the Entrapment Media as they turn a blind eye to the fact that ignorance of evolutionary science is hardly a conservative ailment.  As Daniel Engber at the normally ritually impure but this time useful-to-conservatives Slate observes, candidate Obama was as squishy as Rubio on the evolution litmus test:

1) Both senators refuse to give an honest answer to the question. Neither deigns to mention that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old.

2) They both go so far as to disqualify themselves from even pronouncing an opinion.I’m not a scientist, says Rubio. I don’t presume to know, says Obama.

3) That’s because they both agree that the question is a tough one, and subject to vigorous debate. I think there are multiple theories out there on how this universe was created, says Rubio. I think it’s a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I’m a part, says Obama.

4) Finally they both profess confusion over whether the Bible should be taken literally. Maybe the “days” in Genesis were actual eras, says Rubio. They might not have been standard 24-hour days, says Obama.

In light of these concordances, to call Rubio a liar or a fool would be to call our nation’s president the same, along with every other politician who might like to occupy the Oval Office. If a reporter asks a candidate to name the age of Earth, there’s only one acceptable response:Well, you know, that’s a complicated issue … and who am I to say?

That’s not to argue that Obama and Rubio are identical in mind-set (although it’s hard to tell what either thinks on the basis of his cagey public statements). It’s clear enough they differ on some scientific policies. At the same 2008 event in Pennsylvania, Obama went on to give this caveat:

Let me just make one last point on this. I do believe in evolution. I don’t think that is incompatible with Christian faith, just as I don’t think science generally is incompatible with Christian faith. I think that this is something that we get bogged down in. There are those who suggest that if you have a scientific bent of mind then somehow you should reject religion, and I fundamentally disagree with that. In fact, the more I learn about the world, the more I know about science, the more I am amazed about the mystery of this planet and this universe—and it strengthens my faith as opposed to weakens it. [APPLAUSE]

So Obama believes in evolution, and presumably he’d like to teach it in the nation’s public schools, while Rubio suggests that “multiple theories” should be given equal time. But even so, both men present the science as a matter of personal opinion. Obama doesn’t say, Evolution is a fact; he says, I believe in it.

Somehow the Republic survives despite a President who is fuzzy on evolution and calls himself a Christian.  It would survive if a Rubio did the same.  Just as it survived despite Lincoln’s woeful lack of education on the functioning of microchips.

So why, in this particular arena of science, do we always get the handwringing about the imminent death of America if every single American does not “believe” in evolution?  The key is in that word “believe”.  Atheist materialists (and snobby class-conscious secularists) place enormous false metaphysical importance on evolution as a fig leaf for their atheism and whole boatload of other social agendas they tie to it. They absurdly inflate the importance of this branch of science, as well as making category mistakes like my reader’s in order to insist that it is a) somehow necessary to Faith to deny evolution and b) somehow necessary to “knowledge” to deny Faith. It’s not, as any educated Catholic knows.  But they think it is.  And so, when a pol, like Obama, is largely committed to those other agenda items, they give him a pass on evolutionary fuzziness.

It is this sociological and muddled philosophical backdrop that lay behind the media’s little game with Marco Rubio last week. He was asked the question about the age of the earth as a “gotcha” in order to identify him as a member of the Brigade of Know Nothing Rubes for the delectation of secular lefties who like to pride themselves on being intellectuals. Corner that interviewer in an unguarded moment and ask him the details of cosmology and five’ll get you ten he has no more idea what the actual science is than Rubio does. What he was–obviously–doing was trying to tag Rubio with a tribal identifier marker as a Know Nothing Christian Fundamentalist. And it worked beautifully. He was, as secularists typically do, using evolution as a marker and fig leaf for a particular set of metaphysical commitments about God vs. science/reason vs. faith/etc.

My point in expressing my frustration with Rubio last week is that Christians have to be smarter than this in engaging the secular world and there is no reason they cannot be, since the tools for dealing with these false secular dichotomies of Faith vs. Reason and Science vs. God are laying around in the Catholic tradition, free for the taking. What Rubio *could* have done is actually speak from the Catholic tradition, which is imminently sensible and very smart about the relationship of science and faith. He could have had a teaching moment for both Christian and atheist fundamentalists (not to mention snobby secular reporters scoring shallow gotcha points). But instead, he made a complete hash of things because he does not know the Catholic faith.

So instead of going all “big mystery” on the reporter and saying it’s impossible to know if the world was really created in 7 days or not he could have squarely faced both the scientific and magisterial concensus and said, “Of course, the earth was *not* created in 7 literal days, but is about 4.5 billion years old in a universe that is about 13.5 billion years old. I’m no scientist (and I’ll be you aren’t either, GQ dude). So I would point you to the experts in their relevant fields for all the details on that. Meanwhile, if you are *really* asking whether I feel I need to choose between faith and science, I would say no since all truth is God’s truth and the God who wrote the Book of Nature that the sciences study also inspired the Bible. The problem is, we are bad readers, not that God is a bad writer. The sciences look at time, space, matter and energy. That’s it. That’s all. They can’t see beyond the natural world and therefore can give us no information on the existence or non-existence of a supernatural God.

“Meanwhile, Genesis is using theological, not scientific, language that we moderns easily misunderstand. We can know this not only from the evidence of science read in the book of nature written by God, but by the teaching of the Church founded by Christ which does not insist in the slightest that the earth was made in seven literal days. Heck! The Catechism explicitly says that Genesis uses figurative language in CCC 390! I could, if you like, go into the details of the liturgical and temple symbolism that undergirds the Genesis account and makes it clear that the author is trying to portray the act of creation as the construction of a gigantic temple dedicated to the worship of the Creator, but I suspect your eyes will glaze over. If you want a good popular treatment, see Tim Gray’s and Jeff Cavins’ Walking with God.

“Anyway, suffice it to say that Genesis and the sciences are talking apples and oranges and there is no contradiction. The sciences are concerned with how, when, what, and when questions. Genesis is concerned with Who and Why questions. Perhaps you’d be interested in this fine book from Ignatius press on the recent conference on Creation and Evolution that was held at the Vatican?  Or if you prefer, there’s a fine little film out called Cosmic Origins, put together by a very smart Jesuit Fr. Robert Spitzer who is extremely well-versed in both physics *and* philosophy which helps ordinary people understand how faith and science complement each other.”

In short, instead of getting trapped in a gotcha by a secularist who just wanted to make him look dumb with a question calculated to code to his audience “Hey look! Another Know Nothing Fundy!”, Rubio could have learned his faith and a little science and avoided the fiasco, while educating both the reporter and his base. It was, to be sure, a political failure. But far more important, it was a catechetical failure, which is what concerns me as a Catholic interested in the Faith as it is lived in the public square.

That said, the fact remains that the *main* reason this is a problem is not that knowledge of cosmology is all that important to ordinary people in their daily lives, any more than knowledge of the working of the microchips in their computers is. Despite the handwringing of secularist agitprop specialists with apocalyptic warnings of the horrors that await if everybody does not believe and profess their faith in the saving power of Charles Darwin, the reality is that most people can and do live good and happy lives without knowing how old the earth and the universe are. Ignorance of things like cosmology is trumpeted as a crisis of metaphysical importance by secularists and atheist materialists, not because it really is, but because it is important to secularists and atheist materialists as a fig leaf for their philosophical, social and political agendas. In the same way, average people have lived good and happy lives without knowing all that much about hydraulics, gravity, or particle physics and nobody has ever talked as though this constituted a moral stain. But evolution has been invested with metaphysical significance by atheist fundamentalists, so they constantly make the sort of rubbish metaphysical pronouncements about it like my reader made. Nobody asks if you “believe” in gamma radiation, quarks, or pi (even though nobody as ever seen these things). But the language of faith (and heresy) is constantly deployed by both Christian and atheist fundamentalists when it comes to evolution.

This is why it’s important for Christians in the public square to clearly understand where science leaves off and metaphysics and theology begin. Some Christians will say, “It’s not a matter of dogma, so you can believe as you like.” 2+2=4 is not a matter of dogma either. But if you expect to be take seriously by mathematicians, you had best not embrace the curious new postmodern Christian notion that all knowledge is up for grabs and subject entirely to human whim, wish, and will. The Soviets tried that–shooting meteorologists for “counter-revolutionary weather forecasting” which did not fit in with Stalin’s Five Year Plans–and found that reality had a will of its own. Christians who wish to bear credible witness to people who know what they are talking about in their own field need to listen to Augustine:

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?” St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J., 2 vols. (New York: Newman Press, 1982).

We have the tools–in the Catholic tradition–for doing what both Christian and atheist fundamentalists cannot do: teaching  people the healthy relationship between faith and reason.

Meanwhile, those who have some expertise in the sciences–and even more, people like GQ interviewers who have *no* expertise in the sciences but use evolution as a fig leaf for other vague metaphysical commitments to materialism–should consider the possibility that the Catholic tradition has rather more to say about the relationship between faith and reason than they might get from watching Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins.

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  • Those who sense that Mark’s touching faith in “scientific certainties” involving 99% of the universe in existing in forms never observed, are invited to consider the words of a much wiser fellow on these questions of particle physics.


    • Jmac

      David Berlinski is a mathematician, not a biologist. He obviously writes well, especially about higher math. A Tour of the Calculus was one of my favorite books. But he really is just being a nutbar with the evolution-denial stuff. I don’t hold it against him, I just wish he’d stick to stuff he actually knows.

      • The Deuce

        In that article he’s talking about theoretical physics, not biology. And from what I’ve read of his writings on biology, he doesn’t deny evolution. He merely undercuts veracity of the philosophical case that materialists attempt to make from evolution, to the effect that it was unplanned/unintended by God.

        • Jmac

          Fair enough. But theoretical physics and math are still worlds apart. Closer than math and biology to be sure, but whatever. I suppose I kinda had a gut reaction when I saw his name because I’m used to seeing him as an “expert” witness for the intelligent design crowd. He was on that “Expelled” movie and referenced in several other ID writings, for instance.

        • Don’t be too hard on nutbar physicists. The physicist I knew who used aerodynamics to assault evolution in a lecture I listened to years ago has never left my mind. As he said, from a purely natural processes standpoint, flight simply cannot evolve. And he said it all without ever appealing to the Almighty (he used to quip that even if God doesn’t exist, scientists can still be wrong).

          • Jmac

            I’d say archaeopteryx and modern birds would disagree with him. But as I said, I don’t hold evolution denial against people like Berlinski or your prof. It’s simply not something that they can speak on with any authority. Any more then me, a math and engineering major, could speak about 5th century history or cinematography with any authority. Simply putting a Ph. D. at the end of your name does not give you the ability to be an authority on anything other than the field you work in. It’s a pity that the public seems to think “scientist” means “genius polymath”. It’s the same reason people think folks like Dawkins are philosophers, I guess.

            • And he would say that archaeopteryx doesn’t understand aerodynamics. Or, to put it another way, as he said, a plane to fly needs to have everything at once in order to fly. A bird or animal to glide or fly must have all elements needed to glide or fly all at once. You can’t just develop some parts needed to fly without the others. They all have to be there. He even joked that if you don’t think so, go weld some wings to a car and drive it off a cliff and see what happens. As it is with planes or helicopters, so it is with any organism built for flight. FWIW, I don’t believe he ever said that creatures capable of flight couldn’t evolve over time. He said that flight, in and of itself, could not evolve over time.

              • Jmac

                Oh, so he really was just going with another form of irreducible complexity. Well, that’s kinda disappointing. Nobody said flight was a quick mutation, there were dozens if not hundreds of steps in between. Natura non facit saltum and all that.

                • No, he said that it’s impossible for flight to be anything but an immediate transformation. If you don’t think so, which 90% of the next airplane you get on would you be content with being missing? That was his point. Contrary to the simplistic explanations given to children, a bat didn’t fly because its fingers turned into wings. A bat can only fly because all of the hundreds of complex and interdependent physical features that allow flight to happen are present and accounted for. Remove any of those, and the bat doesn’t fly. Nor does anything else. For flight (and that includes, to a lesser extent, the mechanisms needed for gliding) to happen, everything has to be present all at once. Anything removed, and flight doesn’t happen. As he said, you can tell this is a problem by the tremendous amount of effort at explaining how it probably happened, while ignoring the most obvious problem: it all has to be present all at once. Again, he wasn’t denying evolution per se. He was saying that the difference between an organism that cannot fly and one that can is not the difference between a baby that can crawl and one that can walk. It’s a difference between a baby that can crawl and a baby that can play Beethoven’s Pathetique in C Minor.

                • The Deuce

                  The question isn’t whether creatures with flight could evolve from creatures without. Of course they could (and did). The question is whether it could reasonably happen completely unintentionally.

                  • Of course, but as often as not, evolution is presented as an equation without the variable known as ‘God’ being part of it, which is why I prefer a world in which anyone can ask questions and question the prevailing theories. After all, the majority scientific opinion would appear to scoff at the notion that it happened in any way other than unintentionally (if, by intentionally, you mean intentionally by way of God).

              • kenneth

                He was clearly blind to the developments in his own field if he believed human powered flight was “all or nothing” and that all features had to be present. Human mechanical flight is a great mirror of natural evolution. People had been toying with the idea of wings and lift for many many centuries before the Wright Brothers – kites, toy gliders etc. There of course was a long process of natural selection. Most ideas did not survive (nor did some of the poor test pilots). Successful ideas remained in the “population” of designs. Everything was most definitely not “present all at once” in the Wright’s historic flight. They had the bare bones lift and stability for a few minutes of level flight, but their steering controls were wholly inadequate.

                • And the amazing thing is that flight only happened when all of the needed parts were in place. Again, make a list of all the things that you don’t think the plane needs the next time you fly. The Wright Brothers’ plane flew exactly as all of its then current components allowed it to. Remove those components, and it wouldn’t fly. That’s the point. A machine either has all of the components needed for it to fly, or it doesn’t fly. Different machines need different components. A helicopter needs different parts than, say, the Wright brother’s famous plane, or different than a kite, or a toy glider. But each needs all of its parts. Start taking parts away, and you won’t be going anywhere any time soon (or you’ll be going somewhere very, very quickly). As he said, if you disagree and think it’s all about evolving this or that part at any given time, go weld a couple wings to your car and drive it off a cliff and see what happens.

                  • Jmac

                    Yeah, so it really is the irreducible complexity argument all over again.


                    • No, it’s the ‘it’s a physical impossibility’ argument.

                    • Jmac

                      “This system could not have evolved, since all parts are required at once for the system to work. Removing a single part renders the system useless.”
                      As near as I can tell, that’s the argument, which is exactly the formulation of the irreducible complexity argument that I would use. Did I misrepresent your position?

                    • Jmac, no, you didn’t misrepresent anything. My point is, no matter what type of argument it is, the fact is that without all the components present that are needed for flight, flight doesn’t happen. Call it whatever type of argument you want. It’s a physical impossibility for flight to occur unless the myriad components needed for flight to occur are present all at once. It’s really that simple. To this date, no scientist has adequately answered that without appealing to ‘oh yeah, well it could have happened’, or the ever so famous ‘since evolution obviously was the mechanism behind all existence, it must have happened’, or ‘it started with gliding first, then became flight (which is just skirting around the inconvenient fact that it is purporting to answer)’. Trust me, I’m not a scientists, physicist, or expert in aerodynamics. But after that talk, I’ve never forgotten it because he made it simple enough for someone like me to get. At best, we can say we could invent something like a car with wings that would glide, but that goes back to the problem: It took someone to suddenly put it all together in the first place, it didn’t just happen over a long period of time.

                  • kenneth

                    Your line of reasoning assumes that flight MUST occur in birds and that evolution strives for some pre-set finished form of bird. Nothing could be further from the truth.

                    Abilities like flight happen when variation produces sufficient adaptations to to allow it AND when that ability conveys a survival advantage in whatever ecological niche that creature inhabits or which is open to it at the time. All the components for flight must be present to fly, of course. But they WERE present long before a bird ever took flight. They were in forms insufficient to allow full flight, but they served other useful purposes – gliding, balance, enough lift to run up inclines no other animal could, mating and territorial display, fighting, thermoregulation. Wings, feathers, and the various muscle systems that power them were very good solutions to these other non-flight issues animals face.

                    Variability and mutation led some of these creatures to do a little better than glide, and when conditions select for that trait and confer a survival advantage to the strong fliers, you’ve got your flying birds. However, they’re not some static finished product, and the journey to flight is not one-way. There are plenty of flightless birds running around today, with all of the components needed for flight. They got that way in habitats where flying offered no survival advantage relative to the enormous energy demands of flying. The basic features of flight remain where they adapt to other uses – ie penguin “flight” under water.

                    Fossil and genetic evidence refutes the creationist model which says each species was hand made in some finished form that was optimized to its purpose. If humans, for example, had been separately designed to do what humans do, why are we full of vetigial and useless features like a tailbone, wisdom teeth etc? Why does a human pelvis, which is good for upright locomotion, not also suited to accommodating the large braincase of human infants? None of these make sense with individual design, unless you believe in a very careless designer.

              • Ted Seeber

                I was going to stay out of this but: I’ve done that experiment. With the correct weight-to-wingspan ratio, you can easily make a car glide- even if you just bolt on the wings. The wings are horridly huge, and of course, like the “Islamic Glider” from the middle ages, if you don’t have a tail you won’t be able to steer, but there is no reason why you can’t bolt on a tail as well.

                My proof would be flying (really gliding) squirrels.

                • Again, no tail allowed. Only wings. You won’t very far, and the car will not be able to function as it was intended. His other point was that the mechanics for flight, if stripped of their ability to fly, are a detriment, not a bonus. Take a bird, clip its wings, and set it in a yard with cats. Suddenly those elements that make it able to fly are a hindrance, unless they are all present and fully functional. In the end, his talk was about overstating the theory of evolution, and how the more you misuse (or misunderstand) the theory, the more glaring holes there are. Of course with enough planning and hard work, you can make a car that will fly. But again, that’s sort of the point.

        • phil

          I don’t know about his evolutionary theories, but this article about particle physics seems fairly reasonable. As someone who works in this area of physics, I will say that his main thesis is basically true: Particle physics and quantum field theory are wildy successful in terms of matching with experiment, but not so much in mathematical rigor. It works, but it’s unclear why. The marriage of special relativity with quantum mechanics is diffucult enough. The attempt to further incorporate general relativity into quantum field theory has led to all kinds of qild speculation like multiple new dimensions and string theory, and testing such theories is beyond our capability and may be for a very long time.. The confirmation fo the higgs(or a “higgs like particle” that they call it now) is a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Oh goodness, it was fun watching Mike Flynn in Marc Barnes’ comboxes the other day; it would be fun here, too.

  • Stephen Sparrow

    French Philosopher Simone Weil (1909 – 1943) in The Need For Roots wrote, “as comedy, no dialogue of the deaf can compare with the polemic between the modern mind and the Church. The unbelievers select as arguments against the Christian faith, in the name of the scientific spirit, truths, which are indirectly, or even directly, manifest proof of the faith. Christians never perceive this and they make feeble attempts, with a bad conscience and a distressing lack of intellectual probity, to deny these truths.”

    • Holy mackerel, that’s the truest thing I’ve read in years. I … uh … *sigh* My whole life’s purpose has already been anticipated by a French philosopher who died in 1943.

  • “they make feeble attempts, with a bad conscience and a distressing lack of intellectual probity, to deny these truths.”

    Oh most excellent insight.

    Mark, are you listening?

    • Stephen Sparrow

      Come on Rick, I was taking aim at you. The problem with Science (which is merely another name for knowledge) attempting to draw permanent conclusions on the origins of Life is that any would be researcher has to try somehow to include himself in the same data he studies and reflects on: an act of intellectual contortion impossible for any sensible bystander to grasp. I think the best we can do is listen to the prophet Habakkuk,”The righteous man shall live by faith.” Faith and Free Will are like husband and wife – we cannot have one without the other. Both Theism and Atheism are Faiths. Our perception of Life’s origin is grounded finally and absolutely in Faith, unless of course we try to dodge the issue and pretend it is of no consequence. But then as Mark has pointed out here, we have the enigma of fundamentalist atheists trying to force us to adopt their Faith or “look out”.

  • Stephen Sparrow

    By the way Rick, Simone Weil was both a brilliant philosopher and a devout Christian.

  • deiseach

    It did seem like a strange question to ask in the middle of a fluffy interview, and I took the answer as no more than the general instinct of a politician never to give a definite opinion that might offend potential voters; there are people out there who do believe in a literal six-days-of-twenty four-hours-each creation, and why give them ammunition to distrust him when it comes time to pull the lever in the booth?

    • Arnold

      I would add that Rubio is a senator from Florida where many fundamentalist Christians live and vote and agree with you that he was probably trying to cover his political bases. However, he could have answered it far better and maybe put the interviewer on the defensive.

  • See also: Briggs’ excellent post which seems to be pointing out what Mark is trying to (while being less divisive).

  • Jmac


    As I said, I agree that evolution, and the myriad of other things like geology and cosmology that get packaged with it by creationists, aren’t important to people’s everyday lives. However, when roughly half the country adheres to a plainly unscientific set of beliefs (the only country in the world that really does, by the way), it is scary to folks, especially when these people want their beliefs validated in public education. Just look at the effort that went into defeating Kitzmiller v. Dover (NOVA has a good special on it) for an example. It’s not as much in vogue now, but it’s so close in recent memory that people want to make sure that scientific education isn’t subordinated to verifying people’s beliefs.

    Asking about the age of the earth in a freakin’ GQ interview may seem gauche, sure, but it is a specifically targeted way of asking potential political leaders “Do you think science works?” And that is something I definitely do want to know. I wouldn’t have supported Santorum for numerous reasons, and his attempted creationist legislation was a big one.

  • keddaw

    The way someone answers the question is a good guide to whether they will pander to the religious fundamentalist crowd.

    Incidentally, Obama was asked how he’d answer the question if his 6y.o. daughter asked. Which might explain the similarity of their answers…

  • kenneth

    “But if you expect to be take seriously by mathematicians, you had best not embrace the curious new postmodern Christian notion that all knowledge is up for grabs and subject entirely to human whim, wish, and will.”…….

    THAT is the crux of the question put to Rubio, and the question is valid whether put to him by a GQ writer, Richard Dawkins or a devout Catholic scientist. The evolution question is not some random “gotcha” question on obscure points of cosmology. It is a highly reliable and specific marker for whether a person supports the use of evidence and reason to engage reality on its own terms, or whether they believe reality itself can be edited anytime it presents some inconvenient set of facts.

    That’s a big deal, especially if the person in question wants to be an elected official. Regimes that govern by delusion or re-write reality by ideological fiat are disasters, regardless of whether they are right or left wing, religious or secular. People die in big numbers under such leadership, for stupid reasons. Nations led by such people squander human and monetary capital, creating economies and education systems that leave their citizens utterly unable to compete in the world. The evolution question boils down to “are you willing to treat with reality as you find it, or is willful ignorance ok if that’s more comfortable?” Rubio clearly chose the latter, either out of personal conviction, or more likely, a willingness to pander to fundamentalists.

    It should be said that evolution is by far not the only test of realism worth putting to politicians. Evolutionists are perfectly capable of abandoning reason to other ideological agendas in war, economics, you name it. It’s still a fair and worthwhile question, and no one seeking election has any excuse to be caught unawares on the issue. Saying “I’m not a scientist” is a weak dodge, because it has nothing to do with deep technical knowledge. Saying that it’s an unsettled controversy is a lie. Evolution is not in question at all among scientists.

    • So you’re saying that in both cases, Obama and Rubio, this is a question that should be asked, and their answers should mean something about their suitability for holding office?

      • kenneth

        I think this question is fair game, and useful to ask of any candidate for any elected office from local school board on up. Their answers say something important about their suitability for holding office, in my estimation. First and foremost, it demonstrates (rather than just saying), whether a candidate believes in a facts and reality-based approach to public policy.

        Almost as importantly, the structure of their response tells us something about their ability to lead, versus follow. Is the candidate willing to commit to a position or try to dilute it and spin it as much as possible to avoid upsetting anyone? On this count, I think Obama fell short of the mark. We need leaders who are not only willing to deal in hard realities themselves, but also to be straight with their constituents. I realize that’s a horribly tall order for politicians in general, but the last thing this country needs right now is a bunch of yes-men telling us what they think we want to hear.

        The evolution question is useful for a third reason, which I have not emphasized too much so far. I think any elected official, especially at state and national levels, should be scientifically literate. That doesn’t mean they need to be top dogs at CERN or the Royal Society or have a low Erdos number. They should, however, be conversant in the “big ideas” of science and how the scientific process works.

      • Jmac

        What Kenneth said. I don’t expect my politicians to be well-versed in science, but I do expect them to accept that it works, and that reality isn’t whatever we want it to be. So on that count, the age of the earth/evolution question is generally a pretty good indicator of where they stand. I suppose you could bring up vaccination too, if you really wanted to weed out the pseudoscience types.

        • As long as both Obama and Rubio are taken to the same woodshed for more or less giving the same answer, as Kenneth suggested, I’m fine. FWIW, my concern is that the question itself plays off this tendency some have whereby almost anyone who even thinks of asking questions when the word ‘evolution’ is brought up is immediately herded into the ‘fundamentalist sans brains’ pen and dismissed outright, when there are plenty of questions worth asking.

          • c matt

            Evolution is not in question at all among scientists.

            Is it still referred to as a theory, because I have never heard it referred to as The Law of Evolution?

            • kenneth

              Scientific laws are not some higher order of truth or theories that have passed some arbitrary hurdle of accumulated evidence. Scientific laws are just a way to state a mathematical or quantitative and causal relationship between things, like Ohm’s Law, which details the mathematical relationship between current, voltage and resistance. Such laws are very handy for predicting what will happen when you have certain things in place under certain conditions. Not all of nature reduces nicely to clean little formulas like that. That does not lessen their value at explaining the natural world. The germ theory is not a law either, but it explains infectious disease much better than the old ideas of “miasma” or alignment of the planets.

            • Jmac

              Seriously, the “evolution is only theory” meme needs to die. Admittedly, it’s easy to confuse scientific theories with the common usage of “theory”, but still.

            • keddaw

              The Theory of Evolution is a better description of the natural world than Newton’s Laws of Motion (which fail at the small scale or are superseded by the Special THEORY of Relativity).

              Now, care to have a go at Law vs. Theory in science again?

    • Ron Van Wegen

      “Evolution is not in question at all among scientists.”

      • Jmac



  • beccolina

    IS there any way to talk to a fundamentalist about this subject? I seem to end up with many of them as friends through our local homeschooling group (I’m the only Catholic homeschooler in our county, currently), and it does come up. Trying to talk about it it is like coming up against a wall. Is it worth talking about at all? Their salvation won’t suffer if they believe the earth was created in 6 days and is only 6000 years old, but I do often see this insistence as a block for those outside of Christianity. My brother and his wife definitely have concluded that if Christians insist on ignoring scientific evidence, then they are probably wrong about all this other stuff too. I can talk to them about the Catholic beliefs on this, but how do I talk about it with fundamentalists (or is there any point in talking with them about it at all)?

    • Jmac

      I sympathize, Beccolina. I grew up with a ton of homeschooled evangelical kids, and it never was a subject we were able to make much progress on. I think homeschooling’s a great thing overall, but if done wrong it’s really easy to build yourself into epistemic closure bubbles. That’s probably why it’s hard to make much headway, since there’s a whole culture built up around evolution denial (and the myriad of other sciences that need to be denied to get a young earth).

      Wish I had something better, but at least know I feel your pain.

      • beccolina

        *sigh* Yeah. I usually just stay quiet and listen if the topic comes up–and it usually comes up in reference to the schools that teach evolution. The other touchy subject to broach is “Manifest Destiny” which I don’t think is in keeping with Church teaching.

  • ivan_the_mad

    We should also remember that denial of the complementarity of faith and reason, in either direction, is a heresy. As Belloc reminds us in The Great Heresies (and as we ought to remind Catholics who are public figures):

    “Heresy is the dislocation of some complete and self-supporting scheme by the introduction of a novel denial of some essential part therein.”

    “Heresy means, then, the warping of a system by ‘Exception’: by ‘Picking out’ one part of the structure and implies that the scheme is marred by taking away one part of it, denying one part of it, and either leaving the void unfilled or filling it with some new affirmation.”

  • One bit you may wish to consider (as Rubio no doubt did) was his audience. He was not dealing with a science magazine interview. He was dealing with GQ and he pitched his answer towards the GQ audience. The GQ web site front page teases an article on “the douchiest cars of all time” at time of writing. If you add the constraint of pitching the message to the audience, I think Rubio’s answer makes a great deal more sense. Go read the recent Obama couple interview in the Ladies Home Journal to get a feel for the intellectual level this type of pop culture outlet is looking for.

    I suspect that Marco Rubio’s knowledge of science is at the very least adequate. After all he has staff whose job it is to brief him on any subject he cares to know about and he gets $1.3M-$1.9M per year in MRA to pay for it. On top of this there are plenty of scientists who are happy to brief legislators as a type of civic duty and forego pay for the brief.

  • Will

    What is scary is when people want to teach Genesis as science. Teach it in a comparative religion class, if you want and can get away with it.

    • There is nothing per se wrong with teaching Genesis as science. What should be taught to the general public as science is conventional science that is coming out of the labs. If Genesis has peer reviewed lab results to back it, I would not object to it being taught. To object under those conditions would be bigotry. In fact, such bigotry was alive and well in the 20th century resistance to the big bang theory which smacked too much of Genesis to be palatable to some big names in science, most notably Fred Hoyle.

      • Jmac

        True, but as you point out, the big bang actually had credible evidence to back it up, such as galactic redshift and the cosmic microwave background radiation. Any type of creationism currently in play, from YEC to ID, can’t produce any evidence to actually support their case.

        And I’m not sure how science would invoke a deity in an explanation anyway. Science by definition deals only in natural causes.

        • The problem with ID criticism that I have is the kind that says it is impossible to create a scientific experiment to prove it. Why should an ID advocate go to the lab and do science if his papers will be rejected a priori?

          The relevant experiments that seem obvious to me would be in analyzing and identifying genetic sequences that are irreducibly complex. If the ID people ever get off their high horse and go to the lab and publish positive results, they should be treated just like everybody else in peer review. Currently they are not, and that prejudice is just as pernicious as any other.

          • Jmac

            To be honest, I see a lot more whining on the ID side than actual work. I think it’s a shoddy god-of-the-gaps argument that people are trying to repackage to make it more palatable and sexy to modern people.

            See, I’ve read Darwin’s Black Box. I’ve read Dembski’s descriptions of irreducible complexity (not a biologist). I’ve read Phillip Johnson’s work (who’s a lawyer, and who’s also trying to deny the HIV-AIDS link). I’ve read the Discovery Institute’s “wedge strategy” for trying to drum up popular support for ID (because apparently we can vote on what science is). I’ve read all the ID materials I could get my hands on, and I see so little actual science being done that I can’t possibly treat it the same as any true scientific movement. If they had data, repeatable experiments, even a blessed prediction, then I would be a lot more willing to listen. As it is now, I see a lot of whining about the scientific status quo, and the “conspiracy” to keep Darwinism alive. It’s a good yarn, but I can’t see it holding up to reality.

            • kenneth

              ID “scientists” have not done a single man hour’s worth of real science and they never will. They don’t believe in the scientific method or the underlying premise of science as a quest to find and define natural explanations of the natural world. They have yet to do even the most preliminary work: proposing a plausible, testable, falsifiable hypothesis that would explain the origins of life better than, or even as well as, evolution.

              If they did that, and came up with a plausible alternative theory that showed even preliminary promise, they would be at the vanguard of a scientific scramble that would make the space race look tiny. They haven’t done that. They are all lab coat and no science. Their “alternative theory” is an untestable assertion that natural phenomenon are “irreducably complex” and that therefore it must have been God’s personal handiwork and nothing can really be known about anything.

              That ain’t science, and it never will be no matter how it’s repackaged and spun. That sort of tripe won’t get serious consideration by scientific journals for the same reason a doctoral committee in physics won’t accept balloon art in lieu of hard data. They resort to conspiracy theories about how the “atheist establishment” is keeping them down, when in reality, they have nothing to trade on.

            • The Deuce

              I don’t want to defend a lot of what comes out under the ID banner. I don’t think that the idea that life was intended is science in the modern sense. On the other hand, I don’t think the idea that life is unintended, and that biological function can be reduced material categories, is science either.

              In fact, the latter idea is not only not science, it’s incoherent philosophy. And yet, it makes it into science journals with regularity. So-called “research” like this – which is really just post-modernist deconstructionism in a cheap tuxedo, and which attempts to deconstruct reason, logic, and truth themselves – not only makes it into major science journals, but gets accolades from all the major papers like the NYT. And yet, if some IDist manages to get one teensy-weensy article in some obscure journal humbly suggesting that the first cell might not have been a cosmic accident, suddenly much of the science establishment reacts as if the sky is falling and goes nuclear on everyone involved.

              So, again, I have some major problems with the ID movement, and I don’t think it’s science, but at the same time, given the sort of incoherent garbage that often does pass for science without issue, I think their claim that the atheist establishment is keeping them down is not only true, but undeniably true.

              • kenneth

                Whether its persuasive or not, the journal article you reference at least deals in science. The authors are offering a theory of human behavior based on bodies of existing work (ie real data). There is always room for debate in interpretation of data, and this particular argument about how and why humans argue and what evolutionary role it may serve – might prove to be brilliant or a vast over reach.

                Whatever the case, it’s still dealing in a natural explanation for natural phenomena. ID science doesn’t even rise to that level. They cherry pick phenomena and assert they are inexplicable by evolution (they never are, upon examination), and then say that’s proof of a supernatural cause which is utterly beyond the reach of the scientific process.

                • The Deuce

                  The problem isn’t that it’s unpersuasive. The problem is that it’s incoherent, and fatally undermines all science and all rational activity. If reason were really just “for” winning arguments and not for ascertaining truth, then all attempts to use reason to argue for the truth of some conclusion are invalid.

                  These “scientists” are engaging in metaphysics, not science, and incoherent metaphysics at that. Atheistic metaphysics is not any more science than theistic metaphysics simply because it’s “naturalistic.” Indeed, the conclusion of this “research,” if really taken seriously, is that truth is all subjective, that humans have no means of ascertaining objective truth, and hence that EVERYTHING is unintelligible and beyond the reach of the scientific process.

                  In fact, if you take this garbage seriously, the implication is that when you think you have looked at the data, and reasoned from the evidence that evolution is probably true, you have actually done no such thing. At best, evolution is “good for winning arguments” or somesuch.

                  • kenneth

                    It’s painfully clear that you haven’t troubled yourself to read any of Mercier’s work in his own words. You’re attributing things to him which he never said, based upon what you suppose must be his personal atheist agenda (of which there is no evidence).

                    You also seem to believe that Mercier is arguing for a Machiavellian or state of nature/dog eat dog view of man as an amoral opportunist or animal level behaivorist. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He makes a very coherent set of arguments that human reasoning is better suited for, and more often used for, arguing than the classical view of reason as a Vulcan-like (my words) discipline of refining and perfecting one’s own views. His theory may or may not bear out in the long run, but he makes a good case.

                    He, and many other cognitive scientists, show that humans mostly are pretty rotten at using reason to refine their own beliefs. We have strong confirmation biases and rarely apply much skepticism to our dearly-held beliefs. Our political and cultural life and the comments of every blog on Patheos are evidence of that.

                    We are, however, VERY good at arguing, and while that is used to press our own advantages over others, it’s not all negative. When we argue with each other in groups, we tend to make better decisions overall. Our skill at crafting arguments also helps us evaluate other’s arguments and come up with a reasonably well informed and (more) sensible conclusion. That’s also known in other circles as the “marketplace of ideas” and is one of the key concepts of democracy and freedom of speech. Mercier is doing nothing more than arguing it from cognitive science and evolutionary standpoints.

                    Mercier’s work, if taken at face value, in no way demands abandonment of the concept of objective truth or the futility of reason that you seem to read from his ideas. It also in no way demands atheism. All Mercier is saying is that we are better at reasoning in groups than alone, and arguing is the main method we use. In his paradigm, you and I and the rest of this raucous rabble will eventually distill some wisdom out of all of this. If a young guy like Mercier living in our society today can believe that and walk a line, he’s not a nihilist. He’s just about the most optimistic and hopeful guy extant.

                • The Deuce

                  Btw, they’re not just giving an account of human behavior. They’re purporting to explain reason. The idea that our rational faculties (and hence our concepts of truth and logic) can be reduced to behaviorism is an assertion which is both philosophical and metaphysical in nature in the first place, in addition to being incoherent.

                  • kenneth

                    I would also encourage anyone here to look at Mercier’s work in his own words. He lays out a nice summary of the argumentative theory of reasoning on his own page. It really has very little to do with the larger “evolution vs ID” debate, but it’s some interesting science nonetheless.


  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Oh. dear. Let’s consult a couple of stutes who have bones in theology.
    St. Augustine of Hippo Regius wrote:
    It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth. In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call ‘the roots of time,’ God created what was to be in times to come.
    — On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11
    IOW, Gus advised that God had created things with natures capable of acting upon one another (i.e., “naturally”). In particular, “earth” (matter) has the power to “bring forth” the various living kinds. Pope Benedict XVI echoed the sentiments that creation included creation of “what was to be in times to come” when he wrote: “Creation should be thought of, not according to the model of the craftsman who makes all sorts of objects, but rather in the manner that thought is creative. And at the same time it becomes evident that being-in-movement as a whole (and not just the beginning) is creation…”
    In addition, we have
    St. Thomas of Aquino, who wrote:
    Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
    — Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3
    He wrote “putrefaction” instead of “mutation” and “the power [of the] elements,” i.e., the power of nature without knowing the specifics of that power; but he was assured that if any new species ever did appear it would do so according to the laws of nature that God had built into the fabric of the universe. Unlike the muslims who supposed that fire did not burn cloth but that God blackened and disintegrated the cloth directly (and it was only his habit that he created fire at the same time), the medieval Christians (and we know who they were) supposed along with Augustine that fire really did burn cloth!

    • Alexander S Anderson

      What is the source of the B16 quote?

  • Christopher Sarsfield

    In the previous thread, I gave my opinion as to my pious belief that the earth is around 10000 years old, and I will repeat myself here. However I would like to make a different point to the defenders of evolution and “science”. Theologically/philosophically, your God seems closer to the deist conception of God. The deists like Thomas Jefferson, believed that the “Great Architect” designed everything and got the ball rolling, but that he would never interfere with the natural order of things after that. This is not the God that became incarnate. This is not the God that answers prayers. This is not the Christian God. And I fear that most “scientists’ are so Philosophically/Theologically illiterate that they do not know when their scientific opinions are undermining rather important theological principles. Would any of you care explain how your God, the one that can not make a full grown oak tree faster than the speed of thought which is identical to an oak that is a hundred years old (because that would make nature a liar), is different than the Deist God. Unfortunately, most “scientists” believe “science” to be the Queen of Knowledge, but the Church is clear that the hard sciences are the lowest level of knowledge, and experience points out that many “scientists” are incapable of understanding the higher sciences hence science’s perennial problem with ethics.

    • Christopher Sarsfield

      Should be “will not repeat myself here.”

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Come now. St. Thomas Aquinas was hardly a Jeffersonian Deist. And certainly you must make take account of Revelation — Scripture and Tradition — as well as Reason. (cf. Contra gentiles, I.5) But even Reason does not stop with the Five Ways: one may deduce a great deal else beyond that point. (e.g. Contra gentiles, III.95 regarding prayer, as well as book IV regarding salvation) Those who suppose that Reason established only a Deist God have simply never followed Reason to a conclusion.

      Augustine did not credit the six day narrative with being narrative-literal, since God creates instantaneously, without intermediates. Aquinas agreed and did not seem to think it important. Cardinal Schoenborn noted that the truth of a narrative is distinct from the facts of the narrative.

      Jefferson being a creature bound by time did not have the insight to understand the nature of creation, and thought it was only something that happened once, a long time ago, rather than something that happens continuously every moment, including right now. Why do some people assume that because something happens in a manner describable by a natural law that one need take no account whatever of the being that is continually underwriting that law, right this very moment? After all, that Ophelia drowned herself because Hamlet’s rejection drove her mad does not preclude the fact that she did so because Shakespeare wrote the play that way.

      • Christopher Sarsfield

        I do not think that Thomas or Augustine would think that a theory which held that God exploded a bunch of matter 13 billon years ago and let them act randomly according to their natures with the end result being the world we live in compatible with the Catholic understanding of God.

        BTW God no longer creates at least according to Thomas. God created once out of nothing in the beginning. All things are guided by His Providence but that is not creation.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Makes you wonder where that creatio continuo thingie came from. You seem to think that once a thing has been brought into existence it will somehow remain in existence thereafter. Existential inertia?
          Thomas certainly did suppose that the natures with which God endowed material being acted by their own powers. (cf. ST I.115.2) Fire really does burn cloth. But some people seem to think that God just winds up a clock and goes away or that God must continually intervene to make things come out right. As if God’s Will and Nature were two mutually exclusive options!
          Evolution does not deal in creation in the first place. It is a transformation: matter is changed from one form to another; as when a dog-bear changes to a dog, or a bear. Creation is ex nihilo. There is nothing on the left side of the equation; which is why there is no middle term and hence no duration to an act of creation.
          a) There is no 13 billion years ago to God. He is without time, as it were in the beginning, is now, and ever more will be. It’s all the same “time.”
          b) If something is acting according to its nature, it is not acting at random.
          c) Random ain’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway. Think of the great palaces of randomness: gambling casinos. Now consider how much purpose, structure, control, and providence is necessary to ensure the randomness. Ultimately, randomness may be a decent argument for God’s existence.

          • Mark Shea

            As a footnote, I have always been struck by this story:

            And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go forth and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has spoken evil concerning you.” 24 Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near and struck Micaiah on the cheek, and said, “How did the Spirit of the LORD go from me to speak to you?” 25 And Micaiah said, “Behold, you shall see on that day when you go into an inner chamber to hide yourself.” 26 And the king of Israel said, “Seize Micaiah, and take him back to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son; 27 and say, ‘Thus says the king, “Put this fellow in prison, and feed him with scant fare of bread and water, until I come in peace.”‘” 28 And Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, all you peoples!” 29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. 30 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” And the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. 31 Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” 32 And when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is surely the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him; and Jehoshaphat cried out. 33 And when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. 34 But a certain man drew his bow at a venture[i.e “at random”], and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. (1 Kings 22:19-34)

            Sacred scripture seems to have no problem with God’s providence working through what we call randomness or chance.

          • Christopher Sarsfield

            Dear YOS,

            First creation is making something out of nothing, as far as Thomistic Cosmology is concerned. So once you have something, creation by that definition is over. I believe that God keeps the world in existence by His will, and if that ceased creation would go back to what it was before God created – nothing.

            This leads to the idea that God created everything at once. “He that liveth forever created all things together” (Ecclus 18:1). He did not create something and then decide to create something else. I also believe that world was created originally in a perfect state. The world started with God’s blessing and then after the fall the world was cursed. The world now does not have perfect order, yet I do not see how a theistic evolutionist could ever maintain that it did. The curse was not just on Adam and Eve but the entire world.

            I do not and never maintained that God needs to continually intervene to make things work. I maintain that God must conserve the world in existence by His will “For in Him we live and move and are” (Acts 17:28)

            a) Yes of course I accept God is outside of time or is it that time is within God, time has always confused me 🙂

            b + c) Yes I do not believe in true randomness but only apparent randomness because all things work to the good to them that love God ie believe God’s providence directs all things to His purpose.

            I have no problem with the idea that God could have brought the world to this state by evolution over the course of 14 billion years. He is Almighty and God, who am I to tell Him how to make the world. The problem I have is that how God said He made the world has nothing to do with how science thinks he made the world. And the only reason why members of the Church have abandoned the historic interpretation of Genesis is because they got tired of being beat up for being “unscientific”.

            If I accepted evolution I also would have to abandon many theological principles. I believe by faith that the world fell, not just Adam and came under the curse of God, and that before that the world was perfect. Death came into the world with the sin of Adam. I have already mentioned the preternatural gifts – which is the only reason I could possibly see how original sin was a just punishment. Without those gifts Adam looses much of his culpability.

            I also believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. But once you dismiss Genesis has a fairy tale whose facts are all wrong, but truth is still there, inerrancy means nothing. This basically makes the word of God worthless as a teaching tool. If the facts can be all wrong in Genesis, no facts are safe.

            Finally, I remember the impact the first Chapter of “This Tremendous Lover” had on me. Fr. Boylean describes the creation of Adam and Eve, the preternatural gifts, original sin -with Adam’s full consent of the will which no other fallen creature could have ever given, and the promise of the Redeemer. Once Genesis is fairy tale – all that theology is destroyed, and destroyed for no reason. Nothing in science compels a Catholic to reject the literal nature of Genesis. No Saint who believed in the literal nature of Genesis, would have believed that God did not create a world fully functioning and mature. Thomists would probably argue that he used the nature of things and just sped them up, and they would have rejected the idea that science could prove a young creation (ie creationism) Unfortunately, because 99% of Catholics have no idea about these theological principles and their importance, they have no problem embracing a philosophy that destroys them.

    • c matt

      I suppose the issue for me isn’t that God could not create an oak tree fully grown, but why would He? What is the point/purpose? For the most part, as repeated experience and experiment shows, nature tends to follow certain rules. As the Author and Creator of nature and its rules, God is certainly capable of suspending/altering/accelerating these rules, but it seems He does so only rarely and for a specific purpose (e.g., He doesn’t seem to raise everyone from the dead on a regular basis, part large bodies of water for escape from attacking hordes every week, etc.). The only exception to this lack of regularity appears to be the sacraments.

      • Christopher Sarsfield

        The purpose of creating a full grown oak was to give Adam and Eve a suitable habitat in the Garden of Eden. When Christ multiplied the fish (full grown I assume) the purpose was to feed a crowd. All of God’s creation has a purpose and that purpose is to help man to his ultimate end, salvation. At the end of time we will find out how it helped. No one denies that nature follows certain laws, and Thomas even teaches that God Incarnate used the natural order of things. When commenting on the miracle of the loaves and fishes, he maintains that Christ just sped up the natural process.

        You say God does this only on rare occasions and I agree, but would not you agree that the beginning of the world was a pretty rare occasion?

        Finally, you mention the Sacraments and this the perfect example. Science tells us the Eucharist is a piece of bread. Yet God told me it is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. I do not believe science because God has said otherwise. Similarly, I do not believe the Science of Evolution, because God has said otherwise, however I do not blame the scientist who says the world is old any more than I blame the scientist that says the Eucharist is just bread. They are looking at neither with the eyes of Faith.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          The outward appearances of the bread and wine remain those of bread and wine, and so far as science runs that is all that science can say. The bread and wine are not transformed. They are transubstantiated. The substance, the inner reality, is changed to the Body and Blood, not the forms.
          The outward appearances of the biological human remain those of a biological human, and so far as science runs, that is all that evolution can say. It really does remain a biological human. It is not transformed into a metaphysical human until the Word imparts an immaterial soul that adds the power of intellect and will to the animal powers of the biological human to produce a metaphysical human (which is to be human per se.)

          Properly understood, evolution can be considered a prefigure of the Eucharist.

    • Jmac

      That’s a pretty big strawman, Christopher. It’s called theistic evolution for a reason. I’m a Catholic, I believe God enters our lives constantly, especially through the sacraments and Church that Jesus established during his time on earth. Accepting the fact that the universe is 13.5 billion years old and that evolution is the mechanism by which life developed in no way affects my theistic faith, any more than any other natural process does, such as fire burning cloth as YOS so eloquently pointed out above.

      • Christopher Sarsfield


        I do not get your point. God told us how He created the universe. Did He use poetic language, yes, but in the end will find out that the account is true in all it’s particulars. I do not remember God telling us that fire burned cloth differently than we understand it today, so I do not see you point. I believe in God’s creation of the world by Faith. He created the world out of nothing. And there is nothing in science’s discoveries relating to this that upsets my Faith in the least. And if your belief in evolution in no way affects your theistic faith, you are rare. I have never met a Catholic that got into Evolution who was not a worse Catholic because of it. I would also add that I have never met a Catholic that went to Law School that was not a worse Catholic for it. Exposure and acceptance of certain things just weaken your trust and faith in God and His Providence.

        • Jmac

          Yes, well I’m sorry that I’ve been poisoned by worldly science. But I can’t quite gin up the courage to separate myself from the world and live on a farmstead. Plus, I have terrible allergies.

          As Mark pointed out in the actual post, regardless of the ridiculous language that’s used with evolution today, I don’t “believe” in it. I accept that it’s the best explanation of the facts we have in hand, that its predictions have been verified a thousand times over, that the earth is obviously old, that all available dating methods not only agree that it’s old, but also agree on the same age. That galactic redshift and the cosmic microwave background radiation are real, and that the big bang theory proposed by Fr. Georges Lemaitre is the best explanation for these facts. All these things I accept BECAUSE I believe in an objective reality, that God created the universe to be knowable, and my own attempts to understand the universe (particularly in reading about evolution and the big bang, mind you) have greatly bolstered my faith. Considering how many people of faith are theistic evolutionists, especially outside the crushing American bubble of fundamentalism, I can’t really take your statements seriously.

          You see, Christopher, you’re holding on to a relatively new fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis, and doing so at the expense of reason. So no, I’m not rare. As Catholics go, I’m pretty mainstream. I’ve studied young-earth creationism in some detail, and I find it an abhorrent and deeply embarrassing position that’s on life support from people in the hyper-conservative fundamentalist epistemic closure bubble. While I’m sure that you’re a great human being and a great Catholic, I can’t sympathize with nor accept your unscientific and frankly reality-denying creationist position.

          • Christopher Sarsfield

            Dear Jmac,
            You confuse me with a creationist. I do not believe that science can prove a young earth. And I find the suggestion that science can a blasphemy. I also do not think science can prove that the Eucharist is more than a piece of bread. My faith does not need science to sustain it. Science tells you that the Eucharist is a piece of bread, yet you reject that. Why? I assume your rejection of science in this instant has to do with God teaching you through His Church.

            God did not create the world to be known in every detail. Some mysteries like creation he keeps to himself. As I said above I do not blame a scientist for the conclusions he makes about evolution (although many doing the research have an agenda against God). But it seems silly that you would declare war on Catholics that reject science with regard to the age of the Earth, and instead take God’s word on the subject, while you would commend said Catholic for rejecting science with regard to the “Bread” on the altar, and instead take God’s word on the the subject.

            BTW I no more reject reality by believing in the literal interpretation of Genesis, than I reject reality by believing in a literal interpretation of John Chapter 6.

            • Jmac

              Well, if you won’t agree that science can know much at all, and that your own particular interpretation of Genesis (not shared by the majority of Catholics, especially outside America, thankfully) is the only indicator of whether or not you can trust scientific observations that really are obvious, there’s no real point in continuing this conversation, but I sincerely hope that positions like yours die quickly.

              However, since you’re attempting to force a conflict between science and religion where there is none with the Eucharist, I will respond briefly. Science is equipped to deal with the natural world, and to observe and describe natural processes, and use these to predict other phenomena based on previous data. In fact, it is uniquely able to do so, more than any other branch of knowledge. The age of the earth and natural history are well within its purview, and tying Catholic doctrine to a specific scenario based on Genesis is to throw science out of its true place and to pervert Christian faith, especially when that scenario happens to be wrong.

              As for the Eucharist, I’m sure you’ve already heard the essentials/accidents argument a million times, and I’m not really willing to belabor it more. There’s simply no contradiction there, and my belief in the Eucharist has nothing to do with my acceptance of science.

              Seriously, read YOS’s response again. I’m pretty sure you missed the point entirely.

              • Christopher Sarsfield


                I did not say that science could not know much, I said science could not know everything. There is a huge difference between the two. Second the vast, vast, vast majority of all Catholics, all Saints, all Popes and all Doctors of the Church would agree with my interpretation of Genesis over yours.

                God bringing the world into being out of nothing is NOT a natural occurrence. And therefore it would not be unreasonable to give His explanation for how it happened more credence than a scientist.

                Finally, there are limits as to what a Catholic can believe about evolution. And I think your concern would be better placed worrying about Catholics who end up rejecting essential truths of the Faith, such as monogenesis, in order to not fall afoul of science. Many Catholic scientists unfortunately are so theologically illiterate that they do not know what they can and can not believe.

                • Jmac

                  “the vast, vast, vast majority of all Catholics, all Saints, all Popes and all Doctors of the Church would agree with my interpretation of Genesis over yours.”

                  The entire point of this post, and everyone who disagrees with you is that that statement is patently false. But I’m not about to post all the Augustine stuff yet again.

                  With regards to the hand-wringing I should be doing over the poor shmucks about to embrace polygenism, I can say that you’re simplifying the problem to “man and woman deposited in garden, ate apple, found nudity was bad, and practiced incest until there were enough people.” There’s a lot more we can unpack than that story, as I’ll let Ed Feser explain: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/09/modern-biology-and-original-sin-part-i.html

                  • Christopher Sarsfield

                    Dear Jmac,

                    First, I really think you have spent way to much time reading creationists and not nearly enough time reading the Saints. Anyone who has done even the least amount of study on this issue knows that my statement which you called patently false is actually true. It seems clear that you have only read little snippets of commentaries on this topic from writers that are (to put it frankly) misrepresenting the Saint in question. St. Augustine was only one Father of Church, and his understanding of Genesis does not reduce Genesis to nothing more than a fairy tale. And he certainly would not have mocked the story the way you did in the last post. And BTW every orthodox commentary I have read about Genesis deals with the question of incest, but I am sure you gained points with your skeptical friends for the Voltarian nature of your statement.

                    I do not think you are well versed at all in Catholic teaching on the Fall and Adam and Eve. There are many things that theology holds as certain that do not rise to the point of de fide and will not be found in the CCC. When then Cardinal Ratizinger issued the CDFs statement on women’s ordination he listed things that must be held as doctrines that were not de fide. Some of these teachings are the understand of the preternatural gifts of Adam and Eve, the teaching that Adam committed original sin and not Eve and that original sin is passed on by the males, the teaching that before the fall Adam and Eve did not have relations with each other (or with any humanoid -like creatures -can you say bestiality), then of course there is the teaching on concupiscence. My point is that Catholic “scientists” have very little knowledge of any of these things, because they have never done a study of them. Therefore, they don’t know how much damage their “theistic evolution” does to Theology.

                    • Jmac

                      Okay, Christopher, I’m breaking it off here. Clearly this isn’t going anywhere. Evolution and faith are not in conflict unless you force them to be, and I’m not going to deny the vast framework of truths we have discovered in our universe because they don’t square with one simplistic interpretation of creation. Theistic evolution does no harm to theology, unless that theology is tied too closely in a realm where it doesn’t belong.

                      Go ahead and tell me I’m heterodox, or whatever. You’ve done nothing to convince me that your position is anything but a standard young-earth creationist position stripped of any pretense of being scientific and wrapped in some less-fundamentalist language.

  • ivan_the_mad

    The frustrating part about many of the reactions in this thread is that it implicitly confirms some internet atheist canards, that believers are ignorant of science and the scientific method and that evolution has metaphysical consequences adverse to faith.

    Seriously, get with the Church on this stuff and stop living in denial. Truth does not contradict truth: http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_jp02tc.htm

    • Christopher Sarsfield


      Don’t take this to badly, but if you knew alot about science you would have never made a statement about truth. Scientists do not deal in truth they deal in probability – and I have never met even an atheist scientist that would be comfortable speaking about science as truth.

      Science is very useful as a tool for dealing with certain topics. Unfortunately, science can not answer the big questions because real science only deals with secondary causes. As for the scientific method, I think you should give us a pass, because it changes every 10 years or so. Compare the explanation of the scientific method in college biology books from 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010. They all are different. And they have all changed so that “science” can start pontificating dogmas on matters that are beyond them – like evolution.

  • JD

    Christopher, thank you for your posts and patience. I am a convert, and a former fundamentalist. I have raised some of the same questions you have raised, and, unfortunately, received the same less than kind response. Why is it irrational to believe that God created everything and that we do not know the time scale, Genesis or not? We know what appears to be in terms of natural explanation, assuming the measuring devices are accurate (which I do not purport to question), but we do not know to what degree created “nature” was allowed to take its course rather than being supernaturally acted upon. What of the fish Jesus multiplied? If they were scientifically measured, would they have appeared one second old? Did they have to appear one second old because nature says Jesus could not manufacture a fish that was one second old with all the measurable properties of a mature fish?

    I read your posts on the other article, and the link and found them informative. Please keep up the good dialogue.

  • Brennan

    My big issue with evolution is what is the evidence for it? Yes, I know that alleles shift frequency, and things change over time, but where is the mountain of evidence that all biological life as we know it arose strictly by natural processes? And natural processes which seem perfectly incapable of producing ever increasing levels of genetic complexity. I enjoy the way Cornelius Hunter frames the issue:

    “I once debated a biology professor and when I pointed out that evolutionists misrepresent science in their insistence that evolution is a fact, he said I didn’t understand the word “fact.” That retort might make sense if evolutionists had some nuanced meaning in mind, but they don’t. Quite the opposite, their claim is that evolution is as much a fact as is gravity or that the Earth is not flat. Not much subtlety there. But his sound bite accusation achieved the desired effect. It is standard for evolutionists to misrepresent science, and it is standard then to assign the blame on the messenger who points out the misrepresentation. In this case, the professor was scandalized when I pointed out the standard equivocation of defining evolution as mere genetic tweaking. While on the one hand claiming that it is an indisputable fact that the entire biological world arose by itself spontaneously, evolutionists on the other hand will explain evolution as the mere shifting of allele frequencies, an utterly uncontroversial observation which no one disputes. In other words, they make a dogmatic claim that is contradicted by science, and then justify it with a completely different definition of the word. It would be like claiming the Earth is flat, and then arguing strenuously that a field is flat, as though that was the basis of the dispute. However dignified the evolutionary argument is made to appear, it is ultimately nothing more than a shell game.”

  • phil

    I’m not exactly sure how Catholic Rubio is these days. He was raised Catholic I think, but I read that he regularly attends a baptist church. MA\aybe that explains his unease with just dismissing the young earth creationism.

  • Brennan

    Hi Jmac,

    No, I look at the two as inextricably linked. I have no doubt at all about what science tells us about things like the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics or hereditary changes in the animal kingdom over time or the working of the cell. But I simply do not concede as a “fact” that all life arose spontaneously through natural laws if there is no corresponding mechanism which can produce the ever increasing amount of genetic information which would be necessary.