Pope Benedict on Creation & Evolution

There have been many news accounts about what Pope Benedict XVI said this Easter about evolution. Some of the stories we saw made it seem as if he were rejecting evolution. That didn’t make any sense, because we’ve previously written that the Church’s position is pro-evolution. See, for example, The Vatican and Evolution, and also Pope Benedict’s 2007 Statement on Evolution.

We wanted to see for ourselves what had been said over the weekend, so we went to the source. At the Vatican website we find: HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI, Holy Saturday, 23 April 2010. We’ll give you some excerpts, with bold font added by us; but this isn’t quote-mining. You have a link to the source of our quotes, so you can see for yourself what was said. Here we go, omitting everything that isn’t relevant to this topic:

At the Easter Vigil, the journey along the paths of sacred Scripture begins with the account of creation. This is the liturgy’s way of telling us that the creation story is itself a prophecy. It is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being. The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this. They did not interpret the story as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being.

Okay, Genesis isn’t a science book. Skipping a bit, we read:

The central message of the creation account can be defined more precisely still. In the opening words of his Gospel, Saint John sums up the essential meaning of that account in this single statement: “In the beginning was the Word”. … The world is a product of the Word, of the Logos, as Saint John expresses it, using a key term from the Greek language. Logos” means “reason”, “sense”, “word”. It is not reason pure and simple, but creative Reason, that speaks and communicates itself. It is Reason that both is and creates sense. The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason. Hence it tells us that, far from there being an absence of reason and freedom at the origin of all things, the source of everything is creative Reason, love, and freedom.

Reason and freedom sound okay to us. Now we get directly into it; but we added a hyphen and divided this into paragraphs for clarity:

Here we are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief [] are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis.

As believers we answer, with the creation account and with Saint John, that in the beginning is reason. In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person.

The part we put in bold font in the next paragraph is what has been widely quoted in various news media:

It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it. 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. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason.

And because it is Reason, it also created freedom; and because freedom can be abused, there also exist forces harmful to creation. Hence a thick black line, so to speak, has been drawn across the structure of the universe and across the nature of man. But despite this contradiction, creation itself remains good, life remains good, because at the beginning is good Reason, God’s creative love.

That’s pretty much it, although we’ve given you just a few excerpts from a much longer homily. You can read it all for yourself and reach your own conclusion. We don’t pretend to understand the Church’s theological pronouncements; that requires years of training, which we lack. It’s clear to us, however, that the Church isn’t a creationist outfit, and they don’t take the six-day creation account in Genesis literally. Thus, they’re not part of The Controversy.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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46 responses to “Pope Benedict on Creation & Evolution

  1. Oh, but they are. Part and parcel.

    At some point somewhere in the past, some creative and divine agency, some god, some Intelligent Designer intervened in time and space and caused human reason to come into being.

    That’s your Oogity Boogity at work, and it is upon that foundation that creationism in all it’s various theological garbs POOFS us into being. It is anti-evolution to the core.

    And that’s the controversy.

  2. Unless only belief in a literal six days for creation counts in your mind as creationists. But then what about old earth creationists? Do they have to change their name?

  3. tildeb asks:

    Unless only belief in a literal six days for creation counts in your mind as creationists. But then what about old earth creationists? Do they have to change their name?

    I’m not terribly concerned if they insist on a bit of Oogity Boogity at the beginning, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the work of science. The Roman Church can’t accurately be classified as old-earth creationists — like the Discoveroids. They’re not creationists at all because they don’t object to evolution.

  4. Hey, the Pope-meister is just doing his job! Give an infallible guy a break!

    What I find disturbing is the notion that one’s life without the Pope-inator OK makes no sense. Talk about pride after the fall!

    Seriously, Ratzo-Ratzi, the fact that every single one of my ancestors dating back 3.5 billion years survived to produce me, through droughts, snowball Earth, asteroid impacts, predators, disease and many other events that should have snuffed out my direct ancestral line, but didn’t isn’t ENOUGH to give my life sense and purpose that I need the head of an organization of child abusers to make it so?

    Sorry, Pope-on-a rope, but that makes no sense at all.

  5. Doc Bill says:

    What I find disturbing is the notion that one’s life without the Pope-inator OK makes no sense.

    I’m not recommending his view of things. It is what it is, even if I can’t figure it out. But they’re not creationists, so they’re not a problem for science.

  6. well, it’s actually oogity boogity in two places, at the beginning and with the creation of the soul at some point in history. That’s how they get around the literalism but still hold to the rest of the story culminating in Jesus. They basically say our bodies evolved, but the soul is directly created by God. So it’s actually not a bad compromise. Have faith in God and salvation if you wish, but ok to stick with the scientific interpretation of testable things. They’ve done pretty well to separate testable science from articles of faith that can’t be proven/disproven.

  7. I believe, at least here, that we are talking about a case of non-overlapping magisteria where Pope Benedict and the present readership’s interpretation is concerned. Non-overlapping magisteria can bee seen as the areas of a Venn diagram that do NOT intersect, as in the case of physics and metaphysics. In the post-Cartesian world we speak of these things as if they will never overlap, and it seems at least, for the present readership, this should be the case, but it was not always so. Allow me to elaborate: Pope Benedict is a Platonist, he did a lot of his graduate work on Platonism, following in the footsteps of St. Augustine of Hippo. His inaugural address, when he took his professorship at the University of Bonn in 1959, was “The God of Faith and the God of Philosophy.” He is a nuanced dude, I assure you. When he speaks of the Logos, it is a Platonic idea of Logos, also elaborated by St. Augustine, wherein archetypal Forms (which in Plato’s case were fundamentally Pythagorean and mathematical) precede their manifestations. All of this is METAphysical, dealing with the First Forms of things prior to their manifestation in physical matter, or Physis, and while Plato often followed Heraclitus’ lead in his philosophy of the phenomenal world, his METAphysics derive from Parmenidean Monism, which is more or less consistent with Orthodox Catholic doctrine of the Trinity (Three in One). In short, Platonism is a synthesis of the Greek philosophical conversation, especially Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Parmenides, which was elaborated upon by Plotinus, whose work was admired by Augustine, and now Benedict, who has no scientific training whatsoever, but who is part of the tradition of Natural Philosophy, dating back to the Greeks, which over the course of 2500 years spawned the sciences as we know them today… if you would like a clear lineage from Babylon to Bacon, hit me up and I’ll gladly recite it for you… but in any case these days we assume that metaphysics and physics are mutually exclusive (a word that would make Werner Heisenberg cringe, but which represents a logical tradition geing back to Aristotle), and so secular humanists can be satisfied when Benedict talks about the hocus pocus of the Logos, since he is talking about a domain that may be forever beyond the realm of science: a metaphysical interface of a self-organizing, creative force with an increasingly complex vibratory field…

  8. No such case exists in fact, but this is the kind of reasoning it takes to accept theOogity Boogity of a certain theological creationism to be an acceptable case of creationism. I just think it goes one step too far, namely, believing in creationism! The Texas Two-step Twaddle into creationism of the soul rather than the biology that supposedly houses it is more a case of let’s-make-nice-with-the-catholic-creationists-while-poking-fun-at-the-lunacy-of-the-evangelical-creationists. But it’s still a case of dancing to the twaddle, which I find worth the raising of an eyebrow.

  9. tildeb says:

    But it’s still a case of dancing to the twaddle, which I find worth the raising of an eyebrow.

    Nah, it doesn’t bother me a bit. He’s taken his Oogity Boogity where it’s forever safe — to a domain where no scientist can ever go. He’s happy, I’m happy. As thetempleofnature says, he’s got himself a non-overlapping magisterium.

  10. Gabriel Hanna

    @tildebThe Texas Two-step Twaddle into creationism of the soul rather than the biology that supposedly houses it

    Souls aren’t accesible to science. Neither are ethics. Where do ethics come from? I suppose you might be against “creationist ethics” as well, which would be that ethics come from religion. And the afterlife is also creationist I suppose?

    I get that you don’t repsect Catholicism, but calling them creationists simply is not accurate. They are not insisting on the literal scientific truth of Genesis, nor are they denying that humans are not specially created.

  11. The Catholic church has become, since Galileo, reasonably pro-science. They accept the dating of the shroud of Turin, for example, and refer to ID as “god of the gaps”. On the other hand, they have this proclivity for creating saints based on their belief that they worked miracles, so they clearly aren’t that pro-science.

    Basically, belief in a deity carries with it an assumption that the deity created the world and beings within it, but given that, the Catholic church and most mainstream protestants do a fair job of supporting science and staying out of the evolution vs. creation debate. In fact, they can help by taking away the fundamentalists’ argument that religion requires belief in genesis.

  12. Ed says:

    In fact, they can help by taking away the fundamentalists’ argument that religion requires belief in genesis.

    That’s been my position all along. Let them argue with the Ken Hams of the world. It’s a theological issue, not a science issue.

  13. Aw, come on, people! The Pope knows the score. He’s sociopathic, not stupid! Remember the Pope’s memo on Heaven and Hell? Not real places, he said. Heaven is grace with God, whatever that means, and Hell isn’t. No fixed address, though.

    The Pope knows full well, as did Mother Theresa and the Catholic establishment that there is no God. To state that would be to cast adrift their flock, and their money. Hey, buppie, it’s just business! So he says that evolution is true, but there is a divine thing out there.

    Note to Pope: no.

  14. It just seems to me that one weakens one’s position about respecting what’s true and knowable when one accommodates respect for what others merely believe is true even if it is unknowable.

  15. tildeb says:

    It just seems to me that one weakens one’s position about respecting what’s true and knowable when one accommodates …

    Ah, the accommodationist vs the confrontationist debate. No, that’s not for me. I remain aloof. My point on the Pope is that he has essentially side-lined his church from the science controversies, and I’m pleased about that.

  16. Ken Miller put it very well when he said (roughly) that if God is the author of Nature, then scientific observation of Nature is not in conflict with God. It was a great radio interview with Ed Brayton that ought to serve as a template for how believers and non-believers interact. The whole idea is basically philosophical: higher purpose vs. no higher purpose; regardless of your beliefs the science is the science.

  17. comradebillyboy

    When Ratzo was in charge of church doctrine under the previous pope he wrote an encyclical laying out the church’s position on science and society. I read it at a site called Catholic Encyclopedia which provides very clear explanations of Roman Catholic doctrines. He pretty much embraced big bang cosmology and Darwinian evolution, with the mandatory nod to god making humans special. sorry but I can not find the link since I haven’t been to the site in several years.

  18. It’s tough to leave this one alone. The pope does not grant you the right to your own body: that belongs to his god. Check out beginning and end of life issues for the church’s position.

    So let’s be clear: the pope does not endorse evolution in practice; he endorses theistic evolution, aka ‘creationism’. That’s why your body and your life is not yours, silly… it belongs to its ‘creator’. That’s why papal letters urge cardinals to take an active political roles in urging secular law and those who make them to line up with catholic theology. In the matter of stem cell research, the head of the British parliamentary committee – a good catholic – actually changed his vote of approval to one of disapproval because of just one such letter form pope palpatine.

    I disappointingly marvel at how easily people fool themselves about accepting the imposed role that other people’s Oogity Boogity plays in their lives as if it was of little or no concern. But for how long will we remain so foolish and at what real cost in terms of real lives and real suffering?

    I will step off my soap box now.

    Back to The Controversy!

  19. Gabriel Hanna

    @tildeb:theistic evolution, aka ‘creationism’

    um, NO. If you want to fulfill the creationist sterotype, that evolution = atheism, you can, but don’t expect us to help you, or thank you for making our job harder.

  20. tildeb says: “It’s tough to leave this one alone.”

    Quite so, although one can approach it at a very different level. I found a neat column in a newspaper from the University of Oklahoma, which isn’t well titled: Theism should devalue human awareness. It’s by Steven Zoeller, a freshman. He makes two interesting points:

    First, he spots something I didn’t mention, that the Pope’s speech set up a false dichotomy between those who believe in God and those who do not. The column’s point is that the former do not have a monopoly on love or freedom, and the atheistic or agnostic world view is not inherently cynical or hopeless.

    The second item supports the first, and it’s something I’ve never seen before. I’ll excerpt directly from the column:

    “At the beginning of April, OU hosted a Veritas Forum event where Dr. Ray Barfield spoke about what it means to be human.

    *In his lecture, he warned against emptying a non-theistic universe of value with a thought experiment: If two forms of consciousness existed in the void for a short time and loved each other before suddenly ceasing to exist, would that universe be any more valuable than one in which they had never existed?”

  21. Good catch, SC. It raises a point worth considering.

    @ Gabriel Hanna, and what job would that be?

  22. Gabriel Hanna

    @tildeb: The job of persuading people to believe in evolution. The people who make their living from creationism are not going to be persuaded, but their audience will, provided that we do not needlessly antagonize them.

    If people are willing to agree on the facts of science, there is no reason not to cut them slack on things that aren’t facts and aren’t accessible to science.

  23. @Gabriel Hanna: you make an excellent point, that’s why I think we can (for once) leave the Catholics alone. You have to pick your fights, and you don’t have to win every battle to win the greater war. Ken Ham and his evangelical flock are the greater enemy.

  24. @GH

    I think your notion of ‘needless antagonizing’ is code for ‘do not criticize faith outside of this issue’, which is just another way of urging atheists to STFU. But confrontation armed with good reasons informed by facts is exactly what does work for those who can be convinced. What you suggest is typical prevarication: let’s pretend that science and faith are compatible… except for this issue. I think this kind of relativism is very dishonest and undermines exactly that which you are attempting to do: ask people to respect what is true (regarding evolution) over and above what people believe to be true (regarding creationism). I think to be intellectually honest and maintain integrity, one must walk this walk not just on a favoured issue or two (like evolution) but as a method of thinking about the world we inhabit in fact.

    Consider for a moment if we would even be having this conversation if it were not for the sustained confrontational efforts of such people as Dawkins, Myers, and Coyne – evolutionary biologists – (not to mention Dennett, Harris, The Hitch, Sagan, Hawkings, Stenger, Grayling, Pinker, Russell, and so on) who have prepared the ground in order to bring this issue out into the public domain… for people like our esteemed colleague the Curmudgeon to have a dedicated audience? Your assertion that their efforts are not helping I think is way off target. Although you may disagree with their tone of confrontation, their popularity as spokespeople to fill audience halls and sell books over exactly this issue is beyond doubt. Even PZ’s site has about 110 million visits. How is this not helping the cause? Because it makes you feel uncomfortable or perhaps that you believe it is not? And your evidence is?

  25. Gabriel Hanna

    @tildeb:I think your notion of ‘needless antagonizing’ is code for ‘do not criticize faith outside of this issue’, which is just another way of urging atheists to STFU.

    I’m an atheist. Am I STFU? No. Did I say YOU need to STFU because you are an atheist? No.

    You are projecting on to me a bunch of opinions I don’t actually hold. Because I disagree with you on one issue–that if we are trying to persaude people to accept science, then we need to restrict our arguments to scientific arguments about science, and not gratuitously attack philosophies or religions–I must not be one of your tribe, and so you will fling feces at me.

    Do you care about getting people to accept evolution, or is that goal subordinate to your plan to get people to abandon religion by being an asshole to them?

  26. Gabriel Hanna

    @tildeb:I think to be intellectually honest and maintain integrity, one must walk this walk not just on a favoured issue or two (like evolution) but as a method of thinking about the world we inhabit in fact.

    Right, so you have an ideology you wish to convert people to, the ideology of scientism. But you can’t prove scientifically ANYTHING about what people SHOULD do; science describes the world as it is, not as it should be. Scientism is self-contradictory.

    Even PZ’s site has about 110 million visits. How is this not helping the cause?

    He’s preaching to the choir, that’s why. Since when has self-congratulation and feces-flinging at outsiders NOT drawn a large and dedicated audience?

    As for me, science is more important than feeling superior to other people, so I prefer to try to persaude people to accept science rather than hoot and point and call them stupid.

    I’m pretty devoted to science, having made a career of it, but I’ll have no truck with scientism, thank you. Feel free to cast me out of whatever movement it is you think I should have joined.

  27. Did I misunderstand your admonishment to not confront because you think it is a needless antagonism and therefore does not help? Did my phrasing that as STFU insult you? If so, I apologise, but that’s the meaning I took from it. You assume without evidence that confrontation does not work – or at least works <iagainst – convincing people that evolution is true. I think you are wrong.

    But look at you’re own comprehension:

    I say intellectual honesty and you call it feces flinging.

    I call it respecting what’s true and you call it hooting and pointing and calling people stupid.

    I call it integrity and you call it self-congratulatory and feeling superior.

    Can you not see what you are doing? You claim confrontation is not helping but when I point out that it seems to me to be doing an admirable job, you call it scientism and attribute all kinds of nastiness to how I do this. Are you sure you have the right subject in your criticism?

    Look, I’m not trying to get anyone to believe evolution is true in the same way that creationists believe in a creator. Quite the opposite.

    I am trying to get people to understand what is true and appreciate how we can know this. This method of gaining knowledge is not a matter of belief – meaning some competition between different kinds of faith-based beliefs – but of confidence in what works in very practical sense. People use exactly this method in every area of their lives except in matters of what is not known, what is not understood. That so many are ready and willing to insert Oogity Boogity in such places is not something to which I think anyone anywhere should grant intellectual respect if they respect what is true and what is knowable. This willingness to accommodate faith-based beliefs is a cop out, a capitulation. We can understand and we can gain knowledge. In this I trust the human brain because I have cause – not belief – that we have done so in the past and will continue to do so into our future… as long as we grant respect and importance to what is true and knowable rather than what we believe is true even if it is unknowable.

  28. @GH

    But you can’t prove scientifically ANYTHING about what people SHOULD do; science describes the world as it is, not as it should be

    Surgeons ought to use sterile instruments in surgery because patient infection rates are significantly lower if they do so.

    Impossible to derive an ought from an is, you assert in best Hume-ean impersonation, I’ll grant you, and yet…

  29. It is difficult to convince a person of strong faith that evolution is true using science, even though we all try. They believe in creationism because of their religious faith, which drives them to filter contrary information and hold firmly to sometimes contradictory and illogical opinions. Quite a few articles on this subject have appeared lately, one in the latest Sci Am, for example.

    I think the best strategy for science is not so much to keep pounding on people with facts, but to focus instead on the reasons that cause people to close their minds to science in the first place. If, for example, a person of faith concludes that belief in a literal genesis is not necessary to his understanding of god, then that person will be free to objectively evaluate evolution. Once a person can look at it objectively, the battle is won – science has the overwhelming advantage when the decision is based on evidence.

    Biologos is probably our greatest ally in this effort. I would judge the Catholic church to be, at best, neutral – they clearly accept the basic concepts of evolution but I wouldn’t expect them to promote it.

    Arguing the merits of religious faith itself, as an atheist such as myself might do, is probably not effective in this case. Logically, it would seem easier just to chip away at the need for a literalist belief in genesis, rather than try and take down the entire belief system. Other more liberal religious thinkers are probably much better at that than we atheists, who have little cred when it comes to religious matters.

  30. Ed says:

    I think the best strategy for science is not so much to keep pounding on people with facts, but to focus instead on the reasons that cause people to close their minds to science in the first place.

    My sense of it is that they reject science because it frightens them. They think it will take away their religion. It doesn’t, as the Pope clearly demonstrates. And I certainly don’t want to take away anyone’s religion. Why should I, when it’s no threat to me? Most people merely need to be reassured that science isn’t out to destroy their religion.

    But there are the extreme cases — like Ken Ham. Science does threaten his peculiar view of things. I’m convinced that such people would be book-burners (or worse) if they had their way. They must be opposed. But religion in general? I think not.

  31. SC, the problem I see with religion is that the practicers are SELDOM content to enjoy their dogma without trying to force it onto everyone else, or practicing it in such a way that innocent people are hurt. It’s not just Ken Ham and his ilk either, the Catholic church (and evangelicals too) DEFINITELY tries to legislate their beliefs onto others…just look at the abortion issue and gay rights. Militant Islamists want the world to convert to Islam on pain of death, Africans have killed their children they believed were witches, since the Bible says “thou shalt not suffer witches to live”, young girls have their genitalia maimed in the name of religion, women are beaten if a bit of skin shows from under their bags in Pakistan and Afghanistan, innocent children are indoctrinated and brainwashed at Jesus camps, and the Tali-Baptists of this country WISH it was a theocracy where they could gleefully execute abortion doctors and women….etc etc. It’s REALLY hard to smile and be “tolerant” of religion, even if they claim to support science, when crap like this is going down around the world FROM religion. I don’t look around and see a lot of religious people living and let living.

  32. Gabriel Hanna

    @tildeb: We can understand and we can gain knowledge. In this I trust the human brain because I have cause – not belief – that we have done so in the past and will continue to do so into our future… as long as we grant respect and importance to what is true and knowable rather than what we believe is true even if it is unknowable.

    Would you accept a challenge from me?

    Let’s suppose you are eating a delicious candy bar. While you are halfway through, I slap it out of your mouth, eat it myself, and then say, “Those things make you fat. I did you a favor, asshole,” and walk off.

    Please explain, using only science:

    What emotion is appropriate for you to feel
    What behavior is appropriate from you in response to mine

    Remember, you’re only allowed to use science to answer those questions.

  33. Are you suggesting that some faith-based belief involving Oogity Boogity is necessary to answer these questions?

    Of course I would use the scientific method to answer these questions… and so would you. I would try to inform my answers with knowledge rather than claims empty and/or exempt of knowledge. To suggest otherwise is absurd and unreasonable. It’s you who have thrown this word ‘scientism’ into the fray as if this is what I’m suggesting when I am not. If you really want to know, I am arguing for methodological naturalism in this thread. A much fuller explanation is here (starting at 2.0) but you as a scientist already fuller understand and accept this I’m sure… except when don’t, I guess.

  34. Gabriel Hanna

    @tildebAre you suggesting that some faith-based belief involving Oogity Boogity is necessary to answer these questions?

    I suggested nothing of the sort.

    I would try to inform my answers with knowledge rather than claims empty and/or exempt of knowledge.

    Then I invite you to do so. Please explain, using the methods of science, what emotion you should experience, and what action you should take, in the scenario I posted above.

  35. Gabriel Hanna

    If you really want to know, I am arguing for methodological naturalism in this thread.

    No, you aren’t. You are arguing that questions which cannot be decided by methodological naturalism must be decided only in certain ways, and you have offered no justification for why you accept some and reject others, except methodological naturalism, which can’t address those questions.

    It doesn’t seem to me as though you have thought very hard about what the limits of methodological naturalism are. But you have no trouble hurling anathemas at people who don’t see things the way you do.

    We got into this discussion because it offends you that anyone might not consider Catholics creationist, which would distort the word “creationist” out of any useful meaning, because they accept human evolution but believe in souls. And you are arguing about this, not with Catholics, but with other atheists. To me that suggests you’re not really interested in getting people to accept evolution. You are far more interested in criticizing me and others that you call “accomodationists” for being more inclusive than you. There is nothing in methodological naturalism to justify that kind of tribal thinking, is there?

  36. Gabriel Hanna

    If you are curious, tildeb, my answers to the questions I posed you would not be based on science. They’d be based on my notions of what right and wrong are, which in turn are based in tradition, the culture I grew up in, sentiment, as well as the thinking I’ve done about similar situations and what result I would desire as the outcome–none of which are what you call “knowledge”.

    And so will your answers be, if you are sane and honest. You won’t be basing them on God or religion, but you WILL be basing them on equally “unknowable” things. If you can manage to delude yourself that you are a creature of pure reason who always acts on scientific principles, then you will become an obnoxious and evil person with an endless capacity to rationalize your whims. Anybody would.

  37. @ GH

    Hurling? Wow. If you don’t like the label, change your position.

    A good first step is appreciating what the term ‘creationism’ means. I disagree strongly with the particular conclusion from Stanford because it’s badly biased – hence the descriptor ‘militant’ for atheists who brook no respect for Oogity Boogity in whatever form it appears. Nevertheless, I think it does a very good job describing creationism.

    A second step in this particular thread is to understand what the term means in catholic theology.

    I’m not going to derail the thread and be accused of being a troll by segueing into how science can help inform – not determine – human values. But I will stand by my thesis that it is not an inferior position to take that values informed by a framework of knowledge are superior to those made up in its absence.

  38. @GH

    You are arguing that questions which cannot be decided by methodological naturalism must be decided only in certain way.

    The two examples you offer are Souls aren’t accesible to science. Neither are ethics.

    Says you. How can something be claimed to exist in nature yet be exempt from evidence for it existence in nature?

    The short answer is that as far as we are concerned it can’t… or, if it does, must be unknowable to us so we need not be concerned.

    The soul? No such thing. Useful as a poetic (or symbolic) word for qua.

    Ethics? A word we typically use to describe comparative behaviours on a spectrum of moral principles. As such, what it represents comes from our biology.

    So I’ll see your “cannot be decided by methodological naturalism” and raise you “probably because it’s not true or there would be some evidence in the natural world for it, or it is symbolic of what is true in fact.”

    Maybe that help you get out the burr that seems to be lodged under your saddle.

  39. Gabriel Hanna

    A word we typically use to describe comparative behaviours on a spectrum of moral principles. As such, what it represents comes from our biology.

    What do our DNA sequences tell us about whether it is wrong to steal, or whether it is right for a mother to eat her children? If we were a different species with a different evolutionary history, how would our morality change? Many people say that a progressive tax structure is more just than a flat tax rate, can you supply some insights from evolutionary biology to elucidate the matter?

    Why is it just okay for you to throw out hugely unsupported assertions like that? Is “methodological naturalism” a fancy word for “asspull”?

    Earlier you denied that you espoused scientism. And now you embrace it again.

    How can something be claimed to exist in nature yet be exempt from evidence for it existence in nature?

    Where does a “meter” exist in nature? It is a human convention, decided upon for human convenience–and not very convenient at that, as working scientists all know. And asking for evidence of it in nature is like asking to see a leather sunrise–it’s a massive category fail.

    Ethics are rules that humans agree to govern behavior by, and rules are abstractions that don’t exist in nature. Freedom and justice are also abstractions developed by humans that don’t exist in nature. But you have very strong opinions, like most people, about what freedom and justice are.

    I’d like to see you explain the biological basis for the human concepts of “justice” and tell us how they would be different if we were a different species, like a dolphin, or if we had evolved differently. You just so blithely asserted that it was possible, let’s see you do it. (I’m expecting something like a cross between Professor Dawkins and Dr Pangloss.)

  40. Mike McCants

    “What do our DNA sequences tell us about whether it is wrong to steal?”

    Why do you pose such a silly strawman question?

    “Why is it just okay for you to throw out hugely unsupported assertions like that?”

    Because there is some support for those assertions if you have a proper understanding of what has been asserted. But you don’t.

    “Ethics are rules that humans agree to govern behavior by”

    Ethics are guidelines, not rules. But religions want to make them rules? Are ethics “accessible to reason”? Why not? There are some interesting ethical dilemmas, you know.

    “I’d like to see you explain the biological basis for the human concepts of “justice””

    Of course there is no direct “biological basis”. That is yet another strawman. You really ought to try reading something that would give you a clue about your ignorance.

    The point is that human society is a result of “nature” and “intelligence” and “communication” and a lot of other things. All of which “come from” our “biology” (admittedly rather indirectly). But such things are part of reality and accessible to reason.

    “If people are willing to agree on the facts of science, there is no reason not to cut them slack on things that aren’t facts and aren’t accessible to science.”

    It is your assertion that some things are not “accessible to science”. Should that be changed to “accessible to reason”? What’s the difference? The countering assertion is that anything that is “accessible to reason” is “part of reality” and also “accessible to science”. Anything that is not “part of reality” and not “accessible to reason” and not “accessible to science” is something that is meaningless. Emotions are “part of reality” and “accessible to reason” and thus “accessible to science”. Souls are not.

    “Most people merely need to be reassured that science isn’t out to destroy their religion.”

    My opinion is that if you can explain enough of reality to someone who has that fear, you will destroy their religious faith. The Pope clearly said that humans are not an accident. This is obviously wrong. Since his faith depends on humans being “special”, if he accepted his error, his faith would be destroyed.

  41. Okay, for one last swing at bat.

    For a scientist you seem to be a little slow on the uptake, so let me take one more shot at explaining that within the context of methodological naturalism we are dealing stuff either within nature, meaning the universe, or outside nature, meaning beyond the universe.

    Within the universe we are dealing with understandable and knowable naturalmechanisms (not oogity boogity) causing effects. It is therefore ironic that you think abstractions as some kind of weird thingies that must be outside of nature, meaning outside the universe, outside of cause of effect by means of a natural mechanism, when empiricism itself is based on the abstraction we call symbolism.

    Numbers, for example, are abstractions describing a symbolic representation of quantity and this seems to be causing you no end of confusion about where this representational idea, concept, and notion actually exits. I’m surprised at your confusion. The answer of course is in your brain – a biological processor active in this universe that works entirely in applying useful and practical meanings about your biological interactions with the universe to symbolic representations within your skull. Your mind is what your brain does. Remarkable, I know, but functional nevertheless and a product of evolution and not oogity boogity.

    The concept of the number four does not reside in a magical/mystical/mysterious realm (sorry, Plato) somewhere between this universe and some other location as you seem so willing to place it. The number four is an empirical representation of a relationship of quantity – greater than three but less than five – but you seem to be suggesting that numbers themselves because they are abstractions are some kind of evidence for this netherworld and cannot possibly exist in ours. This is sheer nonsense.

    Abstractions exist in our brains wherever we assign these symbolic relationships, and are entirely based on what they represent within this universe and not beyond it. Remove the representational points in this universe upon which an abstraction is built and you remove the very touch points that describes what these abstractions represent. Poof! Gone is the abstraction because it was never a thingie, you see.

    You are grossly misinformed if you honestly think that ‘justice’ is not a biological concept – based as it is on the activity of your mirror neurons that allow you to feel in first person reality what we call ’empathy’ for a third person experience. This is what underlies our sense of ‘fairness’ – expressed very nicely and in every culture along the lines of what is often called the Golden Rule, the guideline of reciprocity. The concept of justice without these touch points of appreciating what fairness feels like within this universe is meaningless. And yes, we find the same mirror neurons in the brains of other social critters who reveal very similar behaviour we call ’empathy’. Not surprisingly we don’t find them in critters that are not social, critters that do not reveal behaviours we call empathy. These neurons seem to play a central role in allowing us to formulate the necessary personal groundwork in biological terms for the abstraction we call ‘justice’.

    So just slow down in all your accusations about what a nasty person I am and try to understand why I hold no respect for faith-based beliefs. I grant faith-based beliefs (what I call oogity boogity) an exact amount of respect as the knowledge it produces: zero. Such beliefs produce nothing of value, nothing of practical benefit to our state of knowledge, and in fact produces pseudo-answers that are the central impediments to honest and open minded inquiry… including – but not only – evolution.

    Creationism in all its forms I think is just such an impediment to our inquiry into our universe and our place in it because it provides us with a pseudo-answer in the form of some kind of interventionist and purposeful creative agency equivalent to oogity boogity. But this is no answer at all and produces not one whit, not one iota, not one jot of knowledge that is practical, that is reliable, that is applicable. Just the opposite in fact. It produces impediments based only on faith that drives an intentional wedge between honest inquiry and knowledge. This is why acceptance of faith-based beliefs to be equivalent to knowledge – another way of knowing – is, in fact, incompatible with honest inquiry because its epistemology is broken: it starts with pseudo-answers held to be true with no way of determining if they actually are. Belief in an answer of oogity boogity pretends that faith alone is equivalent to knowledge because the pseudo-answers deal with questions outside of this universe. But this is patently and demonstrably false.

    These pseudo-answers attempt to justify the use of faith in this universe and this is what YEC actually is: a pseduo-answer that tries to make the square facts fit into its round and bottomless hole of a presumed answer. When you talk about these pseudo-answers as worthy of respect, I don’t think you’ve really followed your own thinking to its ‘natural’ conclusion (excuse the pun): arguing that stuff in some unknowable realm has a meaningful role to play in this one. (The problem of suffering effectively defeats the best pseudo-answers theology can produce.)

    But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that more liberal and moderate forms of belief in creationism are allies to scientific inquiry. Even as we search for knowledge about possible scenarios for abiogenesis itself, we see the ‘liberal’ and ‘moderate’ faith in the purpose and intentions of this creative purposeful interventionist agency spill over into having a real world effect – a negative one – in our universe, in all kinds of related fields of human biology like medical ethics, reproductive technologies, end of life issues, abortion, stem cell research, and so on. These don’t exist in some netherworld but in ours. And here is faith doing its best to call the shots. When we are asked to yield respect to creationism that assumes some oogity boogity intervention at some point, which then directly comments on the moral and ethical effects these pursuits of knowledge will have in relationship to the wishes, intentions, desires, purpose, of its oogity boogity master, we allow this nonsense to impede our responsible use and applications of knowledge in the aforementioned abbreviated list. That’s why I think we have a much, much bigger problem that the YEC of old Hambo and the Discoveroids are merely one symptom. And I think we need to start dealing with this problem and challenging this insertion of faith-based beliefs wherever and whenever it tries to coddle up to honest inquiry and the marvels of its practical, reliable, and wondrous applications while demanding similar respect it simply does not deserve. Those who argue that it does, that faith-based beliefs are worthy of respect and is an ally of honest inquiry, I think are on the wrong side of this issue.

  42. When a religious leader like the pope says “It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning,” he is not even pretending that there is in practice some magical divide of non overlapping magesteria with science. Those who argue that this supposed divide exists in fact, and thus protects liberal and moderate faith-based beliefs from justifiable criticism for its complete lack of evidence, are fully engaged in wishful thinking. No such divide exists in any theological practice.

  43. Gabriel Hanna

    It is therefore ironic that you think abstractions as some kind of weird thingies that must be outside of nature, meaning outside the universe…

    The concept of the number four does not reside in a magical/mystical/mysterious realm (sorry, Plato) somewhere between this universe and some other location as you seem so willing to place it.

    Once again, tildeb, you impute to me opinions I don’t actually hold.

    So just slow down in all your accusations about what a nasty person I am …

    Well, let’s see what you’ve said about me here:

    “For a scientist you seem to be a little slow on the uptake…”

    You’re not making any real effort to engage with what I actually said. When I asked to back up your asssertions with evidence you simply repeated them and called me stupid to boot. Again, triablist feces-flinging. Very primate of you, which is not surprising giving our evolutionary history.

    You wrote a lot of words about how ethis and morality are really biologically derived, but again, no evidence. I asked specifically for this:

    If we were a different species with a different evolutionary history, how would our morality change?

    If you can’t produce evidence based answers for this, then science is not what you are doing.

    This is what underlies our sense of ‘fairness’ – expressed very nicely and in every culture along the lines of what is often called the Golden Rule, the guideline of reciprocity.

    Really? EVERY SINGLE human culture has this concept? You sure? You did a survey, or have access to one? I only had a few anthroplogy classes in college but I learned enough to get an idea of HOW variable human cultures are, and I would be VERY reluctant to make some kind of blanket statement like this without having some hard evidence to cite from, but you clearly don’t labor under THAT handicap. Furthermore, exactly what BEHAVIOR constitutes “fairness” and “reciprocity” is also highly variable by culture. Do these populations have a different evolutionary history, and can you connect these differences to how their ethics differ? If not, you are not doing science.

    Incidentally, doesn’t “every human culture” have some kind of religion? Running the gamut from animist nature worship to Gnosticism and Theravada?

    Again and again you refuse to back up assertions with evidence, and impute to me opinions I don’t actually express, and impugn my intelligence to boot. So feel free to declare victory in the discussion if you like, but I’ll not participate further.

  44. Mike McCants

    “If we were a different species with a different evolutionary history, how would our morality change?”

    Of course this is a difficult question. Try a different question: how has human morality changed in the last 100 years? 500 years? 1000 years? Is slavery moral? Today? Before the Civil War? 1000 years ago? Obviously the human social history has changed and our morality has changed accordingly. What about euthanasia? Is the morality associated with euthanasia changing? Will it continue to change?

    Note that that silly Pope condemned the awarding of the Nobel Prize to those who worked towards in vitro fertilization. What is your opinion of his “morality” on that subject? Religion continues to show that it is irrelevant or worse.

    “If you can’t produce evidence based answers for this, then science is not what you are doing.”

    The “social sciences” are not considered “hard sciences”. But there seems to be a lot of “historical evidence” that you are dismissing as unimportant.

    “I would be VERY reluctant to make some kind of blanket statement like this ”

    First you demand to know how things would be different and then you assert that human cultures are different. But the “bottom line” is the same – ethics and morality depend on the social culture – but that is simply a “function” of human biology – the capacity to communicate and feel empathy. Religion has nothing to contribute to this “directly” – religion can only contribute indirectly by attempting to change or impede the change of the social culture.

    “doesn’t “every human culture” have some kind of religion?”

    That depends on your definition of “religion”. And it is a “fact” about the current reality that is susceptible to change in the future as human sociality changes. So it is related to human biology – so what?

    “Again and again you refuse to back up assertions with evidence”

    Well, psychology and sociality seem to be subjects that you do not have much knowledge of. Your assertions are wrong, but it is not my job to spend time trying to educate you.

    “impugn my intelligence”

    Or perhaps your knowledge or your biases. “Religion poisons everything.” Those who demand power and respect because of their special relationship to a non-existent “higher power” are worse than irrelevant.

  45. John E. D. P. Malin

    His Holiness, Benedict XVI:

    The Pope errs in his historical-critical analysis of St. John’s notion of Logos. It is not endebted to Greek Hellenistic learning; it is Egyptian proto-gnostic magical learning. John was a community theologian, who had absorbed the mental theosophy from his Egyptian sources!

    The Hellenistic Greek connection will not hold water! The tissue gossamer mystical notion of Egyptian “secret knowledge” mentality fits the mental environment of St. John quite well!