“Admitted” Hah! Good one!

“Admitted” Hah! Good one! December 17, 2012

Whenever the Church restates something every educated Catholic–but no ignorant reporter–knows, the news is always treated as though the Church is finally capitulating to the beseiging hordes of modernity.

So a week or so ago, the Pope pointed out the perfectly obvious fact that Jesus was born a couple of years before 1 AD. The UK press treated this as though the Pope was prostrate on the mat with 15 modernist scholars wringing a confession out of him, instead of offering a commonplace statement any biblical scholar worth his salt would make. The real mystery is how anybody could *not* know that the date of Jesus’ birth is somewhere in the neighorhood of 5 years (I think 3-2 BC) before 1 AD. Have these people never watched the History Channel any given Christmas for the past 30 years?

Now Rome reiterates the utterly uncontroversial (outside fringe six day creationist circles) statement that Catholic faith is basically compatible with Darwin and evolutionary theories. Theistic evolution basically means “grace perfects nature” and “God made Adam from the dust of the earth reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally slowly.” The mystery is why this is treated as news, but it is. And the Telegraph informs us that the Vatican has “admitted” this. One awaits further “admissions” such as the equal dignity of men and women in the eyes of God, the “admittance” that the Bible was written by human beings and not dropped from heaven, and the “admittance” that Jesus was fully human.

Every time the media learns some elementary fact of Catholic teaching, they treat it, not as though they just learned it, but as though the Church just invented it.

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  • Red

    You do know Mark, that Thomas Aquinas was one of those “fringe six day creationists.”

    • ivan_the_mad

      Yeah, Mark! QED, you ignoramus!!!

      • Nate

        No one is an ignoramus. I think Red’s point–a good one–is that the Doctors of the Church by and large read Genesis in light of a geological timeline that is quite different than the one assumed today, given that scripture gives us no real reason to assume the sort of timeline that we moderns rightly or wrongly assume.

        • Ismael

          Man the media is stupid..! And ignorant!

          The fact that Jesus was born before 4 BC has been known for… ages..!
          Herod the Great, who killed the infants in order to kill Jesus died in 4 BC… so Jesus must have been born that year or a few years before.
          The friar who made the calculations (forgot his name) made a mistake .

          Nor the Church is particularly hang up on the date of Jesus exact birth of death (or age… the age of 33 is often symbolic, since he was killed around 30 AD… he must have been netween 33 and 37, 40 at the most)

          Also the media must have never ever heard of ‘Humana Generis’… Pope Piux XII declared that the theory of evolution was not uncompatible with Catholicism… and back then there were far less proofs for the theory (no genetic studies for example)

          • The friar who made the calculations (forgot his name) made a mistake .

            Dennis the Small

        • Ismael

          No Aquinas in fact was NOT a ‘6 day creationist’, nor was St. Augustine.
          So Nate and Red you are being ignorant.

          SOME fathers took the creation account literally, others did not. It was always debated, and indeed never settled.

          The Church never said that a literal account of genesis 1 was the correct answer, indeed because some believed it was not the correct interpretation, through various philosophycal arguments.

          Actually in his NATURAL THEOLOGY Aquinas does not even assume the universe had a ‘temporal beginning’ (his arguments do not rest on that, unlike Kalaam’s argument) since Aquinas believed that (natural) philosophy could not answer the question whether the universe had a beginning or not and though that the fact the universe has a temporal beginning was a ‘revealed truth’.

          Now science has shown that the universe, or at least our universe (if you buy into the multiverse theory), has a temporal beginning.

          However what mattered to Aquinas was not so much if the Universe ever had a beginning in time or not, but that it had a ‘ultima cause’, i.e. God.

          • Nate

            Yep. Good stuff Ismael.

            But you gotta take a deep breath.

          • Rolando Rodriguez, OFS

            Yes. Thank you, Ismael.
            Paz y Bien, Rolando, OFS.

    • Jacob S

      Actually, Aquinas was not a “fringe six day creationist” because there was no such movement at his time. Don’t get me wrong – there were people who thought it was 6 days and who thought it wasn’t (Augustine, for example), but there was no group denying such fairly well known scientific things as carbon dating. Because things like carbon dating were not known. The young earthers today have a different character than they did then, and it is not a character that I would tend to apply to Aquinas.

      • Howard

        Agreed. Aquinas did not have his head in the sand, as even a passing acquaintance with him shows. He knew that God could have created the earth in 6 days, or in no time at all if He so wanted, but he had no particular reason to doubt that, in addition to the other meanings of the Genesis account, the straightforward, naive understanding was also true. This is no longer an option for us today. Ultimately, today’s six-day creationists try to preserve the truthfulness of THEIR INTERPRETATION of Scripture by making God a liar who leaves false evidence in the rocks (among other places).

        • David

          Howard, what do you mean “false evidence in the rocks”? Are you refering to the age of rocks? If so that would not be lying, even if God created the earth and all life in 6 days. He created a mature man, a mature woman, a mature garden with mature trees, the planet would have been mature as well, and space. So, if actual age is young the measured age would be old. For example, if God created in 6 days and we measure appearant age on week 2 day 1 Adam would be about 30, large trees would be 100 to 200, rocks may be millions, and stars may be billions, but all still young in time of existence. Just a thought. Real evidence for a longer time of creation would be to actually document life embeded in some amber that could be carbon dated to millions of years based on the amber not the rocks in which it was found. Another real evidence would be to measure ice layers to in a glacier back to 200,000 years and find something that once lived embeded. As far as I know, nothing like this has ever been found.

  • Unless six day creationism was a fringe opinion in Thirteenth Century Europe, St. Thomas was not a fringe six day creationist.

    That he aligned his philosophical and theological opinions with the generally accepted natural philosophy of his day is a fact Catholics are frequently required to “admit.”

    They are less frequently required to admit that he taught, “In discussing questions of this kind [i.e., explaining Genesis 1] two rules are to observed, as Augustine teaches. The first is, to hold the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation, only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it, if it be proved with certainty to be false; lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing.” [ST I, 68, 1]

    And while St. Thomas does hold the opinion that the “days” of creation necessarily imply periods of alternating light and darkness (as in ST I, 67, 4), he is open to the opinion that the six days are not necessarily six consecutive 24 hour periods. In ST I, 66, 4, for example, he writes that “it must be granted that forthwith from the beginning, there was movement of some kind, at least in the succession of concepts and affections in the angelic mind,” but succession of concepts and affections in the angelic mind is not related to the rotation of the earth.

    Finally, the treatment of the Six Days of Creation in the Summa Theologiae is notable for its repeated references to multiple, contrary opinions of Church Fathers. St. Thomas was well aware that an exact exposition of the meaning of Genesis 1 was a matter of theological opinion, not Christian dogma.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “the meaning of Genesis 1” To add to that, let’s not forget the problem that Genesis 2 presents to a literalist reading …

    • Nate

      HI Tom,
      Certainly, Aquinas considered many scenarios. Yet I would caution us to refrain from saying things like, “Aquinas would have TOTALLY been ok with evolution!” I think his Aristotelian brain would have punched some wholes in the philosophy (or philosophies) of nature that even the kindest evolutionary stories *must* assume (without ‘evolution’ reducing to a series of punctuated magic tricks over a now arbitrarily long length of time).
      Though certainly, it would be interesting to see what a Summa written in 2012 would look like.

      • Well, yes, St. Thomas’s method requires consistency between the truths of natural science and the truths of sacred science, not the acceptance of bad philosophy under the guise of good science.

        A Summa 2012 would be interesting, though even that might seem dated in, say, two weeks. In the meantime, I’d recommend talking to Fr. William A. Wallace, OP, for an unreconstructedly Aristotelian perspective.

        • Nate

          Wallace is pretty good, yes.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        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.
        — Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3

        IOW, new species, if any such arise, would do so through the powers that God gave to Nature in creating Nature. Since the theory of evolution has to do with the “origin of species” and not with the act of creation, this would seem sufficient. Or as Augustine noted:

        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

        Or to put it modernly: God gave powers to natures to act directly upon one another. This doctrine of secondary creation was why Christendom alone developed science of nature.

        • Nate

          Right. For evolution to get off the ground, you have to assume–at the very least–an Aristotelian conception of efficient causality (that-which-comes-to-be exists in potentia from that-which-is) as opposed to a Newtonian-Humean conception of efficient causality (this thing bumps into and combines with that thing, a la Devastator from the Transformers)–for that’s the only way you can save formal and final cause, and you need formal and final cause to save the mechanism of evolution itself.
          But since this is the case, Darwinism is already way to enchanted, and its typical three-sentence description is problematic.
          (Seriously people: we gotta teach the four causes to high school kids. It’s the only thing saving evolutionary biology from being utter nonsense.)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Let us not confuse the scientific theory of evolution with the metaphysical conclusions some folks erroneously draw from it. New species either emerge from older species or they poof into existence. They do not poof into existence. Let us not, for that matter, confuse design with design. As the B-16 said:
            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…
            IOW it is false to imagine God sitting at a drafting table with a compass and t-square carefully designing a platypus. When he created Nature, he “saw that it was good” and at the very least this has to mean that it “works.” There is a deeper meaning of “design”; viz., “intention,” as in “I have designs on that piece of chocolate cake.” So God intended platypuses, and “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” ensured it. That doesn’t mean platypuses poofed into existence by magic. It is possible to agree with science without agreeing with materialism. After all, the only thing controlled by genes is the physical body and there is no reason why something material cannot have material causes.
            I forget who put the following together; but since it came up…..
            Aristotelian Evolution: Four Αιτια
            1. Material Cause:
            The tendency to variation due to constant small random mutations in the genetic code; i. e., a variety of differing individuals within a species capable of transmitting their differences.
            2. Formal Cause:
            The tendency of an interbreeding population to reproduce itself in a stable manner and increase in numbers; i. e., the maintenance of type.
            3. Efficient Cause (Agent):
            Natural selection by the environment which eliminates those variants which are less effective in reproducing their kind; i. e., the agent determining in which direction species-change will take place.
            4. Final Cause (End):
            The flexibility of living things by which they are able to occupy new niches in the changing environment; i. e., a feed-back mechanism which guides the selective process toward a new type which can exploit new environmental possibilities.

            IOW, two parts Br. Gregor Mendel, one part Darwin, and one part Kimura with just a soupcon of Lamarck.

            • Nate

              “Let us not confuse the scientific theory of evolution with the metaphysical conclusions some folks erroneously draw from it. New species either emerge from older species or they poof into existence.”

              I don’t understand your dichotomy between ’emergence’ (what kind of emergence?) and ‘poof’ moments when it comes to form.

              Regardless, as even most naturalists admit, the difference between minimal mental content and no mental content is an ontological chasm. That’s why panpsychism’s all the rage.

              So at the very least, we have a ‘poof’ when it comes to mind (duly remembering, as Paul Davies reminds us, that mind must exist as a potential in the ‘Big Bang’ so-called). Unless you think that mentality emerges like solidity or a cricket team.

              Perhaps it does.

              But here’s the rub: if it doesn’t, then mind gives us a kink in the sliding tile puzzle of evolutionary advancement. We gotta start over.

              Unless you want to be a dualist. You say everything emerges piecemeal (no poofs) but then gratuitously add poofs for each individual consciousness, from a bug to a yak.

              • I don’t understand your dichotomy between ‘emergence’ (what kind of emergence?) and ‘poof’ moments when it comes to form.

                The form doesn’t “come into existence” at the moment it is instantiated in a particular being. Just like the form of a water molecule would still exist even if every single water molecule in the universe were separated into their constituent oxygen and hydrogen atoms, the form of my dog Fido (for instance) exists and is ready to be instantiated in the universe once matter of the right disposition, etc, comes together.

                The consciousness of any animal, from a bug to a yak, is a natural property of the universe when it is in that particular configuration, just like the characteristics of water are the natural properties of the universe when in that particular H-O-H configuration.

                The form of every possible animal already exists in the universe and has from the moment of its creation. The characteristics of those animals, from crunchiness to consciousness, are the characteristics of the universe in when it’s in that “shape”. All evolution does is, by introducing a certain amount of error (or variation) into the way matter comes together in the development process, allows a slightly different form from the parents’ to be instantiated. And when that particular form happens to fit the environment particularly well, it reproduces successfully and you get a lot of it.

                • Nate

                  Hi Jon,
                  Thanks. Good stuff. I’ve responded to you down below.

      • Ismael

        We cannot know what Thomas would think now exactly… but we know what (neo-)thomists who understand Thomas’ work properly think.

        Thomists are among the most vocal enemies of Intelligent Design, for example, also because of Thomas’ fifth way.

        Also Thomas clearly shows that there can be no contraddiction between what ‘we observe as fact in the universe’ (in out time we call it science, at the time it was natural philosophy) and what we believe through faith…since two truths cannot contraddict each other on the same matter, obviously.

        So Aquinas either should have rejected evolution because of a fatal flaw in its scientific observation and philosophical interpretation, or it would have accepted it, since it does not go against what he basically believed.

        Since there is no fatal flaw (for now at least) in the theory of evolution, he would have accepted it.

        He would NOT have accepted certain philosophical interpratations of such theory, such as the materialist and reductionists views of Dawkins and Dennett, for example.

  • Nate

    Yeah, I was surprised that the pope’s comments on the date of Jesus’ birth made news. I thought that was common knowledge. Apparently this was news to the news makers.

    As to ‘the Vatican’ reiterating the ‘utterly uncontroversial’ point that evolution is ‘basically’ compatible with the Christian philosophy of nature. Um…I’ll leave that be, I guess. It’s Advent and all.

  • beccolina

    Wait until the pope mentions that Jesus wasn’t born on Dec. 25th of one of those years. That will really blow the media’s mind.

  • Jmac

    Noooooo! Another thread that mentions evolution! I must not fear, fear is the mind-killer.

  • I guess my question is what do we mean by ‘evolution’? Sometimes it seems the term ‘evolution’ itself means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I’ve not found the according to Hoyle definition of ‘this is evolution’ once we move past the basics, if then. After all, scientists with no religious beliefs won’t say what a scientist who is Christian will, yet it’s the same evolution they’re talking about. And Christians who try to reconcile evolution and the traditional understandings of the faith don’t seem to agree on how to reconcile them, even when they’re from the same tradition. It just seems to need more unpacking than ‘whatever evolution, but God made it happen.’ There at least seems a need to allow for some leeway in how folks try to work it out.

    • Nate

      “And Christians who try to reconcile evolution and the traditional understandings of the faith don’t seem to agree on how to reconcile them..”

      Well said. Because of this, Christians need to stop prefacing their remarks concerning the compatibility of ‘evolution’ with a Christian philosophy of nature with phrases like, “OBVIOUSLY, we should say that [insert compatibility story], and by the way, folks like Aquinas and Augustine have ALWAYS said [compatibility story]! We were SOOO Darwinian even before Darwin!”

  • NoahLuck

    I can’t wait for the headline, “This just in — Pope admits there was likely a Big Bang, hires astronomers, builds observatory at the Vatican!” Oh Georges Lemaître, it’s too bad you can’t be here to explode so many modern heads.

    (Oh, another tidbit. I read “Why Does The World Exist? An Existential Detective Story” by Jim Holt this summer and was highly amused when he recounted the story of how secularists at the time argued Big Bang theory was just scientists trying to ingratiate themselves with the Catholic Church.)

    • Nate

      Indeed. But we’re only about sixty years in to a cosmological story that seems to be revised every few years (though, sadly, we have got to the point that certain facets of the theory are now considered unfalsifiable, so much so that scientist-dissenters from these unfalsifiable points are met with Miracle Max style “I can’t hear you I can’t hear you” by the rest of the scientific community. Let’s not forget that there are many smart scientists with not theological axes to grind who don’t believe in the Big Bang) . Father Lemaitre is our convenient Catholic hero of the day, since he was one of the original proponents of the Big Bang. But he might not be the hero in the future, if the Big Bang cosmology becomes so revised as to be unrecognizable compared to its current form. Perhaps the real heroes are present-day scientists who have denied the Big Bang the whole time.
      At that point, Catholics will point to priest-scientists who have denied the Big Bang and say, “SEE! The Catholic Church has ALWAYS denied the truth of the Big Bang! Haven’t you ever heard of Father [insert present-day denier of the Big Bang].”

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Fr. Lemaître solved the field equations of general relativity and showed that the World (original sense of Κοσμος) was in motion. A static universe is unstable. Einstein initially resisted the notion, and perhaps Lemaître may have murmured “Nevertheless, it still moves,” but eventually the math convinced him and experimental evidence bore out Lemaître’s theory. There is a very nice book by John Farrell entitled The Day Without Yesterday that explains all this rather well.
        As Aristotle and Aquinas said, time is the measure of motion in corruptible being. (And space is the result of extension in material bodies. Since in GR both time and space are contingent on the existence of matter-energy, we find an echo of Augustine here, too.
        With the motion of creatures, time began to run its course. It is idle to look for time before creation, as if time can be found before time.
        De genesi ad litteram, Book V, Ch. 5:12

        The alternative to the space-time continuum having a beginning in time is that space-time (and hence mass-energy) have always existed. That is, the alternative to the Big Bang (in some form) is the Steady State (in some form).

        • Nate

          Ah yes. General relativity. I don’t understand it even a little bit, but that’s just because, as Eddgington reminded me, I’m not one of the three people that does. I’m just a Chestertonian dummy. At least when I took physics in college I managed to convince my prof that I knew what it was.

          But it’s nice to know that Augustine said something about it.

          Failsafe patristics! Love it.

          When the multiverse gets a lot of following in the coming years, I’m sure we’ll find something about it in the writings of St. Basil.

          I kid…

  • Janet O’Connor

    This is why I don’t even bother to follow or pay attention to anything the mainstream secular world press says about anything mostly if it involves the Church or the Pope. I Knew after the Condom statements that they no longer just report what is going on in the World and the Church but they put every news item through a “spin cycle” and this has been going on for the last couple of decades now. So I don’t follow any of them anymore. They are not to be trusted in my view. I only go to Catholic News source News.Va and maybe your site and Tom Woods, and for others independent news site though I don’t always agree with their political views or ideology.

    • Thank you. You’ve nailed the appropriate response to a media that consistently gets things wrong about the Church. Now lather, rinse, and repeat your examination and you will be horrified to find (as I did several years ago) that their track record is not much better in every other field.

      We are in desperate need of a competent news media. We don’t have one. Until we start creating and supporting a competent one, we will be consistently handicapped.

  • The Deuce

    My problem with Darwinism isn’t the length of time or the descent from microbes, but the denial of teleology. The main point was to explain away the purpose and function of living things, both intrinsic as conceived by Thomists and extrinsic as conceived by Paleyists, in favor of a blind, mechanistic account of the world. Taken literally, it implies that all life is a cosmic accident, and that the purpose and function we see all around us is illusory, with no unprincipled exception for humanity. It’s both incoherent and incompatible with theism.

    OTOH, I realize that “Darwin” is also often used as shorthand for evolution more generally, and for the basic idea that the environment can have an effect on organisms over time. In that sense, it’s not really objectionable or incompatible with Christianity.

    • Nate

      Well said. You obviously seem to know the issues here, so I’ll point this out.
      Consider, for starters, the two most famous books of Dennett–Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Consciousness Explained.
      The former says that evolution is a universal acid that cuts through all common sense concepts–the self, ‘real’ morality, formal and final cause, irreducible wholes, true belief, etc. If Darwinian theory (taken in its broadest meaning) is right, then none of these things are really ‘there’.
      The latter book says–in so many confusing ways–that consciousness is something of an illusion.

      Naturalist philosophers of biology with no interest in God have by and large panned the Darwin book, and naturalist philosophers of mind with no interest in God have by and large panned his book on consciousness.

      Interestingly, many anti-naturalists and theists have looked at these liberal naturalist philosophers of *mind* and argued that their ‘naturalism’ is far too permissive (i.e., it must say that consciousness is real but yet it is in some such way (type or token or what have you) ‘identical’ or ‘supervenient’ on brain-stuff), and that if naturalism is true, then Dennett’s theory of mind has to be right. Since it is so obviously wrong, these theist philosophers rightly point out, this means that naturalism *as a whole* is wrong.
      Yet surprisingly, anti-naturalist and theistic philosophers don’t want to latch on to the naturalist critics of Dennett’s notion of a Darwinian ‘universal acid’ to argue, analogously, that–perhaps–the whole Darwinian edifice needs to be revised.

      As it is, most philosophers of biology who have no interest in God are yet ready to talk about immanent teleology, convergence, ‘ontological emergence’, the fact that ‘the unit of selection is form’, etc. etc. They *have* to, since it’s the only way to get their theory working.
      So, in order for the evolutionary process to work, it has to assume features that are, from Dennett’s perspective, decidedly anti-evolutionary.

      Yet, analogously, a philosophically *consistent* take on evolution might well should posit a universal acid. Thus making the whole theory…well, problematic.

      • I was following along well enough until “might well should” where you lost me. What were you trying to say there?

        • Nate

          Ha ha. Yes, I went back and read my own comment and realize it wasn’t particularly clear. My simple question, after reading far too much philosophy of biology that I’d like to admit to, is this:
          How the hell can the evolutionary mechanism accommodate a Christian philosophy of nature? Dennett argues that the evolutionary mechanism gives us perpetual Heraclitean flux (on slow-mo). How can we avoid that unless we posit an emergence story that simply *falsifies* even the kindest interpretation of the evolutionary mechanism? I’d argue that naturalism implies eliminativism. The Rosenbergs of the world are just *right*. ‘Liberal’ naturalism is an oxymoron. But why, therefore, should evolution not necessarily entail the universal acid? I don’t see how we can avoid it unless we posit metaphysical structures that leave the notion of ‘evolution’ so semantically empty as to be a worthless concept that one must ‘believe’ in.

          Thankfully, this isn’t my philosophical area. But I’d love some cogent answers from folks who know this area better than me.

          • Concerns about Heraclitean flux (if I understand the issue right and I’m not sure I do) should mostly disappear with even a cursory reading of quantum mechanics and string theory.

            I would suggest that if God made the universe in a way you do not understand, this is not God’s fault. God did what He did. We are obliged to live with it, and seek what lessons we can discern from His work.

    • My problem with Darwinism isn’t the length of time or the descent from microbes, but the denial of teleology. The main point was to explain away the purpose and function of living things […] in favor of a blind, mechanistic account of the world.

      All right, but that’s not what science (or Darwinism) properly is. Science is the method of ignoring teleology as much as possible for the sake of argument so as not to contaminate one’s data too much. When teleological descriptions (especially higher-level teleological descriptions) get absolutized then you end up with misinterpretations of data that lead to bad theories. Part of good science is occasionally throwing out any teleological knowledge and trying to see if some other teleology (roughly: theory, which when mature is inevitably teleological in nature) fits the data better.

      But that doesn’t mean that a scientist so doing has ipso facto an agenda. And just because Dawkins is riding that method right down the landslide of liberal democracy doesn’t mean that his horse is going as fast as he claims.

      • Nate

        No, scientists by and large don’t have axes to grind. But they don’t avoid teleology either. They can’t. They can’t do science unless they assume natural regularities.
        Since we’re talking about biology here, I’d mention that you find teleological language, along with the language of agency and form, utterly ‘infecting’ (heh) biology text books.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      it implies that all life is a cosmic accident, and that the purpose and function we see all around us is illusory, with no unprincipled exception for humanity.

      It implies no such thing. People with an axe to grind have insisted on drawing metaphysical conclusions from the science, but that is illicit reasoning. The effort is rapidly approaching reductio with serious proponents contending that they themselves do not exist and devote their minds to proving that they do not have any.
      No one goes around rejecting Maxwell’s Equations and the Theory of Electromagnetism because it disagrees with Gen.1:3!

      • Nate

        Certainly, the man who posits ‘selfish genes’ (whereby we are lumbering robots over ‘eternally replicating information’) and the man who posits ‘memes’ and the man who suggests that Darwin’s idea is a ‘universal acid’ have axes to grind. They’ve written other works that have confirmed this.

        But I’m intrigued by the talk of universal acid. I’ve yet to hear a good explanation as to how, despite talk of form as the unit of selection, how even the kindest interpretation of the Darwinian mechanism avoids a perpetual Heraclitean flux.

        The universal acid is obviously wrong, but I’m not sure why it doesn’t take down more with it than it apparently does.

        • Nate

          That is to say, I fail to understand how the Darwinian mechanism isn’t a universal acid *essentially*, talk of ’emergence’ (a tricky term, to be sure) notwithstanding.

        • I’ve yet to hear a good explanation as to how, despite talk of form as the unit of selection, how even the kindest interpretation of the Darwinian mechanism avoids a perpetual Heraclitean flux.

          Scientists who do actual work in actual labs don’t believe in a Heraclitean flux. If they did, they wouldn’t bother going to work in the morning.

          Besides, you can’t get just anything from evolution. You can only instantiate a form that’s already “in” the universe. So, for instance, evolution will never produce winged horses (as we see them in popular fantasy) because that form is impossible. It doesn’t exist in the universe.

          Talk of “emergence” and “physical algorithms exploring solution space” is just a way of talking about forms without the philosophical and cultural baggage. Which isn’t to say that scientists are trying to come up with Aristotelian insights – after all, I’ll bet most of them wouldn’t know Aristotle from a hole in the ground – just that they’re gradually reinventing the wheel. If we’re lucky, they’ll make some improvements along the way.

          • Nate

            HI Jon,
            Thanks for the response.
            I get all of that. Great. Good to mention. Scientists don’t usually philosophize on their own findings–which is fine. And yes, many scientists don’t realize their debt to a pre-modern philosophy of nature. Great!
            But this doesn’t actually address the mechanism of evolution itself.

            It seems to me that if evolution itself relies, among other things, on Aristotelian potentia (indeed, perhaps even a principle of plentitude) then it’s just not evolution anymore–at least not in any sense that it is being presented as being. Indeed, contrary to Gould, the ‘unfolding’ of the evolare might follow a formal process. At least, that’s what biologists like Conway Morris have argued.

            All of this, from the fact that evolution ‘went mental’ (which itself a product of emergence in only a laughable or ‘radical’ sense of the term), combined with the metaphysical of irreducible form which ground common sense experience, transform evolution to something that is largely enchanted its essence.
            Which is fine, of course.
            But now, all of the various facets to the evolutionary story that are supposedly ‘necessary’–now become mere arbitrary addendums.

            • Nate

              Sorry for the typos in that response.

            • But this doesn’t actually address the mechanism of evolution itself. […] It seems to me that if evolution itself relies, among other things, on Aristotelian potentia (indeed, perhaps even a principle of plentitude) then it’s just not evolution anymore–at least not in any sense that it is being presented as being.

              Don’t take your definition of evolution from guys like Dennett. The New Atheists are not a scientific phenomenon; they’re a social phenomenon. The only reason why Dennett sells any books at all is that our society is desperately looking around for philosophy that justifies classical liberal democracy and the soft existentialism that goes with it.

              “Hand wave, blah blah, evolution, hand wave,” goes Dawkins and Dennett and, hey presto, there’s no such thing as any kind of form, either physical or (what’s more to the point) moral, at least on the level of the individual. Therefore, you can do what you want … as long as no one really, immediately, actually … well, physically … gets hurt … and as long as you’ve got a safe word.

              As far as the mechanism of evolution goes … if you’re talking variation and natural selection, I fail to see how that in any way conflicts, could conflict, or even has anything to do with what we’re talking about. Could you spell it out more explicitly?

  • Justin M

    Something I’ve never understood about the idea that evolution is compatible with Catholic theology is that I thought at some point it was taught that death didn’t exist before original sin, since death was one of the punishments of original sin, but maybe that isn’t the case?

    • The Deuce

      It’s not the case. Scripture is talking only about human death, and primarily about spiritual death specifically. Consider Paul’s words on the matter. He says that death entered the world by one man, and that death spread to all men because all men sin. Clearly he can’t be talking about death as experienced by animals here, because animals die even though they don’t sin. Paul also describes Christ as undoing this process, saying that through one Man, all men may live. But, Christ doesn’t undo our physical death, only spiritual death. Hence, Paul is talking about spiritual death here.

    • Marie

      Yes, it is the case that that was at one time taught. Not necessarily magisterially, and Deuce may perhaps have magisterial documents to quote on the matter. If he doesn’t, I’m going with the Baltimore Catechism. 🙂

      • Nate

        Right on, Marie. I was thinking the same thing. 🙂
        I gotta respectfully disagree with ya, Deuce.

      • Mark Shea

        No. It wasn’t. St. Thomas denies that had there been no fall, lions would have not eaten meat.

        • Nate

          Indeed. I thought we were talking about the first *humans*, though.

          • Mark Shea

            Depends on what you mean by human. Homo habilis, erectus, Heidelbergensis, and Neanderthalensis predate Homo sapiens.

            • David

              Could you link some of your info on why you accept that humans evolved from a previous species? I have been studying this for 25 years and have yet found any evidence compelling and all of it speculative, full of assumptions. Thanks

              • The things that did it for me were biogeography, the mammalian gene coding for Vitamin C, which is still there but broken in primates (including humans), and the fact that when actual scientists were talking about evolution itself (not their own bogus metaphysical conclusions), they sounded like they were telling the plain truth, whereas special creationists were doing enough hand-waving to power several wind farms.

                But in the end, the most significant (and deciding) factor was when I went to grad school for theology and came to understand classical theism. When I realized that William Paley was already making the same wrong assumptions as Richard Dawkins then I gained the freedom to read Darwin and Mayr and Simon Conway Morris (and the whole obnoxious crew at TalkOrigins) with new eyes.

                Frankly, I’d read Alfred Russel Wallace first. Google “On the Tendency of Varieties to
                Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type”. He’s awesome and, I think, clearer than Darwin. But Origin of Species is totally worth a read. Very compelling.

        • That was way too may negatives in one sentence.

  • Red

    One possibility on the question of “Why did the church abandon creationism?” is that the princes of the church believe in evolution because it is the way to power, not that it has any Catholic tradition or meaning of truth. Those familiar with the Hottentot story will realize that Darwin’s theory of evolution could simply have been a way to justify stealing gold and men from the colonies from the 16th to 19th centuries. Darwin came 60 years after the French scientist who proclaimed that Hottentot was an ape, conveniently justifying French, Dutch, British, and German African exploitation. Science followed the political decision, not led to new truth in this case.

    Likewise, three hundred years prior to the Hottentot Louvre exposition, the cardinals of Spain and Portugal needed a way to justify stealing the silver and gold from the “barbarous savages” of Latin America. The cardinals likely found a solution by combining the non-literal interpretation of creation from Augustine and Plato, and the pragmatist ideals of Aquinas and Aristotle. Instead of maintaining belief and action in congruence with a true patriarchy as told by the story of Adam and Noah, patriarchy being the actual significance of the creation, the cardinals of the 15th century chose the political convenient route of denying the patriarchy while maintaining a wily set of pragmatic actions to maintain power. Thus led to the break of Luther and Henry VIII, and the start of the end.

    We have seen a similar set of actions in contemporary politics. George W. Bush wanted to invade Iraq, so the intelligence services “found” WMDs that Saddam was hiding, and then the Catholic conservatives, another irony, wrote articles justifying torture and killer drones to support the war effort. In this case, the WMD and evolution are similar artifacts. In each case, the King or President decided he wanted to do something, whether take the natives as slaves since they were only monkeys, or kill Saddam because he hurt the President’s feelings.

    Creationism is about patriarchy, and once patriarchy was gone pragmatism became cruel in the manner of the inquisition, or on the other side Elizabethan stake burnings of resistant Catholics who were caught worshipping in secret. There was just too much gold at stake, and the cardinals could not resist.

    • ivan_the_mad

      You’re an utter loon.

    • Mark Shea

      The Church hasn’t abandoned creationism. We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Thanks for the warmed-over raceclassgender theory. No actual basis for your analysis, but a nice parroting of dogmatic commitments. Brings back memories.

      • Red

        You have heard this hypothesis previously?

  • John C

    A related story: Camille Paglia says sneering at religion is juvenile. She’s right, of course, and it explains a lot about those who sneer at religion.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Paglia is right. But as this thread evidences, such a prejudice may not, in all instances, be entirely without cause.

  • Moreana

    Catholicism is not “basically compatible” with Darwinism. The Church has made this very clear. This urge to to accept uncritically Darwin’s theories is simply beyond me. Some people are truly terrified of appearing to be outside the “mainstream” of modern thought.

    In the words of a Cardinal of the Church:

    In an unfortunate new twist on this old controversy, neo-Darwinists recently have sought to portray our new pope, Benedict XVI, as a satisfied evolutionist. They have quoted a sentence about common ancestry from a 2004 document of the International Theological Commission, pointed out that Benedict was at the time head of the commission, and concluded that the Catholic Church has no problem with the notion of “evolution” as used by mainstream biologists – that is, synonymous with neo-Darwinism.

    The commission’s document, however, reaffirms the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church about the reality of design in nature. Commenting on the widespread abuse of John Paul’s 1996 letter on evolution, the commission cautions that “the letter cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe.”

    Furthermore, according to the commission, “An unguided evolutionary process – one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence – simply cannot exist.”

    Indeed, in the homily at his installation just a few weeks ago, Benedict proclaimed: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”

    • Mark Shea

      Why do I have the sense you are basically compatible with Pavlov?

      • Moreana

        I knew you would blurt that out.

      • Nate

        What a fantastically uncharitable response to a reasonable comment. You’re becoming your own troll.

        • Nate

          Unless you were joking and I just didn’t get the joke. IN which case, my bad.

        • Mark Shea

          Well, no. I’m becomign somebody who dislikes having to re-write what I wrote when people pavlovianly react to the word “evolution” and don’t bother paying attention to the rest of the piece or any of my comments.

          • Nate

            Am I living on Mars or failing in basic social skills
            by having no idea what you mean by that?

            Perhaps I am.
            I don’t want to speak for Moreana, so I’ll just say: it’s your blog.

            Carry on.

            • ivan_the_mad

              Definitely “failing in basic social skills”. See “thread hijacking”, a netiquette no-no.

              • Jmac

                For instance, Hitler was very fond of thread hijacking. Why are you like Hitler?

    • Logic would compel us to affirm that the following statements are perfectly compatible with the church’s pronouncements above:

      “A guided evolutionary process – one that falls within the bounds of divine providence – can exist.”
      “We are an intended and meaningful product of evolution.”

      Which isn’t to say that the pope’s arguing that evolution has, in fact, happened, just that what he is saying is not at all logically incompatible with evolution per se. I mean, the fact that I have the particular genes and upbringing and, hence, personality that I do is, from a scientific standpoint, random. There’s nothing about the egg-fertilization process that demands a Jon W. Nevertheless, I am still not a casual and meaningless product of conception. I am willed and loved by God in every unique aspect.

      • And let me point out that “guided” as a description of the evolutionary process does not mean “guided from the outside”. God doesn’t need to “tweak” his creation.

    • Also, I doubt anyone in this odd little Catholic blogging community is overly terrified of being perceived as being outside mainstream thought.

  • Moreana

    Yes, he does, at least in the case of human beings. That’s the whole point Jon. The soul doesn’t evolve from matter. It can’t. it is directly infused by God.

    • Certainly the creation of individual human souls is a special “intervention”, if you will, of God that goes beyond the natural processes of the universe. This was all pointed out by Pius XII in 1950. But that has nothing to do with the natural processes of evolution, nor does it in any way invalidate non-interventionist evolution.

  • Moreana

    The premise that God has intervened directly in his creation, from the outside, over and over, is central to Catholicism, starting with the creation of Adam and Even, the parting of the Red Sea, the Writing on the Wall, the Annunciation and the Incarnation, Christ’s resurrection, the Miracle of the Sun at Fatimas, etc. etc.. There are too many examples to count. Now it’s true that God may have taken two apes and made them into man and woman, but the Church does not teach that. She does not know, and we do not know, what exactly happened. Nor does science.

    • Right. But those interventions, miracles, were given for the higher purpose of special revelation, not because his natural laws couldn’t produce animals or new species without “help”.

      And, frankly, science does know quite a lot. Just because science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean it doesn’t know anything.

  • Moreana

    I quite agree. I am just cautioning against the error of naturalism.

    • Nate

      Right on, Moreana,

  • Doug

    Interesting that so many comments on “Christmas” have to do with evolution. 🙂
    To get back to the OP: The traditional year is wrong, the month is wrong, the creche scenes with Magi and shepherd together are wrong, the “star” is wrong, the Magi were well-meaning but dangerous to the Holy Family (as I believe you call it). And Benedict XVI encourages folks to use their Bibles and recent, accurate scholarship to do this. Why no replies on the results of such research?

    • Mark Shea

      Actually, the patristic evidence indicates the month may be right. There is likewise evidence for the star http://www.bethlehemstar.net/. Not sure what you point about the Magi is. And I’m very familiar with the biblical scholarship. You seem to think the purpose of a creche is to provide a historical re-enactment and not a focus for devotion. I would suggest learning a bit about how iconography works. Complaining that the shepherds and Magi were not at the stable at the same time is like complaining that Northwest Indian art does not depict orca whales in a lifelike way. It’s tone deaf to what Christian art is attempting.

  • Dante Aligheri

    This is on an unrelated note. But a similar comment was made on the Discovery Channel website about that possibility of testing for our universe being a Matrix created by super-intellligent programmers in the future. The editor went out of his way to differentiate this “intelligent designer” (a theory, which like Thomists, I do not hold as real science or theology) from the “old man in the sky.” Personally, this made no sense to me. If people are willing to believe our world is a computer simulation to explain away the much touted Anthropic Principle, why not Being Itself Without Potential? I really wanted to tell the editor that no Christian philosopher has ever been so naive as to believe God is an old man. I decided against it because I would most likely be ignored.

    To get back the issue at hand, I would find it interesting to look at the differences why Pope Benedict XVI opted for the 6 B.C. as opposed to 3-2 B.C. It’s ultimately inconsequential, but it’s a historical curiosity nonetheless. I’m looking forward to that book.

    • Mark Shea

      I suspect it’s because he’s been busy being Pope and hasn’t followed the more recent scholarship on the dating of Herod’s death.

  • sandy

    Moreana was very much on topic as i read the post. Mark says that evolution is basically compatible with Church teaching. I think that is far from established, as the quote he or she cites shows.