Common Sense…

…that neither atheist fundamentalists nor Christian fundamentalists seem to be willing to hear:

Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called ‘creationism’ and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favor of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from?” – Pope Benedict XVI

That sound you hear is the heads of Richard Dawkins’, Jerry Coyne’s, Bob Sungenis’ and Hugh Miller’s heads exploding.

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  • See, to me that sounds as if there’s not really a reconciliation, as much as it’s saying ‘when it comes to the material universe, whatever science says, when it comes to the philosophical universe, that’s where we come in.’ Which does seem to be the underlying assumption when it comes to evolution: God is not a factor in the equation. When I listen to or read anything about evolution, it seems to my amateur mind that there is no spot where God is assumed part of anything, the conclusions are based on the assumption that everything happens in the universe without outside influence or meddling. Likewise, accepting evolution as presented does open up some questions about life, God, sin, humanity that just taking whatever science says and adding ‘but God does too exist’ doesn’t seem to address. True, fundamentalist reactions on both sides often overplay their case, but sometimes I think they are the result of both extremes seeing that the two are not as easily reconciled as those who don’t wish to be seen as fundamentalists on the issue might care to believe.

    • I think that the problem ultimately is a misapplication of Occam’s Razor. We’re arguing over which explanation gets to be assumed and which explanation has a greater burden of proof because it is more complex. What both sides are ignoring is that it is a rule of statistical probability. One side may or may not be more likely but that increase in probability does not necessarily mean that it is necessarily true. It just means it is more likely. People argue the point as if the unlikely is the impossible and proving probabilities proves events to a fineness that is not called for by the facts available.

      In the end, we are left with faith. But since that’s where we started, I don’t really see the problem.

    • The Deuce

      Hi, Dave, I think you hit the nail on the head here.

      On the one hand, we have very strong evidence, from multiple sources, from which we can make a very solid inference that living things have descended from a common ancestor over billions of years, arriving at new forms (including humans) via a series of modifications.

      On the other hand, we *know* that the human intellect is capable of grasping objective truth, universal abstract forms, and other absolutes, and of navigating from true premises to true conclusions by grasping the inviolate laws of logic. We know that our thoughts our irreducibly teleological, that they point to things beyond them, and so on. We know this with infinitely more certainty than we know anything else, and we can deduce from it that the rational human soul is immaterial, and could not have been produced by any sort of mechanistic or material process, and so proceeds from God. To deny this fact is to deny the very integrity of our senses, and the validity of the laws of logic, by which we arrive at any truths whatsoever, including truths about evolution that I mentioned previously (not to mention that it contradicts the faith).

      The latter fact has *radical* implications for how to rationally interpret the former, but I see a lot of Christians acting as if the two can be considered in isolation from each other. They often see it as a matter of taking whatever anti-teleological interpretation of the evidence scientists are currently putting out about the evolution of man, and then awkwardly slapping a “but God created the soul” onto it and calling it a day, with little thought to the consistency or coherence of the philosophical Frankenstein’s monster that has just been created. And then those Christians tend to get confused about what to say when some scientists report what are actually just the philosophical implications of their reductionist worldview (eg, “Natural selection created God/notions of morality/reason/etc”) as evolutionary science.

      I can certainly understand the motivation here. With the oracle-like prestige that scientists are given in our culture, people are afraid of even trodding within restraining-order distance of topics that are considered scientific, and of being ridiculed for being “anti-science” as a result. In reality, any picture of evolution which denies, ignores, or is premised on the falsehood of the facts about the human intellect is guaranteed to be false from the get-go, just like any chain of reasoning that starts from a major false premise.

      We really need to do better on this score. Christian philosophers, when tackling the question of evolution, should not act timidly as if the “philosophical” facts about the human person are somehow lesser facts than the “scientific” facts we can infer about evolution, or that they pertain to some airy philosophical universe rather than to the same, very real universe in which we live and originated, when the precise opposite is true on both counts. I hope Pope Benedict’s interest in this issue will help to come up with that something better.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      God is no more a “factor” in the mechanics of evolution than in the mechanics of automobiles. My auto mechanic takes neither God nor Darwin into account when repairing a transmission. There is no mention of God in the postulates of Euclidean geometry, either. I don’t know why anyone thinks this is astonishing. It all depends on the nature and depth of our considerations. I don’t take my laundry into account when mowing the lawn.
      Creation and evolution are simply not the same sort of thing; and God cannot be reduced to a mere efficient cause in the World among other efficient causes. The workings of Nature are not somehow independent of God’s giving existence to Nature. Otherwise, gravity and electromagnetism would be as upsetting as evolution.
      “You poor fools,” said William of Conches back in the day. “God can turn a cow into a tree. But has he ever done so? Therefore, give reasons why a thing is so or cease to hold that it is so.”
      Or to quote St. Albertus Magnus: “In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power; we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass.”
      (That is, methodological naturalism in the sciences was a medieval Christian invention.)

      • Probably because Euclidean geometry and automobiles don’t have much impact on the reality of sin or the nature of human existence. The idea that we’re here in part because our ancestors were the strongest and toughest, and the weak by design were weeded out, says something, something enough that my then 6th grader picked up on it: since there is still a tendency to teach evolution as if somehow the traits that lead to weakness and helplessness are weeded out over the ages, how does this square with a God who is apparently doing the weeding (working through evolution) who then makes it law to say ‘watch out that you don’t weed out the weak and the helpless.’ It’s not like sex – needed to procreate and able to be abused, but not in itself wrong. There is nothing in the Christian tradition that says weeding out the weak is a proper approach to problem solving, yet if evolution as handed down from the scientific community to the masses is to be believed , it’s as integral a part of how life evolved as the need for water or oxygen.

        • Hezekiah Garrett

          Evolution and Social Darwinism arent the same thing.

          Fit-ness doesn’t mean strength or ‘toughness’, it means ‘sliding into one’s niche’, like those shaped blocks we used to slide into shaped holes oh so long ago. And weakness is a poor word choise used by scientists still enamored with social darwinism. Un-fit-ness isn’t weakness, it is being a square peg trying to slip into a rhombus hole. We don’t inhabit a planet populated entirely by apex predators for a reason. For several actually.

          It does interest me, though, that the only adherents of science I have met who speak of these theories in careful, measured and precise terms are believing monotheists. Adherents of Genesis to a man.

  • Kmac

    The pope is speaking very generally there and is not wading into the specific issues that have been generating so much heat here of late, i.e., is polygenism a permissible thesis for a Catholic (it is not), did man evolve gradually from “red clay man” or whatever pre-existent matter you want to describe, or did God intervene in history to create the first man and woman directly, etc. The pope (and Cardinal Schonborn) also clarified these remarks 4 years later as they were being taken out of context to imply that the Church accepts evolution as a fact in all its facets: “If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature,” he said. “But no, reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine reason.” He is still speaking generally there, outside the context of an encyclical, unlike Pius XII. There is no daylight between BXVI and Pius XII on this issue.

    • Jmac

      Welcome back, Moreana?

  • Once again, not to beat a dead horse, but it’s actually possible to reconcile “young earth” and “old earth” theories to such a degree that, in my mind, it’s utterly dumb to even care other than for the sake of purely theological speculation.

  • ED

    Mark… considering the topic, I thought I would supply the link to this essay by William E. Carroll:

    I thought perhaps you (and *some* of your readers) might enjoy reading it. IMO, it’s well worth the time.

    In any case… Happy New Year my friend.

  • tz

    The fundamental question is in “Evolution, Possible or Impossible?”. If Physics and Chemistry PROVE evolution as shoved down throats by the proponents cannot be true absent a physics that cannot be demonstrated experimentally, it is faith.

    For some reason “I don’t know” is abhorrent. Yet I do not know the age of the earth, how primordial soup (with both dextro- and levo- versions of the chemicals) can magically assemble into a replicator, or the rest. I do not accept the priesthood of Gaia in their lab-coats/priestly-attire and their explanations accompanied with their threats of banishment.

    There is a point to accept an interpretation of data as true. Yet there is also our DUTY to investigate and test if what those who are at first, nonbelievers intent on destroying faith, are speaking accurately or not, or at what point their exposition of the data turns toward hell.

    • Jmac

      Just you wait, buddy. When I get ordained by the International Science Conspiracy, I’m going to hover over your house and call down a fiery anathema on you and yours for defying the Empiric One, blessed be he. My exposition of data will most certainly send you to hell, where there will be wailing and snarky humanities majors.