Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

“Schoepfung und Evolution”

Wed 11 April 2007, 6:22pm

As I mentioned at the time, I was less than enamoured with Pope Benedict XV’s attempt to equate, or entwine, religion and science in a speech at his old University in September last year, during his Meeting with The Representatives of Science. So it’s not a surprise to see that the publication of details of a subsequent meeting at the papal summer palace in Castel Gandolfo, a closed-door seminar attended by his former theology students – in a book which includes lectures from his former pupil, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, two philosophers and a chemistry professor – should include further attempts to do just that – as reported here on Reuters.From the Reuters report

“Science has opened up large dimensions of reason … and thus brought us new insights,” Benedict, a former theology professor, said at the closed-door seminar with his former doctoral students last September that the book documents.

“But in the joy at the extent of its discoveries, it tends to take away from us dimensions of reason that we still need. Its results lead to questions that go beyond its methodical canon and cannot be answered within it,” he said.

“The issue is reclaiming a dimension of reason we have lost,” he said, adding that the evolution debate was actually about “the great fundamental questions of philosophy – where man and the world came from and where they are going.”

I would agree that the argument over evolution which Pope Benedict is engaged in is actually a philosophical argument – It’s not an argument about science.

Also from the same report

In the book, Benedict defended what is known as “theistic evolution,” the view held by Roman Catholic, Orthodox and mainline Protestant churches that God created life through evolution and religion and science need not clash over this.

“I would not depend on faith alone to explain the whole picture,” he remarked during the discussion held at the papal summer palace in Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

He also denied using a “God-of-the-gaps” argument that sees divine intervention whenever science cannot explain something.

“It’s not as if I wanted to stuff the dear God into these gaps – he is too great to fit into such gaps,” he said in the book that publisher Sankt Ulrich Verlag in Augsburg said would later be translated into other languages.

I wouldn’t depend on faith to explain any part of it.. nor leap to the conclusion that, if the picture is not yet complete, any gaps should be filled by a supernatural being.

Another snippet

“Both popular and scientific texts about evolution often say that ‘nature’ or ‘evolution’ has done this or that,” Benedict said in the book which included lectures from theologian Schoenborn, two philosophers and a chemistry professor.

“Just who is this ‘nature’ or ‘evolution’ as (an active) subject? It doesn’t exist at all!” the Pope said.

Benedict argued that evolution had a rationality that the theory of purely random selection could not explain.

“The process itself is rational despite the mistakes and confusion as it goes through a narrow corridor choosing a few positive mutations and using low probability,” he said.

“This … inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science … where did this rationality come from?” he asked. Answering his own question, he said it came from the “creative reason” of God.

That would be because ‘evolution’ isn’t an active subject. It’s a description of a mechanism by which organisms continually adapt to an ever-changing environment – the survival of the most fitting.

That the evolution of any organism may appear to be rational is, I would argue, a subjective assessment.

What isn’t rational, despite the attempts to claim it as such, is to invent a supernatural being and attribute that mechanism to him/her, not even if that supernatural being is the Flying Spaghetti Monster

To clarify, “I am attacking Gods, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.”

Adds As Christopher notes in the comments zone, the official Richard Dawkins website also picked up the article

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Comments (18)

  1. smcgiff says:

    ‘”This … inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science … where did this rationality come from?” he asked. Answering his own question, he said it came from the “creative reason” of God.’

    This inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond religion. Where did God come from?

    Maybe he evolved (or should that be de-evolved) from Jose Mourinho.

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  2. Gerry Lvs Castro says:

    The sad thing is not that this geriatric dogmatist is spouting this endless guff but that millions are willing to listen.
    Stand by for his ruminations on the social impact wrought by the tooth fairy and the literal truth of Santa.

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  3. Gréagóir O' Frainclín says:

    And the auld codger stated last week that there is such a place as Hell….FFS!

    Why are people so gullible to believe in such hocus-pocus nonsense.

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  4. manfarang says:

    What the Shanghai Noodle Monster isn’t real?

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  5. Obscure Reference says:

    Right, it’s not an argument about evolution, Ol’ Ratzo would probably make the same point about Economics, that people and human needs have to be at the centre of inquiry, otherwise it’s just a blind accumulation of knowledge for it’s own sake.
    “Just who is this ‘nature’ or ‘evolution’ as (an active) subject? It doesn’t exist at all!”

    That argument drives me mad. Survival of the fittest – it’s active.

    “What isn’t rational, despite the attempts to claim it as such, is to invent a supernatural being and attribute that mechanism to him/her”

    Yes but we’re not inherently rational animals. Supernatural beings are maybe part of our mental furniture, an appendix of our brain’s evolution as Dawkins suggests. It’s all very well to proclaim a hygienically godless universe, but people in all societies ever have had a need to congregate and worship and ritually celebrate aspects of life. You can’t just abolish all that without replacing it with something. That’s the strength of Ratzinger’s critique of secular society, he has a currency people need, debased or not. All secular humanists have is buy more shoes and get a bigger telly etc. and all that just makes people unhappy.

    Unfortunately for the Emperor of Rome, and speaking of survival of the fittest, he hasn’t adapted to the new reality – that no matter how big his hat is, how fancy his gold dress is, how much incense billows around him – the flow of moral judgements is no longer one way and people don’t like what they see.

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  6. Mustapha Mond says:

    “Where did God come from?”

    Well the idea of God(s) came from northern and central Africa, the idea of one true God came from Egypt, then picked up on by the Hebrews.
    And the idea of a son of a god who then died and became as/more powerful than his father, came from the early Greek states.
    A better question is: who did Adam & Eves offspring procreate with if they were the only people in existence?… wont find that in the RC Bible, or most of the protestant ones.

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  7. Gerry Lvs Castro says:

    ”All secular humanists have is buy more shoes and get a bigger telly etc. and all that just makes people unhappy.”

    A rather depressing statement Obscure, which merely suggests that people need a fantasy-world in order to exist in the real one.

    This may be all very well for small children who appear to need Barbie, Harry Potter, Santa et al to cushion the reality of childhood, but is it really necessary to carry this on into adult life?

    Dawkins states; ‘people say there must be more to life than this. I say what more do you want?’

    There’s a lot more to rational existence than nice shoes and a bigger TV, but obviously the supernaturalists have a vested interest in declaring that it’s still not good enough.

    Perhaps the simplest but most profound sentence ever written is ‘get a life.’

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  8. Obscure Reference says:

    “A rather depressing statement Obscure, which merely suggests that people need a fantasy-world in order to exist in the real one.”

    The mass-consumer society is driven by selfish fantasy. That is the real world.

    “There’s a lot more to rational existence than nice shoes and a bigger TV, but obviously the supernaturalists have a vested interest in declaring that it’s still not good enough.”

    You’re linking apples and oranges. Advertising works by stimulating people’s unconscious, irrational drives – for status, sex, aggression etc – animal satiety in one form or another. That’s why we all buy all this crap. Leaders do the same thing – rouse people’s hate to unify them. Unless you care to argue that the Holocaust was rational. The supernaturalists aren’t the only vested interest in town you know.

    The focus of this post is the effort of El Papa to hitch the concept of rationality, and historical offshoots like The Enlightment and the theory of evolution, to the wagon of Catholic dogma. Well he would, wouldn’t he. That’s his job.

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  9. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Obscure

    “That argument drives me mad. Survival of the fittest – it’s active.”

    It’s not active in the sense that Benedict wants it to be, and I prefer to describe it as ‘survival of the most fitting’.

    Benedict sees an active element in the pre-selecting of mutations which will be better for the organism, in comparison with a purely random selection – “it goes through a narrow corridor choosing a few positive mutations and using low probability” – his ‘rationality’ in the process, which he earlier pre-empts by asking.. “Just who is this ‘nature’ or ‘evolution’”?

    That question leads him to answer later with, “This … inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science … where did this rationality come from?” he asked. Answering his own question, he said it came from the ‘creative reason’ of God.”

    He needs that to be the case – for there to be a irrational ‘rationality’ actively at work – because he is a theist and, as Dawkins pointed out,

    A theist believes in a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation.

    It’s pure sophistry.

    And, while I agree with you on Benedict having a currency due to the human condition.

    That currency isn’t a strength of his critique.. it’s just what he uses to buy into the argument.

    Accepting that would allow for more reasoned thought on the philosophical question Benedict purports to want to answer.. but it would also further devalue his currency.

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  10. Obscure Reference says:

    “That currency isn’t a strength of his critique.. it’s just what he uses to buy into the argument.”

    Agreed, I hope I didn’t imply he has the answer, just that he has correctly identified the problem.

    I’m surprised at the evolution nonsense though. I just read “the evolution debate was actually about “the great fundamental questions of philosophy – where man and the world came from and where they are going.” and thought – Personalism, innocuous enough.

    But really all that guff, science claims natural selection is random (it doesn’t) where actually the results prove creative intent, is fairly mild as efforts to diminish the prestige of science and promote doubt go.

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  11. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Obscure

    No, you didn’t imply that he had the answer.. but Benedict has not correctly identified the problem either.

    Let’s not forget, Benedict is a confirmed theist. And this will be a long-running campaign by the current Pope.

    The currency he holds prevents him for correctly identifying a major advance in terms of answering his philosophical questions – the belief in the supernatural as the appendix of our brain’s evolution.

    But it’s also important to realise that Benedict isn’t necessarily intent on diminishing the prestige of science. He far too shrewd a politician for that.

    Instead he seeks alliances with other political groups, such as some on the left and some on the right – the right being predominantly US creationists, the left being primarily European.. but with outreach programmes towards Islam.

    What he’s attempting to do is to elevate the supernatural to an equal standing as science – as I said in the original post, he’s attempting “to equate, or entwine, religion and science”.

    That would allow the supernatural a political space in which to claim to have an equally rational basis as science.

    Flying spaghetti monster, and the current incarnation of the Emperor Constantine, included.

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  12. smcgiff says:

    ‘Well the idea of God(s) came from northern and central Africa, the idea of one true God came from Egypt, then picked up on by the Hebrews.’

    Heard someone lately describe the Old Testament being for the early Jews what the feats of Cu Culainn and tales of the red branch knights etc were for the early Gaels. But while we now accept the Giant’s causeway as an act of nature, some still believe Moses asked his god to part the red sea and his request was answered.

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  13. Obscure Reference says:

    “That would allow the supernatural a political space in which to claim to have an equally rational basis as science.”

    “It already does in some ways, the concept of Natural Law, which is essentially God Says So, is a formative component of English Common Law and The American declaration of Independence. Article 6 of the Irish Constitution say all powers of government derive, under God, from the people, a common constitutional formulation internationally, in one form or another.

    I’d characterize this effort (to entwine religion and science)of Benedict’s as a Microsoft-like attempt to appropriate a standard, integrate it, and make it proprietary so you have to pay the license fee. Pseudo-scientific ultramontanism, that’s what it is.

    “Instead he seeks alliances with other political groups, such as some on the left and some on the right – the right being predominantly US creationists, the left being primarily European.. but with outreach programmes towards Islam.”

    Maybe I can’t think big enough or my habit of papal mockery is too ingrained, but a grand political alliance including American creationists, European leftists, and Muslims, led by the Pope?

    Real Catholicism isn’t in Europe. It’s in Latin America and Africa and elsewhere. The old-time religion works just fine there. It’s for them that JP II is being made a saint, just like Augustus made Julius Caesar a deity for the benefit of the rustic provinces. I have friends from Central America, their version of Catholicism is medieval, everything in the world happens by magic, I was watching the funeral of JP II on TV and my friend’s wife was bawling for the duration. It started raining and the commentator slickly said the rain was the tears of Jesus crying for the pope, she really lost it then. My friend is an atheist, don’t know how he does it.

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  14. Pete Baker (profile) says:

    Obscure..

    “Maybe I can’t think big enough or my habit of papal mockery is too ingrained, but a grand political alliance including American creationists, European leftists, and Muslims, led by the Pope?”

    Maybe you can’t.. But not led by the Pope, I’m talking about political, not religious, allegiances.. to a common purpose – re science and the secular society.

    Here are a couple of recent posts you may have missed which document the continued encroachment into the political sphere..

    “this overrated medieval entity”

    And on a recent issue du jour

    Churches versus State

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  15. Two Nations says:

    This theistic evolution seems a stupid halfway house – a weak-kneed compromise of churches to the prevailing evolution world view. Either you believe in a Supreme Being or you do not.

    What the Papa et al have confused is that the evidence for natural selection (survival of the fittest) only shows the mechanism of change within a species.

    There is ZERO evidence for inter-species evolution. No proof of amoebae to rodent to monkey to man. None. Zilch.

    All these textbooks showing the evolution of man is based on a rather lame skull (in some cases skull fragments) collection. Different shaped skulls that are supposed to show the progression of man. No evidence, just conjecture on what each of these skulls represent. This is not science. It is faith. Today, there is pronounced differences in skull shapes between races, even within races. This is before we even include the skull shapes of people with disease, deficiencies or a condition. Therefore skull shapes provide little or no real evidence.

    The ‘best’ evidence of inter-species evolution is a fossil of a bird with some reptilian features. That is all. For macro-evolution to be true there should be millions of fossils showing the links between species. There is not.

    Macro-evolution is not a science. It is merely conjecture based on taking a natural mechanism to an extreme without the facts to back it up. It is merely the worldview of a religion – atheism. Some atheists are fundamentalists the same as some Free Ps or some Muslims. They are not fair, they are not balanced and Dawkins is their greatest Prophet.

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  16. Christopher Eastwood says:

    [url]http://richarddawkins.net/article,867,Pope-says-science-too-narrow-to-explain-creation,Tom-Heneghan-Religion-Editor[/url]

    Debate on this very article over at the Richard Dawkins website…

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  17. Aaron McDaid says:

    Two Nations,
    That is incorrect. There is ample evidence of viruses and bacteria and parasites changing very rapidly and splitting into different species very different from their ancestors. Bigger animals simply change more slowly, which is to be expected as there can be years rather than hours between generations. And there is plenty in the fossil record, if you just ask a scientist about it instead of believing the ringleaders of creationism. I listen to my opponents too, it’s the only way to reach any sort of educated conclusion.

    There is a particular problem in the debate around evolution of creationists making false pronouncements with great fanfare about the state of the evolutionist argument. They also announce nonsense like “if evolution is great at finding the optimal design, then why aren’t all lifeforms now identical and unchanging in the optimal design?”.

    Every creationist argument has been heard, understood and rebutted multiple times – this is a fact. If the leaders of creationim were confident in their position they would listen, understand and offer a counter-rebuttal. Instead they slink away to another forum and go back to square one.

    Put simply, I have never met or talked to somebody that actually understands evolution and disagrees with it. I’d love to meet such a person, but I suspect very few exist. And remember that there is little doubt that evolutionists have heard and understand every aspect of the creationist argument. How dare anybody denounce an opinion without understanding it first? Understanding something fully is vital if you want to find and expose any flaws in it.

    Apologies for the hectoring tone – but it really does get tedious when the same lies are repeated. If you want to disagree with me, find out what my opinion is and disagree with it, don’t just argue against a straw man created by the paranoid delusions of the ringleaders of creationism.

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  18. Mustapha Mond says:

    “some still believe Moses asked his god to part the red sea and his request was answered.”

    Well they’d be wrong, he didnt specifically ask.

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