April 15, 2008

Evolution & Religion

In The Top 10 Myths of Evolution, the authors, Smith and Sullivan, do a reasonably good job in explaining why Intelligent Design is not science (Chap. 9: "Myth Nine: Intelligent Design is Science”). The bottom line is that scientists use natural methods and explanations in the study of nature. Contemporary writers sometimes refer to this as “methodological naturalism”. Science has nothing to say about things that are above nature and therefore do not admit of being studied by the methods appropriate to the natural sciences. Science, as science, can neither affirm nor deny anything about spiritual realities such as the human soul, angelic beings, or God. These are matters for metaphysics and theology.

Proponents of Intelligent Design, such as Philip Johnson, wrongly believe that methodological naturalism leads to atheism. Johnson’s mission is to replace the natural sciences and methodological naturalism with “theistic science”. Johnson’s theistic science involves divine explanations as part of the scientific method. This ill-conceived melting pot of religion, philosophy, and science most assuredly does not belong in the science classroom.

Advocates of Intelligent Design are attempting to make science fit their pre-conceived religious ideas. This is the modus operandi of Creationism (biblical literalism), and Creation Science. Unfortunately, Young Earth Creationists, for example, no less than the earlier Flat-Earthists, discredit Christianity with their superstitious-like beliefs about the earth and the universe.

It makes more sense to have an approach to Scripture reconciled with what science can really demonstrate as true since science and theology themselves cannot conflict. When there is a genuine conflict, not just an apparent conflict, then the scientist may be in error, or the theologian may be in error (note the theologians who denounced Copernicus' hypothetical heliocentrism because it conflicted with Scripture). When scientists are certain of their conclusion, such as the earth being billions of years old, then the Genesis historical framework for delivering God’s message and recounting His faithfulness to His promise cannot be interpreted according to our understanding of literal, scientific history.

St. Augustine warned against using Scripture to contradict what is scientifically known about nature: “It is then offensive and ruinous, something to be avoided at all cost, for a nonbeliever to hear a Christian talking about these things [the natural world] as though with Christian writings as his source, and yet so nonsensically and with such obvious error that the nonbeliever can hardly keep from laughing.”

Smith and Sullivan state, “If your scientific hypothesis first has to pass through the filter of your religious faith, you risk losing any semblance of impartiality and objectivity…Among some religious believers, though, it’s a virtue to hold onto an article of faith even in the face of overwhelming evidence against it. A historical example of an extreme faith commitment comes from Saint Ignatius of Loyola…when he wrote, “To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it…”

Smith and Sullivan have a valid point, but they over-extend their position. Consequently, I must disagree with them and take sides with the great St. Ignatius of Loyola. That is, in the Roman Catholic tradition there are teachings that are certain and are matters of faith, “de fide”. If we take St. Ignatius’ statement to mean those matters defined as de fide, then regardless of how else something may appear to an individual, or to a group, even if they are scientists, the Church cannot be wrong. For instance, the doctrine of Original Sin is true regardless of what scientists have to say about the origin and nature of Homo sapiens. A Catholic only needs to recall Pierre Teilhard de Chardin evolutionary vision, which led to his denial of Original Sin. A plethora of absurdities followed from his denial of the Sin of Adam.

In addition, many scientists today believe, as did Charles Darwin, that the mind of man differs only in degree from anthropoid apes and higher animals. I was deeply disappointed to hear certain Catholic scientists vehemently claim that scientific evidence proves Darwin’s position about the human mind. It is inexplicably strange for Catholics who say they believe man has a spiritual soul, to be making this kind of assertion. I will have to deal with this madness in a separate post. For now, this will serve as a good example of how the scientific evidence appears to support a certain conclusion, when in fact the very same evidence can better provide for a very different conclusion.

A Catholic scientist with training in just the fundamentals of sound philosophy is capable of realizing the absurdity of the Darwinian view of the human mind. If the Catholic scientist cannot see his way to the truth regarding the human mind, he can save himself from grievous error by following the advice of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “The white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it…”

Certain things are a matter of faith such as God created heaven and earth ex nihilo. But a direct creation in six days is not an “article of faith”. It is merely a superficial way of understanding Genesis 1. The literalists’ interpretation of Genesis 1 is a mindless sectarian position treated with all the conviction and force of belief normally reserved for articles of faith.

Apparently, Smith and Sullivan are unaware of what Roman Catholics understand by “articles of faith”. If the conclusions of a scientist on some matter truly contradict an article of faith, then the scientist needs to skedaddle back to his drawing board. The truths of faith are known with far more certainty than are the most certain conclusions of the natural sciences in even the simplest of matters.

One can see how different the situation is regarding articles of faith when compared to particular interpretations of various biblical passages. The books of the Bible contain numerous literary forms and a pre-scientific cosmology. This is why it is “offensive and ruinous” for fundamentalists to use these writings to argue against science.

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