My brother posted this on my Facebook wall last night with the comment, "
There I was, listening to a Catholic argument for Young Earth Creationism. Only a week earlier, I had explained to a friend how Catholics aren’t really susceptible to the fideistic Creationism seen in many Protestant churches. Now, I found myself before a Catholic speaker arguing for a historical reading of the six days of creation and claiming that the earth was only 6,000 years old: Not only did the Bible say so, but the Fathers of the Church said so, and until this century, all the Saints and Councils and Popes said so as well.
To even think of overturning this traditional witness we would need certain scientific evidence, which the speaker claimed the theory of evolution failed to provide on account of a litany of objections. Finally, he went on to illustrate how every symptom of the moral decline of the last two centuries can be linked to a belief in evolution: Nazis, Soviets, contraception, abortion, the sexual revolution, and even the ongoing virtualization of our social lives. The key to the New Evangelization was a renewed confidence in the traditional teaching of God’s creation in six days and a rejection of evolution. Until we proclaim the traditional faith in toto we have little chance of converting people to that faith.
It was frustrating, even painful, to sit through. Frustrating, because of the way both modern science and the teachings of the Fathers and the Magisterium were presented out of context. Painful, because manipulating emotional arguments were employed to explain the evils of our society, ignoring the complexity of historical events and the sinfulness of our fallen human nature, hanging all blame around the neck of evolution—all, of course, in the name of faithful Catholicism. I could understand how the argument might be persuasive to someone seeking an answer to what was wrong with the world. We face so many problems in politics, in society, and in the Church itself; there has to be an explanation, and here was one neatly laid out on a platter. Fix this evolution heresy and all will be right.
But, as you might expect, the Creationist argument hinges upon a false dichotomy. Ironically enough, it is the same dichotomy proposed by the New Atheists. The parallels are a bit disturbing. The Creationists claim that any difficult problem in science can and should be explained by God and that everything wrong with the world is attributable to belief in evolution. The New Atheists claim that any difficult problem in science can and should be explained by evolution and that everything wrong with the world is attributable to belief in God. Both sides set up their simplistic straw man—the atheists of the Christian faith and the Creationists of the science of evolution—and both proceed to knock their straw man down and declare their case proved to the satisfaction of no one but themselves.
In a sense, both sides are only arguing with each other, but they lump anyone who doesn’t fully agree with them into the enemy camp. Of course, most people don’t actually agree with either extreme, and for good reason. As much as a nice, neat dichotomy can be appealing to the human mind, it simply isn’t reflective of reality.
Your average person, and especially your average Catholic, looks at both of these extremes and intuitively sees something wrong. They may even be able to locate the incoherence in either or both positions. But few, I would guess, are able to articulate a coherent perspective of reality that takes into account the true value of both the truths of human reason and the truths of Revelation. While the coherence of faith and reason has always been an important tenet of Catholic teaching, sometimes it is difficult to see when specific arguments and objections come couched in technical scientific or theological language. While there has been a heroic effort from a variety of sources to show the harmony of faith and reason, there is clearly more work to be done.
In light of this pressing need, several Dominicans, myself included, are collaborating on a new project to better educate the faithful on the beauty and coherence of our Catholic worldview, especially in the light of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. The project is titled, “Disputed Questions in Evolutionary Creation: Thomistic Responses for the Catholic Faithful and Other Curious Minds.” Reflecting the broad range of disciplines engaged in the question of Creation and Evolution, this project will be a collaborative effort between Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP (PhD in Biology), Fr. James Brent, OP (PhD in Philosophy), Fr. John Baptist Ku, OP (STD in Theology) and myself (PhD in Physics).
For this exciting new project, we have received a grant awarded to Providence College from The BioLogos Foundation’s Evolution Christian Faith program to create a series of twenty-seven bulletin inserts for Catholic parishes that explain the philosophical and theological foundations of the Thomistic synthesis of faith and reason in light of the findings of modern science. BioLogos was founded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins to explore and celebrate the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.
We especially hope to engage young Catholics at colleges and universities around the country and to create a website to engage an even broader audience. With the BioLogos Foundation’s generous support, I hope that my brothers and I can provide the resources that help many to discover the coherence of God’s gift of reason and his saving Revelation. For in the words of Bl. John Paul II, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”
Now before you start getting any ideas about my brother, let me say that he's a very intelligent individual, but a very devout Catholic, and he is by no means trying something duplicitous here. He's genuinely curious to know what I think.
But I am curious to know what you think! If your family member asked you your opinion on this with the intention to honestly hear what you have to say, what would you tell that person?
(Disclaimer: I haven't replied yet)
The author is arguing against "fedeistic Creationism."
He says this in reference of the Creationist speaker:
It was frustrating, even painful, to sit through. Frustrating, because of the way both modern science and the teachings of the Fathers and the Magisterium were presented out of context. Painful, because manipulating emotional arguments were employed to explain the evils of our society, ignoring the complexity of historical events and the sinfulness of our fallen human nature, hanging all blame around the neck of evolution—all, of course, in the name of faithful Catholicism.
The author upholds the intellectual tradition of the church and wants to encourage it, and with several others, they are "collaborating on a new project to better educate the faithful on the beauty and coherence of our Catholic worldview, especially in the light of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas."
While your point works well when arguing against the beliefs espoused within the Nicene Creed said at every mass, that's not what I'm really interested in doing. I'm more interested in replying to the 4th-6th paragraphs.
A lot of people seem to be missing the point that the article is a complaint, by a religious but somewhat moderate person, against someone much more off the deep end, a biblical literalist. Given that I am not completely unsympathetic to the writer's point of view. (But he should wake up and realize that the ridiculous claims of the literalist are actually the logical consequence of what he himself professes to believe.)
Now the Catholic Church has a multitude of problems but creationism is actually not one of them, and the literalist being complained about is trying to change that. (Why should the Catholic church have an inconsistently bad record when with a few tweaks it can be consistently fucked up?)
There was some speculation that Joe the Rat (AKA Pope Benedict XXXVVVIIIIIXIVIX or something else that looks like a bad game of pick up sticks) would actually try to push creationism down from the top in Catholicism. It never came to pass, but we are going to get a new pope here soon, and who knows where that will take the RCC. I am sure it won't take it where we would like to see it go, but beyond that...
What makes more sense?
The Creationists claim that any difficult problem in science can and should be explained by God and that everything wrong with the world is attributable to belief in evolution.
That is true. It's the classic Goddidit argument. The only less-than-true aspect is that the religious replace the last three words with essentially anything they want; lack of prayer in schools, gay marriage, abortion, and so on.
The New Atheists claim that any difficult problem in science can and should be explained by evolution and that everything wrong with the world is attributable to belief in God.
That is complete rubbish. Who says any difficult problem in science can and should be explained by evolution? (What is the solution to the global energy crisis? What is the universe made of? Is interstellar travel possible? Will the ITER fusion reactor work?)
While there has been a heroic effort from a variety of sources to show the harmony of faith and reason, there is clearly more work to be done.
There is no harmony of faith and reason. Faith requires the suspension of reason.
Jesus was born of a virgin. Jesus walked on water. Jesus cast demons out of people and into pigs. Jesus brought people who had been dead for days back to life. Jesus suffered, died, and rose from the dead as a human sacrifice that atoned for the sins of humanity; past, present, and future. Jesus levitated up into heaven. The eucharist transforms into the actual body of Jesus during a catholic mass.
No sane person can claim with any sincerity that there is harmony between reason and faith that these things are really true. The truth is that faith is dying a slow and agonizing death as science keeps expanding our understanding of nature. Religious apologists crave the distinction and credibility of science because they themselves have nothing substantial to offer. (Compared to the sciences, what was the last important accomplishment or discovery of religion anyway?) So now they seize the coattails of science, insist that science needs religion, and claim they are harmonious partners, when they are not and can never be.
For anyone who is curious, this is what I said:
Well, I understand what the author is trying to say. He, like I once did, thinks that the right way to look at the world is through the lens of both reason and divine revelation. While I do not agree with Intelligent Design, which it seems very likely that he does, I agree far less with creationists who in their eagerness to spread their message are unwittingly and sometimes purposefully attempting to destroy science literacy in our school system. The Texas Republican party made it part of their platform last to “oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” This is just one instance of many where creationists are proving to be dangerous to reason in this country. Gallup published a poll they did in the US last fall regarding people's ideas on whether we had been created as is, evolved with guidance, and evolved by natural means. Since they have been conducting the poll back in 1982, those who think people were created as is has stayed relatively the same. Those who think there was some guidance has dropped just by the barest margin, and those who think it was natural has been slowly growing from 9% to 16% in that time. Overall, creationists are a majority and have continued to be so in this country. So by all means, I hope this Dominican author can persuade some people to engage their brains and pull people out of their creationist world view.
At the same time, I understand why the creationists think what they do especially in this country were outspoken, evangelical Protestants are always clamoring for more people and airtime, and regarding genesis as myth leaves no sufficient answers as to the origins of Original Sin and thus no sufficient answers as to the need for baptism. There is also a lot of evidence in cognitive science that analytical thinking reduces religious thinking, so I can see why they would perceive science and scientific theories such as evolution to be a threat
That being said, I do take issue with the author in one part in particular: his ironic creation and destruction of strawmen who create and destroy strawmen. He wants to paint ALL creationists as saying that all evils are linked to the idea of evolution. I'm sure some modern speakers, like the one he gives an example of, do that, but all of them? Really?
Then he wants to say that the New Atheists “claim that any difficult problem in science can and should be explained by evolution and that everything wrong with the world is attributable to belief in God,” which is silly. They most certainly do not claim that science can and should be explained by evolution! Science uses the scientific method, which is a great method wherever it is applicable. Now the term “New Atheists” needs some clarification. It is sometimes used specifically to refer to four men: Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet, and Richard Dawkins. Sometimes it refers to a wave of new atheists that came about since these men wrote their books and they became best-sellers. Who is he referring to? I'm not sure, but I can say for sure that he is setting up a strawman argument and “proceed[s] to knock [his] straw man down and declare [his] case proved to the satisfaction of no one but [himself].”
The New Atheists (the authors) do criticize religion and do point out in what ways it has been and is harmful. Sam Harris in “The End of Faith” has a long chapter about Islam, which is not surprising considering he wrote the book because of the events of September 11th, which four and a half pages were nothing but excerpts from the Quran and the Hadiths stating that unbelievers, apostates, and heretics should be killed. Of all of them, Christopher Hitchens is the only one I would say was exceptionally anti-theist, but it wasn't just against the Abrahamic traditions. He also spoke out against Buddhists, Hindus, and even pagans. He was a journalist and had traveled extensively through Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean (places like Bosnia and Serbia). He had seen first hand the violence, intolerance, and repression that religious teachings could instill. The other three while they can be anti-theist at times, they don't think that religion is the source of all that's wrong in the world. I'm sure that they'd agree it plays it's part. Even Hitchens, if you could still press him for an answer (he died in 2011 of esophageal cancer) would probably say that it was irrational world views that were more to blame than anything. For instance, Richard Dawkins speaks out against the pseudo-scientific claims of homeopathy all the time and did a two part documentary called the “Enemies of Reason.” So as to this author's claim that New Atheists say that ALL that is wrong in the world is the blame of religion, the answer is no. They give credit where credit is due.
As for the New Atheists, those who have popularized the books of the so called “Four Horsemen,” It has been my experience that only a small minority are anti-theist, but as a whole almost all of us are willing to live and let live. The appearance of anti-theism can be given sometimes because we are no longer timid about criticizing religion or pointing out it's flaws. It's no longer out of bounds so to speak, and quite frankly, Christians in America aren't used to that. They perceive it as a personal attack and then the persecution complex can kick in. It's interesting how Matthew 5:10 (Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven) creates an almost self-righteous wall impervious to criticism when people take criticism as a personal attack. As to whether the group of people sometimes called New Atheists ALL think that religion is the source of the world's problems and that evolution can solve them, the answer is a resounding no.
I'll finish by saying that for us some of us atheists (you'll have to remember that we have NO umbrella philosophy or sets of doctrines that allow us to share a certain world view, so we tend to be a motley crew) see an incoherence in ending the use of reason in favor of revelation or believing that reason cannot determine whether a supernatural claim is true. Take for instance the case of Joseph Smith. He was said to have been given a divine revelation from an angel, given tablets from the book of Mormon, and became the founder of Mormonism. We can look at the history of this person, his character, and the events surrounding his life to say that there is a high likelihood that he was not giving divine revelation, but making things up. We can also look at claims of the supernatural that affect the natural world to see if those claims hold true. Can a woman who has never had sex become pregnant? Can a man who died of blood loss return to life three days later? Can water be turned into wine? Can a person walk on water in the middle of a storm? Can a few fish and loaves of bread when cut into pieces fill several baskets? Can the blind be made to see by placing mud on their eyelids?
Faith would have a person except these stories as truth and divine where reason would ask questions of it and come to its own conclusions rather than accept the conclusions that others give. Who wrote this? Who put it together? Are they verifiable witnesses? Is there any historical evidence that can corroborate the story? Can these things be done now? Is there not a more rational explanation for how these stories came to be accepted as true? I see the fideism of creationists as the same fideism that gives way to divine revelation, but that's the point of taking it on faith. It can't be known whether or not that person actually spoke for God. There is no evidence to prove it. If there was then it wouldn't be a matter of faith it would be a matter of fact. That there seems to be a coherent harmony between faith and reason is only because there has been a “heroic effort form a variety of sources” that have been attempting to do so for the past two thousand years. If it biblical revelation was correct and not open to the multitudes of interpretations then the same ideas that were discredited in the Council of Nicaea wouldn't keep popping up. Unlike the scientific method which can test and verify or discredit a hypothesis leaving no room for interpretation or an alternate hypothesis, theological claims of revelation cannot be verified as true which is why there are so many different interpretations from the same texts.
And that is my response.
The funny thing about evolution is that it actually continues on in it's never ending march of species development. Many theists fail to realize that it has not stopped and cannot be stopped. It is the mother of all juggernauts. She's on a roll and evolution will take no hostages, religious or otherwise.
That new project will have a helluva challenge in nailing down the "coherence of faith and reason." Martin Luther (former Catholic, haha) once said "Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has."