Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Church's objections -- yes, objections -- to Evolution

Boniface, "Evolutionary Theology and More" (Unam Sanctam, May 13, 2014):
Have you heard the refrain from conservative Catholic apologists that the Church has "never had a problem" with evolution? Or perhaps that theological objections to evolutionary theory are based solely in rigidly literalistic interpretations of Genesis 1 or are primarily Protestant concerns? This new exhaustive article on evolutionary theology on Unam Sanctam Catholicam's website will demonstrate that the opposite is in fact true; the Catholic Church was one of the first Christian bodies to object to evolution, doing so in 1860, only one year after Origin of Species. And the fundamental objection was not centered on literalism in Genesis 1 - although that was a concern - but on the question of substance and how creatures could be said to have substances expressed in 'natures' if everything was in a constant state of change. How could we speak of "being" when evolution teaches that there is only "becoming"?

Click here to read "Solemn Enthronement of Evolution" on Unam Sanctam Catholicam.
Read more >> [Spoiler alert: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., and the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger take hits in this critique, as well as Cardinals Agostino Casoroli, Avery Dulles, and Chrostoph Schönborn.]

[Hat tip to L.S.]


26 comments:








Doge of Venice

said...

Thank you for posting. This is a big subject, but I think an attempt to distinguish levels of consciousness is critical.

Start by describing reality in metaphysical terms, with corollaries in man, and with a concrete example. Potency : form : act :: experience : understanding : judgement :: eye : sight : seen. To 'know' is to know the 'real'; a sweep of all the components of reality. Experience alone is not knowing; understanding alone is not knowing; judgement alone is not knowing.

The modern natural scientist disregards any notion of 'knowing' or 'real', because he regards his understanding as ever open to new data. So, since this man doesn't claim to 'know', let us take him at his word.

Darwin had an insight into a collection of observed data; that insight was the statistical component in biology.

A rational man, using his reason, making deductions, is understanding something (not the same as knowing the real). But a complete rejection of Darwin's insight (not the same as a rejection of Darwin-ism) must be a declaration that he understood nothing, and that we may ignore this insight and wait for it to be forgotten.

A Catholic synthesis, however, seeks to understand this notion of 'statistics'; to see non-systematic divergences from ideal frequencies; to see the implication of intelligibility, or forms. A Catholic might see in this insight a development of understanding of man's partial conditioning by the material world previously expressed, for instance, by movement of the heavenly spheres, or expressed by saying that a man was mercurial, or saturnine, or a lunatic.

Now, dogma tells us what is true; real; that to which we must assent (in Newman's terms). So, dogma gives us the conclusion. God IS a Trinity of Persons. All of our attempts to understand by analogy are just that: they are on the level of understanding, not knowing.

There *were* Modernists who mistook Darwin's understanding for knowing, and, following their failure, applied evolution to true conclusions given for assent in faith by dogma. These men were rightly condemned, because that is heresy.

To consider insights provided by modern, empirical science on the level of understanding is not, ipso facto, to be a Modernist. If an insight leads to a concept named 'statistics', the Catholic philosopher must not mistake that for a claim of 'knowledge of the real', because (implicitly) no such claim has been made. Deeper understanding is enriching; 'fides quaerens intellectum'.

A Catholic synthesis is possible, but every faithful attempt in the process is not Modernism.





John Lamont

said...

The article to which you link is nonsense. It claims that Darwin's theory of evolution was condemned by the Church, but the facts given in the article itself show that this is false.

'Of course, this Council possesses no infallibility and is non-binding; it was a provincial Council, akin to the famous Councils of Baltimore in the United States. Still, the Holy See's response to Cologne is telling. Rome's silence on this point undoubtedly signals consent. That the pontificate of Bl. Pius IX, always vigilant against heresy, said nothing in response to Cologne's declaration can be taken as a sign that the pope agreed with or at least did not oppose the affirmation of the direct, immediate creation of the human body in the person of our first parents.'

This just means that the teachings of the council in question are not heretical, not that they are taught by the Church. Its reflections on substance in general and the First Vatican Council are gibberish. Its assertion that its teaching that the human substance was created directly by God out of nothing 'precludes the possibility that the body could have evolved from earlier life forms, since that would not be "produced from God out of nothing"' also implies that the teaching precludes the possibility of our having been begotten by our parents. The placing of various books on evolution on the Index is not a global condemnation of every statement in those books, and does not amount to a condemnation of any proposition in those books. As for the condemnation of the conception of evolution proposed by modernists, that conception is entirely different from the biological theory of evolution, and applying it to biological theories is a mere equivocation.

The only actual magisterial teaching on this subject is that of Pius XII in Humani Generis - which the author rejects because it disagrees with his personal views; so much for his loyalty to the magisterium.

It is discouraging to find you making a positive reference to this article. The article is a classic example of the sort of thing that has been used by modernists to successfully discredit adherence to the Catholic faith. It advances a personal thesis by representing the Church to have taught it, using an analysis of magisterial teachings that is faulty and is based on ignorance of how magisterial teaching and theology itself actually work. The thesis in question is a dubious one that faces insurmountable difficulties - how is it that the entire community of biologists have come to agree on some form of biological evolution? Is this a huge atheist plot? What do we make of the scientific case for evolution - a case I am quite confident the author is incapable of properly describing, let alone refuting?

When this kind of thing is endorsed by traditionalist Catholics, Catholic tradition gets dismissed as the cause of marginal cranks and conspiracy theorists. I do not say that cranks and conspiracy theorists have no place in the Church; they have souls too. But they cannot be allowed to function as spokesmen for our community, and their views should not be given any credence by responsible persons.





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Dear John,

I appreciate your concern, which I see as lying in three areas: (1) the question of how the Church's authority in the question is weighted, and (2) the question of the widely-accepted credibility of Evolutionary theory, and (3) the question of the confusion of the issues of biological evolution with a larger evolutionary worldview as it may impact various theologies.

I agree with your assessment of #3 and will say no more about it. As to #1, I will agree that the Church has allowed room for theistic evolutionism of the sort articulated by the late great Fr. Stanley Jaki, among others, so long as they reserve the status of the soul man as a special creation by God, though this is a comparatively recent development and the prevailing view among Catholic (as well as Protestant) churchmen and scholars until the mid-19th century was pretty close to what is sneeringly dismissed by nearly everyone these days as backwater Fundamentalism.

My real issue isn't with #1. My attitude towards that issue is embodied in what I once heard Fr. Joseph Augustine Di Noia say about another question involving contested Catholic opinion: "Who care's whether it's infallible. Is it TRUE?!"

My fundamental concern with this issue isn't Church authority, and I had some misgivings about the way I titled the post -- first, because it sounds as if the Church's objections to Darwinian theory in the 19th century are the same as it's views today; and, second, because I don't really believe there is any unified theory called "Evolution." Rather, as Alvin Plantinga shows in his 1991 essay, "When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible," what is blithely termed "Evolution" is comprised of a bundle of subsidiary theses, some of which are much less credible than others: (1) the Ancient Earth Thesis, (2) the Progress Thesis, (3) the Common Ancestry Thesis, (4) the naturalistic Natural Selection Thesis, (5) and the Naturalistic Origins Thesis.

Which means that my issue is #2, and we may disagree about one or another of these theses. Some of them would be impossible for a Catholic to embrace, like No. 5, which would preclude divine creation. My own demurral goes a good bit farther, as I suspect Plantinga's does.

(continued ...)





Pertinacious Papist

said...

(Continued ...)

On various occasions in my own educational development, I have studied and tried to persuade myself of the credibility of some form of Theistic Evolution -- and to my own shame I have even found myself pretending to believe in "Evolution" in certain circles where I might otherwise have found myself ridiculed. I have been distressed by this, especially because some good friends of mine -- much more intelligent than I -- have embraced forms of Evolutionary theory. But I have never been able to do so, at least not in any "respectable" sense.

Mortimer J. Adler, in a brilliant book written while still an agnostic Jew (some 30 years before his conversion to the Catholic Faith), The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes points out in his chapter on Darwin:

"It is of the utmost importance to observe the direction of Darwin's reasoning here. It is NOT from a hypothesis about man's origin (based on fossil evidences [which were not available to him]) to a conclusion about man's nature or man's difference [from non-man]. On the contrary, Darwin's line of reasoning is from a conclusion about man's nature and his difference [from non-man], based on comparative evidence of human and animal behavior, to the support of, though not the indubitable proof of, a hypothesis about man's origin; namely, that his speciation is like that of all other animals." (p. 79f).

A little earlier, he points out a fatal fly in his theory of speciation. First, he quotes from Darwin's Origin of Species and The Descent of Man (Modern Library, p. 370): "I believe that animals are dscended from at most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number.... Analogy would lead me one step further, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants are descended from some one prototype. But analogy may be a deceitful guide."

Then Adler points out: "If there were as many as two original progenitors -- one for all forms of animal life and one for all forms of plant life -- it would mean that the plant and animal kingdoms are separated by a real (and maybe even radical) difference in kind, not by an apparent difference in kind that masks a continuum of degrees in which gaps have occurred. A polyphyletic origin of life is incompatible with the principle of phylogentic continuity." (p. 72)

Adler is hardly alone in finding problems with Darwin's theory, and some of the later proponents of various revisionist theories are far from having no critics.

So this is my quibble: I don't buy many of the subsidiary theses bundled together in what is generically called "Evolutionist" theory. Never have, though I'm open to correction.

As for the rest of the things you point out, I really have no issue.

Peace, -PP





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Doge of Venice,

First, I thank you for the thoughtful spirit in which you obvious wrote your comment.

Second, however, I am a bit puzzled by what you say.

I start with a lengthy summary in paraphrase: you begin by pointing out the (inadvertently?) self-imposed limitations of modern science in its inductive perpetual openness to new data that prevents its conclusions from ever acquiring the status of knowledge.

Then you advert to what you call Darwin’s “insight” into a collection of observed “data,” an achievement based on having the faculty of reason, making deductions, understanding something (“the statistical component in biology”).

Your objection: a “complete” rejection of Darwin’s “insight” must be a declaration that he understood nothing, and that his work may be forgotten – whereas a Catholic synthesis would seek to incorporate his “insight” and build upon it.

Dogma tells us what is true, real, de fide (to which we must assent): the conclusion. We assent, but all our attempts to understand fall short of knowing.

Modernist heretics who mistook Darwin’s understanding for “knowing” confounded their faith by assimilating to it the Darwinist pretensions to knowledge.

But to consider the “insights” provided by modern, “empirical science” on the level of "understanding” (and not “knowledge”) is not, as such, to be a modernist or heretic. If an “insight” leads to the concept of “statistics” (Darwin’s “understanding”), the Catholic philosopher must not mistake this for the claim of “knowledge” (“knowledge of the real”). But as “understanding” (“deeper understanding”) it may be “enriching.” “Fides quarens intellectum.”

A Catholic synthesis is possible, but every faithful attempt in the process is not Modernism.

(Continued ...)





Pertinacious Papist

said...

(Continued ...)

Now, Doge of Venice, when I ask myself what this means, I'm puzzled, because (1) you explicitly deny that Darwin's theory gives us anything that we can actually be said to "know," but (2) you seem no less adamant about insisting that we ought to show respect for what amounts to his opinion of things (which you call his "understanding").

I agree that Darwin and his stepchildren (Dawkins included) ought to be taken seriously (well, that's hard sometimes with Dawkins, I admit).

But when you suggest that we do so out of deference to "insights" provided by modern, "empirical science," I demur. No, I do not think that everyone who embraces the "insights" of modern "empirical science" should be dismissed as a heretic. But neither do I believe that we owe any special deference to the often pontifical claims of modern science (Fr. Stanley Jaki is particularly good on this in his book Means to Message).

In fact, I don't believe in this thing generally called "science" today. I don't think it has any coherent account of itself since August Comte's Positivist theory, and I reject that theory utterly.

So expressions like "insight," "data," "statistics," etc., are all presuppositionally freighted words to me. I will respectfully consider anyone's theory about anything of import, but I grant no quarter to the likes of Carl Sagan who appeal to what "science tells us." As Alasdair MacIntyre asks, "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?" (in his book by that title), I want to know "Whose science?"

This does not mean that I'm a skeptic or relativist. It means only that I've read a sufficient number of critiques of Positivism by the likes of T. Kuhn and M. Polanyi to find myself easily persuaded by contemporary scientists' dogmatic appeals to orthodoxy.

On the positive side, I find the work of Fr. William Wallace at CUA in books like The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis quite promising and at least credible.

Kind regards, -- PP





Pertinacious Papist

said...

While I'm at it, let me also put in a plug for an old but brilliantly lucid book by C. Stephen Evans, Preserving the Person, which offers, from ch. 7 onwards, a terribly insightful analysis of different views of the relationship between "science" and traditional humanist and personalist concerns about the "mind," "soul," "intellect," and "will," etc.

He distinguishes 6 "types": (1) the Capitulators who simply accept the Positivist understanding of science and jettison their traditional understanding of the person, accordingly; (2) the Compatibilists, who affirm both the "findings of science" as understood in the Positivist paradigm and the traditional view of the person, without showing how they can be reconciled; (3) the Territorialists who limits science and its mechanistic, quantitative methods to the physical world, but insist that the humanities and the person are off limits, (4) the Perspectivalists who see Positivist "science" as offering a view of the whole of reality, but only from a limited perspective, alongside other humanist and personalist perspectives; the Humanizers of Science which fall into two divisions: (5) the Particularists who accept that "science" as Positivistically understood applies to the Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences), but not to the Geisteswissenschaften (human sciences), which make use of non-Positivist methodologies, and (6) the Generalists who understand all sciences as freighted with humanist and personalist assumptions, including the natural sciences. This latter is the view of Polanyi, for instance, who is far from being a relativist, but completely blows the Positivist understanding of "science" out of the water in his now classic Personal Knowledge.

Finally, the two tacit theses of Positivist Science are examined by Evans in detail: (1) the Scientism thesis, which says that "science" alone, as Positivistically understood, gives us the ultimate truth about all of reality, and (2) the Unity of Science thesis, which says that all "science" worthy of the name uses the same method, which must be empirical, making use of causal-mechanical methods, and quantitative analysis (Which obviously dethrones theology as the "Queen of Sciences" is was once considered to be). But even Aristotle knew that different disciplines called for different methods, as he pointed out at the beginning of his Nicomachean Ethics. We've forgotten that lesson since the 17th century, it seems.





Ghost of Tyburn

said...

I'm a little late to the party, but Dr. Lamont may be interested in the written works that formed my own change of mind regarding the Church and Evolution.

They were all purchased through the Kolbe Center and they are:

(1) The Metaphysics of Evolution by Fr Chad Ripperger, FSSP

(2) Humani Generis on Evolution by Rev Victor P Warkulwiz, MSS

(3) The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith

by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini

(4)The Doctrines of Genesis 1-11 Rev Victor P Warkulwiz, MSS

Also worth reading is the work written by a deceased atheist Australian philosopher David Stove

Darwinian Fairytales.

Ripperger's little tome is atightly woven demolition of the metaphysics of both biological and cosmological evolution.





John Lamont

said...

Pertinacious Papist:

I don't see much substance to your objections to #2, the credibility of evolutionary theory. You cite an objection of Mortimer Adler's to Darwin's theory of evolution. Regardless of the merits of this objection, criticism of Darwin's works is not a basis for rejecting current evolutionary theory, which has changed and expanded drastically since Darwin's time. The main changes have been the incorporation of Mendelian genetics (the work of a monk, it is worth remembering) and the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick, with the consequent expansion of understanding of the mechanics of heredity and reproduction. To judge the credibility of current evolutionary theory, you have to address the modern version of this theory together with the evidence for it.

To do this, of course, you have to be a professional scientist at quite a high level. You have to be this to reach the initial stage of understanding the current theory and the evidence for it - not just to evaluate the degree to which the theory is made credible by the evidence, which takes a lot more professional achievement. I am not being unfair to your philosophical qualifications when I say that they do not enable you to do this. My own philosophical and theological qualifications do not enable me to do it, either. The matter should be left to scientists who actually know what they are talking about. Those scientists all agree that some form of evolutionary theory is correct. In the absence of a condemnation by the Church of their view, we should believe them; and no such condemnation exists. My theological ability does enable me to know about the absence of such a condemnation.

But we should go farther. We should point out that rejection of evolutionary theory is adoption of a foreign ideology produced by bitterly anti-Catholic fundamentalist Protestants; that it is irrational and discredits Christians (which is the objective of the devil, its ultimate author); and that its appeal is based on sin. People are attracted to it because of pride: it lets them believe that they are wiser than all the scientists in the world, that they see the evil atheistic evolutionary conspiracy theory that everyone else has missed out on, and that they are entitled to lecture and condemn all those Catholics who do not share their supposed insight. At the same time, of course, it lets them avoid the real battle against secularism outside the Church and heresy within it, while they pontificate to their circle of mutually admiring cranks. It is sad that so many people fall for it.





Ghost of Tyburn

said...

Quote: "Those scientists all agree that some form of evolutionary theory is correct. In the absence of a condemnation by the Church of their view, we should believe them; and no such condemnation exists."

I think the encapsulation provided here and the articles and books that I've linked to (2 are written by a priest who is also a high level scientist) provide a quite effective demolition of evolution.

http://www.romans10seventeen.org/audio-files/20120826-Evolution-Continues-to-Devolve.mp3

http://www.romans10seventeen.org/audio-files/20130818-Science-Cannot-Explain-History-Errors-of-Big-Bang-Cosmology.mp3





Ghost of Tyburn

said...

http://www.kolbecenter.org/audio/FrRippergerSinofEvolution.mp3


Evolution is a sin against the First Commandment





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Dear John,

I think neither of us is really all that keen on pursuing this issue in detail, but I do have a number of quibbles with you, my friend.

According to Boethius, the argument from authority is the weakest kind of argument. Now it looks to me like what you're saying is that for anyone to adequately understand post-Darwinian developments in evolutionary theory, he needs to be “a professional scientist at quite a high level.” Accordingly, you suggest that neither of us has the competence to assess the claims of these theoretical developments. But this makes me wonder whether your argument is little more than a blind appeal to the authority of these scientists, simply by virtue of their apparent numbers. After all, you say “those scientists all agree,” along with the “entire community of biologists,” that “some form of evolutionary theory is correct.”

This assumes a number of things about the scientific “community” and “science” itself that I find questionable. But for the moment, it seems that you are pitting these evolutionary scientists (to whom you suggest we respectfully defer) over against all those “mutually admiring cranks and conspiracy theorists” whose claims (to know more than these scientists) on the matter are arrogant “nonsense” and “gibberish.”

(Continued ...)





Pertinacious Papist

said...

(Continued ...)

First, while I could be wrong, this looks like you're assuming what C. S. Evans calls a “territorialist” view of the relationship between “science” and the traditional humanist and personalist understandings of the "mind," "soul," "intellect," and "will,” etc., shared by Christians and some others. The “territorialist” assumes that “science” has its own domain, and “theology” (for example) has its own domain, and that neither is competent to address the other.

The problem I have with this view is not merely the rigid bifurcation of reality into unrelated “territories,” but the Comtean/Positivist view of “science” it presupposes. The two subsidiary theses assumed by this view seem to me to be patently false: (1) the Scientism thesis, which assumes that “science” provides the ultimate truth about the whole of reality (which I trust you would reject), and (2) the Unity of Science thesis, which assumes that all science worthy of the name makes use of only the methods of hypothetical-deductive reasoning with “empirical data,” mechanical-causal analysis, and quantifiable observations. I'm wondering whether you don't accept the latter.

The problem with the latter, of course, is – to illustrate – that many of the components in the latest developments in mathematical physics, for example, are not the least bit “empirical,” but highly-speculative constructs built on mathematical models (mesons, hadrons, baryons, etc.), which are freighted with numerous tacit, pre-theoretical commitments and assumptions. As T. Kuhn shows, scientists work within tacitly assumed “paradigms,” such that “science” cannot prove its presuppositions scientifically; and as M. Polanyi amply illustrates, there is no knowledge from the point of view of nowhere, or, all “knowledge” is deeply “personal.” (Another good book: Roy Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality, published by Notre Dame.)

Granted, the Church was smart enough never to commit itself to the geocentric cosmology that prevailed throughout the nearly two millenia between Aristarchus of Samos and N. Copernicus, even though all the “scientific” experts at the time supported it (Caveat emptor:
Evolution)! In her wisdom, she allowed leeway for scientists to play their speculative parlor games of “saving the appearances” in the heavens, just as long as they yielded nothing of negative import for the Church's teaching on faith and morals. And it appears that this is more-or-less what Catholic theologians close to the magisterium have been saying that they're doing with scientific theories of “evolution” over the last century.

(Continued ...)





Pertinacious Papist

said...

(Continued ...)

The problem, however, is that theories of evolution in fact do have a great deal of import for theology and the Catholic understanding of human nature, and it doesn't take a PhD in biochemistry to see this. And this is why the Church has had voices opposed to macro-evolutionary theories from the beginning, as indicated by the author to whose work I linked in the original post. It is hardly of small consequence if the difference between man and non-man is only a difference of degree, or if one can no longer speak of stable “common natures” by which we apprehend the universal specifying forms of beings. Even Fr. Norris Clarke, S.J., points this out in his chapter on the metaphysics of evolution in his book,” The One and the Many. Hence, I disagree that one would not be within his epistemic rights to question the theoretical conclusions of experts, no matter how technically sophisticated their theories may be.

The Catholic physicist, Anthony Rizzi, in The Science Before Science, also shows how modern theories of mathematical physics are often built on a scaffolding of abstractions so far removed from pre-theoretical realities that only a fool would take some of their statements at face value. For example, if, as it has been said, the nucleus of an atom were the size of a basketball, the orbiting electrons would then be about a mile away, which leads to the “conclusion” that what appears to be “solid matter” to the naïve tyro is in fact mostly empty space. Tell that to the mother of a baby about to be run over by a Mack truck. This is about as convincing as Zeno's paradoxes, written in support of his master Parmenides' contention that all motion is illusion. Rizzi is particularly good on Gödel's paradox, but that's a detail.

(Continued ...)





Pertinacious Papist

said...

(Continued ...)

Second, the notion that only benighted fools would question Evolutionary theory is certainly widespread. Evolutionists like S. Gould, W. Provine, R. Dawkins, M. Ruse, etc., seem about as certain of their theory as they are about the earth going around the sun. Maybe you agree with them. I don't. And I'm going to ask why should we?

Michael Ruse trumpets, or perhaps screams, that "evolution is Fact, FACT, FACT!" In a review over a decade ago in the New York Times, Richard Dawkins claimed that "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet someone who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." (Indulgently, he added, however, that "You are probably not stupid, insane or wicked, and ignorance is not a crime...." How thoughtful of him.)

But why should this bother those of us who don't buy their theories? In fact, why should we worry at all about the attempts of modernists or secularists “discredit Catholics” these days, when being a nonrevisionist Catholic itself is sufficient to brand one an anti-deluvian moron if not a fanatic or a terrorist? (Now you're probably thinking that anti-evolutionists do, in fact, come close to such idiocy. But I'll deal with this later.)

Evolution obviously has deep religious connections with how we understand ourselves at a fundamental level. Evangelicals and fundamentalists and some Catholics see it as a threat. On the other hand, among secularists, evolution functions also as a myth (recalling the title of C.S. Lewis's essay, “Funeral of a Great Myth”).

“It was serving in this capacity,” writes A. Plantinga (in an essay of his that I cited in a previous comment) “that Richard Dawkins (according to Peter Medawar, 'one of the most brilliant of the rising generation of biologists') leaned over and remarked to A. J. Ayer at one of those elegant, candle-lit, bibulous Oxford dinners that he couldn't imagine being an atheist before 1859 (the year Darwin's Origin of Species was published); 'although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin,' said he, 'Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.' (Let me recommend Dawkins' book [The Blind Watchmaker, 1986] to you: it is brilliantly written, unfailingly fascinating, and utterly wrongheaded. It was second on the British best-seller list for some considerable time, second only to Mamie Jenkins' Hip and Thigh Diet.)”

(Continued ...)





Pertinacious Papist

said...

(Continued ...)

Thirdly, this notion that rejection of Evolution involves an adoption of “a foreign ideology produced by bitterly anti-Catholic fundamentalist Protestants,” is “irrational,” borne of the “sin of pride,” etc., strikes me as far-fetched. Fundamentalists of the Jack Chick variety have certainly been anti-Catholic, and even intelligent Presbyterians like J. Gresham Machen (author of the excellent Christianity and Liberalism) who saw much common ground in Catholicism would have protested certain Catholic doctrines. But though my reading is limited, I have encountered nothing anti-Catholic in the work of fundamentalist anti-evolutionists that I have read (Henry Madison Morris, Ken Ham, etc.)

More importantly, there have been Catholics who have opposed evolutionary theory, who decidedly distance themselves from “creationists.” I'm thinking of scientists who embrace “Intelligent Design” theory, like biochemist Michael Behe (and even Cardinal Schönborn seemed supportive in some earlier interviews). (Interestingly, Intelligent Design theory finds advocates among Jews, Muslims, and agnostics as well.)

Still more significantly, there have been numerous agnostics like Michael Denton (the British-Australian biochemist with his doctorate from King's College, London), who have staunchly resisted the claims of evolutionist theories – many of them Jewish and Nobel Prize winners: Paul Ehrlich (bacteriologist, Nobel laureate), Ferdinand Cohn (botinist, bacteriologist), Ernst Chain (biochemist, Nobel laureate), Arno Penzias (Astrophysicist Nobel Laureate, with honorary degrees from Rutgers and other institutions), David Berlinski, anti-religious agnostic Jewish (polymath, philosophy PhD Princeton, postdoc in math and molecular biology at Columbia, research fellow at International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria).

(Continued ...)





Pertinacious Papist

said...

(Continued ...)

Fourth, I reject the notion that you have to be an advanced-level researcher in molecular biology to identify the distinct smell of horse manure. If we left it to the Catholic “scientific expert” membership of the Catholic Biblical Society, we would probably soon be left with little more than the conclusions of R. Funk and D. Crossan's absurd “Jesus Seminar,” in which the Gospels becomes a wax nose and Jesus a 1960s-style hippie, a Marxist revolutionary, or a historical fiction, depending on which “scientific historical critical” theory you're reading.

It was the common sense of Mortimer Adler (as well as a great deal of reading in theology, philosophy, biology, psychology, neurology, and computer science) that enabled him to walk the reader through the critical issues involved in all these disciplines over the last century to the conclusion that the difference between man and non-man cannot be merely a difference of degree. He is utterly unprejudiced in his approach, much like the Angelic Doctor, even though he was still an agnostic when he completed this masterful work. (Not for the arrogant of heart!)

Darwin had no recourse to the fossil record, and based his theory of speciation upon the notion commonly called “missing links.” His assumption was that man developed from non-man by degrees along a pathway of phylogenetic continuity. His stepchildren modified his theories, as you point out; and it's interesting that his immediate successors, who finally delved into the fossil record (the paleoanthroplogists) reverted in practice to the assumption that man differs in kind from non-man in their efforts to identify which bone fragments, artifacts, etc., were properly “human” and which were not. Subsequent scholars suggested theories of “saltatory speciation” (by jumps), and allopatric speciation (due to geographic separation) or via polyploidy (explosion of genetic information via chromosomes). Ethologists suggested that bottle-nosed dolphins and chimps have language analogous to that of humans, overlooking the critical difference between signals (a cry for help), and designators used in syntactically-variable propositional speech. Throughout the process, it's clear that in many cases the tail of pre-theoretical commitment is wagging the dog of speculative theory. Adler's analysis of the use made by psychologists and ethologists of Lloyd Morgan's Canon is a particularly telling example.

In conclusion, my aim here has not been to get you to question “Evolution.” To do that, I would have to actually produce the detailed arguments that persuaded me, for which this would not be the place. I hope, however, that I have persuaded you that not everyone opposed to “Evolution” is an ignoramus or a “useful idiot” in bed with anti-Catholic fundamentalists. I place scientific theories about “evolution” in the same sort of category as scientific theories about “global warming” (now “climate change”), “same-sex attraction,” and “Keynesian vs. Austrian economics.” There is often more heat than light in these discussions, and not everyone is going to agree on the “science” behind the claims, because it's not necessarily all science (=knowledge) at all.





Doge of Venice

said...

Dear PP:

Thank you for the time spent responding to my comment. Let me at least address the first part of your response (11:06pm/ Friday) by defining and clarifying my terms (not particularly in the order of your summary).

Enriching.
We assent to the truth that God is a Trinity of Persons; that the Word is begotten of the Father; that the Holy Ghost proceeds from Father and Son. This is a judgement of what is real; what is. We cannot understand this fully, because the act of understanding God’s essence (form) IS God; beatific vision. So, in one sense, confessing this truth is sufficient for a Catholic. Yet, investigating conscious processions in the human intellect; observing how acts of finite understanding lead spontaneously to the exigences of making judgements; observing how love proceeds from the intellect into the will, and not from the will itself; these attempts at understanding divine processions by the analog of human intellect are enriching and edifying in our confession of Faith.

Know.
Judgement of the real; of what is; of being. Human knowing is tripartite, for reality proportionate to man is composed of potency-form-act. For judgement, see Newman's 'illative sense'.

Insight.
Act of understanding; grasping an intelligible unity in image/ phantasm. From this act proceeds the speaking of an inner word (the 'verbum'), which is the formation of concept, from which outer words are written or spoken.

Science.
Explanation of a thing, as opposed to description of a thing in relation to us. For example, the shift from ‘weight’ to ‘mass’, the latter being something man does not directly experience. Classical concept had been deducing what ‘must be’ from necessary principles; modern concept is a method, and is ever open to revision from new observations. Even if the modern concept has conquered men’s minds, we see that any future revisions must always occur under the same structure of experience-understanding-judgement, and thus we can conceive a metaphysics and rightly speak of reality; of what is.

Empirical science.
Methodical observation of sensible reality. Matter in its (sensible) primary qualities (that which is necessary for abstracting the essence, or form of a thing: the ‘species intelligibilis’) and it secondary qualities (residual particulars of time & space; non-systematic divergences in actual things vs. ideal; qualities positively given, into which we can have no direct insight of intelligibility, but which are nonetheless part of a concrete accounting of a thing).

Probability (more proper to Darwin than my previous use of ‘statistics’)
The secondary qualities mentioned above become important with Galileo. Laws are worked out later by Newton which are valid for primary qualities and abstract cases, yet there are the statistical residues of particular cases. These move us into the notion of probability and schemes of recurrence, which is a higher operation subsuming a lower. The atoms in an animal at any given time behave according to the iron laws of Newton, yet the animal encounters particular environments, eats particular matter, runs from particular predators, etc., and higher level operations (organs, for instance) subsume the lower level realities in order to handle situations unique and distinct from any ever faced (or to be faced again).

Perhaps I will write more later. At least this qualifies my first comment, and may demonstrate that my starting point is Scholastic philosophy and method. Pagans of old understood something about the world, and moderns do, too. There’s no ‘waiting for scientists to tell us’ in my argument, but rational men observing the natural world and making deductions will necessarily grasp something of reality. When they start talking, they quickly move into philosophy, which they are not equipped to handle, and then we must be extremely critical of their conclusions about the whole of reality.





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Doge,

Thanks for your patient and elegant definitions. Many of them are reminiscent of B. Longergan.

When reading your definition of "empirical science," I wondered how mathematical physics of non-observable sub-atomic quarks (in all six "flavors") could qualify as an empirical science. Maybe it can't, or maybe the definition of "empirical" would require some adjustment. Anyway, interesting.

I would not deny that climate-change scientists as rational men, in many cases on the opposite sides of interpretation, "grasp something of reality" when they each appeal to some statistical "data" or other in support of their claims. It is their conflicting interpretations of reality, however, that I think we find interesting and important in our quest for the truth about reality.

For instance, when National Geographic reported in 2007 that Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, found that the polar ice caps on Mars had been shrinking for three summers in a row and concluded that "The long-term increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars," the article concluded that "Abdussamatov's work, however, has not been well received by other climate scientists."

The reason is obvious: anthropogenic global greenhouse warming based on carbon emissions on earth cannot be responsible for the shrinking ice caps on Mars. The primary animus motivating the prevailing climate change "science" (as harnessed politically in order to nix the Keystone Pipeline, clean coal industry, etc.) is threatened by Abdussamatov's findings. At bottom is the issue of interpretation of "data" and truth.

The problem is illustrated by Wittgenstein's illustration of the Duck-Rabbit: different theories can consider the very same body of "data" and arrive at utterly contrary conclusions that cannot both be right. Human interpretations are limited not only by our natural finitude, but by conflicting biases that are both prejudicial and unavoidable (indeed, necessary, as H.G. Gadamer would insist), and the claims of truth are irrepressible.

Thank you. -- PP





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Doge,

Thanks for your patient and elegant definitions. Many of them are reminiscent of B. Longergan.

When reading your definition of "empirical science," I wondered how mathematical physics of non-observable sub-atomic quarks (in all six "flavors") could qualify as an empirical science. Maybe it can't, or maybe the definition of "empirical" would require some adjustment. Anyway, interesting.

I would not deny that climate-change scientists as rational men, in many cases on the opposite sides of interpretation, "grasp something of reality" when they each appeal to some statistical "data" or other in support of their claims. It is their conflicting interpretations of reality, however, that I think we find interesting and important in our quest for the truth about reality.

For instance, when National Geographic reported in 2007 that Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, found that the polar ice caps on Mars had been shrinking for three summers in a row and concluded that "The long-term increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars," the article concluded that "Abdussamatov's work, however, has not been well received by other climate scientists."

The reason is obvious: anthropogenic global greenhouse warming based on carbon emissions on earth cannot be responsible for the shrinking ice caps on Mars. The primary animus motivating the prevailing climate change "science" (as harnessed politically in order to nix the Keystone Pipeline, clean coal industry, etc.) is threatened by Abdussamatov's findings. At bottom is the issue of interpretation of "data" and truth.

The problem is illustrated by Wittgenstein's illustration of the Duck-Rabbit: different theories can consider the very same body of "data" and arrive at utterly contrary conclusions that cannot both be right. Human interpretations are limited not only by our natural finitude, but by conflicting biases that are both prejudicial and unavoidable (indeed, necessary, as H.G. Gadamer would insist), and the claims of truth are irrepressible.

Thank you. -- PP





John Lamont

said...

Pertinacious Papist:

I'll try not to go on too long in responding to your points. I do not have any theoretical account of science or scientists in mind in my remarks. By scientists I mean those people who devote their working lives to the study of some aspect of the natural world, and by science I mean the methods used by these people and the results they arrive at using these methods. In the case of evolution considered in itself, the scientists in question are the people who study living things. (With young-earth creationism the scientists also include those who study the earth and the fundamental properties of physical things, but I will leave this form of creationism aside.) I think the human intellect has the capacity to know reality as it is - a tenet that is upheld by the Church as well as by sound philosophy - and hence I think that these scientists will have arrived at the truth or something close to the truth in their basic conclusions about the thing they are investigating, viz. biological life in the universe. Of course this does not mean that they are correct or worth taking seriously when they make claims about things that lie outside the scope of their area of expertise, such as the immaterial rational soul - which is not a biological entity - or about the nature of knowledge itself. Accepting the authority of these scientists is the rational thing to do, because there is no other reasonable means of forming beliefs about the subject on which they are experts. We all do this in many areas of practical and theoretical endeavour; following the consensus of doctors on medicine and lawyers on the law, believing the authors of grammatical textbook about the rules of a given language, etc. There are of course cases where this consensus is later revealed to be wrong. But such cases cannot extend to the basic foundations of a discipline's account of its subject matter. If these basic foundations are wrong, then we do not have a discipline of knowledge at all. Instead we have a pseudo-discipline, like phrenology. Biology is not such a pseudo-discipline; this is shown by its success in explaining and predicting its subject, and by its responsible use of methods that are known to be reliable, such as controlled observation and experiment, and mathematical and statistical analysis. Evolutionary theory is one of its foundations. It has in fact become more central over time, as it has been extended to areas such as microbiology where it formerly had little role. It should thus be accepted - in its basic outlines, subject to future changes that will no doubt occur as science advances, and so on - by those who are not biologists. The handful of scientists whom you cite do not add up to an absence of scientific consensus on evolution, not least because they do not all in fact reject it (Paul Ehrlich does not, for example). There is no parallel with Dominic Crossan and the Jesus Seminar; they are not an entire scientific discipline, they do not use scientific methods, and they do not have any scientific success to their credit.

Any challenge to this theory, if it is to be worth consideration, has to be based at a minimum on a thorough understanding of the evidence upon which it is based. This is a requirement of any reasoned criticism, and it includes precisely the knowledge required to get a Ph.D in molecular biology - as well as in a number of other disciplines.





John Lamont

said...

[cont'd]

Accepting that the position of current biology on evolution is broadly correct does not mean holding that science is the only form of knowledge, or accepting the 'unity of science' thesis as you describe it. It does mean accepting that 'hypothetical-deductive reasoning with “empirical data,” mechanical-causal analysis, and quantifiable observations' are reliable sources of knowledge: but we should accept that. Nor does it mean rejecting the idea of common natures by which we apprehend the universal specifying forms of beings; it is a theory that seeks to explain the origin of some of these natures. Nor does it mean accepting that the difference between men and animals is merely a matter of degree. These claims are not part of the evolutionary theory that biologists accept - obviously so, since they are not claims about the explanation of biological species and biological characteristics; and these claims are what evolutionary theory is about.

Your mention of Richard Dawkins is to the point. Christian opponents of evolution enable him to present Christian belief as irrational, because their form of it actually is irrational, for the reasons given above. They are a gift to his antireligious campaign. That is their contribution to the struggle between belief and unbelief.





Pertinacious Papist

said...

Dear John,

I'm not quite sure how I should respond, or whether I even should. On the one hand, I'm not altogether surprised at your views, because I've known people I greatly respect (in particular a Cal-Tech grad who's a good friend, as well as the late great Fr. Stanley Jaki – both far more erudite than I) who have held similar views to yours. I respect you as well, as you well-know. On the other hand, there are some statements you make that really do strike me as a bit too “trusting.” (One book that I found helpful, which lately came to mind, is Science & Its Limits: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective by Prof. Del Ratzsch at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI.)

Perhaps I've sat too long at the feet of the “Masters of Suspicion” who have always taught me to look for the subtext beneath any set of statements, but when scientists announce on TV, for example, that the universe is 13 billion years old, I immediately ask myself: “How do they know this? Why not 13.5 billion years?” Obviously they're working with a highly abstract mathematical formula scaffolded on many assumptions. Wikipedia reports, for instance, that “the best measurement of the age of the universe is 13.798±0.037 billion years ((13.798±0.037)×109 years or (4.354±0.012)×1017 seconds) within the Lambda-CDM concordance model. This is precisely the point. As I've said before, these mathematicized assumptions are not themselves part of the scientific data. They are assumptions, hypothetical conditions freighted with philosophical and metaphysical presuppositions.

You may be a better man for being more “trusting” and less “suspicious” than I. To be trusting is a good thing where trust is called for and deserved. We should be trusting in the intelligibility of God's creation and in our God-given capacity to apprehend that reality. There is such a thing as truth, the possibility of adequate certitude about basic principles, etc.-- whether about biology, or, as you say, in medicine, law, or grammar.

It could also be that you're too trusting, however. In all that you tell me about “science” and “scientific method,” I find it hard to shake this thought. It sounds to me as if we were stuck in a 1950s view of science, where the Encyclopedia Brittanica could be counted on to offer an authoritative report on the state of scientific knowledge on most anything. If it were politics we were talking about, it would seem that we lived in the hopeful world of John Kennedy and John Courtney Murray rather than Barack Obama and Rusty Reno. If it were medicine, we would be living in the day of house calls by family doctors rather than physicians administering abortions and sex-change operations funded by Obamacare. If it were law, we would be dealing with the world in which Robert Bork was censured during the Senate hearings for Supreme Court Nominations by Senator Joe Biden because he did not believe in natural law, rather than in the world where Clarence Thomas was censured by the same Senator because he did believe in natural law (see the late great Harvard Law School prof. Harold Berman's masterful Law and Revolution). If it were grammar, we would be living in a world where masculine third person singular pronouns were accepted as gender-inclusive rather than in a world where “they” or “them” were considered appropriate to serve in the same capacity even though they butcher the laws of grammar.

(Continued ...)





Pertinacious Papist

said...

(Continued ...)

Statements that exemplify this all-too-trusting attitude, at least from my modest point of view, would include: “Accepting the authority of these scientists is the rational thing to do....” (It is? Would it have been so during the two-millennia dominance of Ptolmaic geocentrism?) “Consensus is sometimes revealed later to be wrong, but such cases can't extend to the basic foundations of a discipline's account of its subject matter.” (It can't? But isn't this exactly what Kuhn describes as happening during a paradigm shift, when the foundations of the old framework are shattered? I have a physicist friend at Carnegie-Mellon Univ. who is in a quandary because the fundamental principles of physics he thought he could bank on have betrayed him.) “Evolutionary theory is one of [biology's] foundations.” (It is? Perhaps you mean that Evolution is one of the fundamental prevailing assumptions among biologists, and I would agree. But Evolutionary theory, which is a grand speculative hypothesis with all sorts of unresolved gaps, is necessary foundation to the study of biotic life? How so? It strikes me as about as foundational to biology as String Theory is to Physical Science, or Global Warming to Climate Science, which is to say not at all. These are mere speculative theories, at best.) “If these basic foundations are wrong, then we do not have a discipline of knowledge at all. Instead we have a pseudo-discipline, like phrenology. Biology is not such a pseudo-discipline; this is shown by its success in explaining and predicting its subject, and by its responsible use of methods that are known to be reliable, such as controlled observation and experiment, and mathematical and statistical analysis.” (Granting that Biology is a proper discipline of science, as I accept, how is Evolutionary theory yielded by its “reliable methods of controlled observation and experiment and mathematical and statistical analysis”? Only micro-evolutionary changes within a species (of, say, moths) are susceptible to such methods; but the heart of the grand evolutionary myth is macro - evolutionary development of one “species” into another, ultimately even across the divisions of inorganic, organic, sentient, and rational. How are these theories based on such “reliable methods of controlled observation and experiment,” etc.?)

All of this appeal to “data,” “foundations,” “knowledge,” together with your appeal to the value of having a “PhD” in assessing these disputes, reminds me of a distinction I encountered among Catholics in their view of the relationship of reason to faith. The first is Fr. F. C. Copleston's view, set forth in his multi-volume History of Philosophy, where he says that there can be no such thing as “Christian Philosophy.” The moment Philosophy entertains presuppositions of faith, he says, it is no longer Philosophy, but Theology. This is the sort of view that I think was quite prevalent among Catholics in the past and even in many circles up into our own day. It assumes that “facts” can be separated from “values” in a sort of tidy “territorial truce,” and that philosophy – along with “science” – are to be conducted under the neutral and non-partisan auspices of “natural reason.” This view meshes with Kantianism in many ways. It sees reason, science, and rational theorizing as principally a religiously-“neutral” activity. (The definitive refutation of this view, in my opinion, is Herman Dooyeweerd's 4-volume New Critique of Theoretical Thought, particular his critique of “The Pretended Autonomy of Theoretical Thought” in Vol. I.)


(Continued ...)





Pertinacious Papist

said...

(Continued ...)

The second is represented by St. John Paul II's Fides et Ratio, in which the Pope defends the notion of a distinctively “Christian Philosophy,” as well as the need for “reason” itself, which is “fallen,” to be “redeemed.” On this view, as Abraham Kuyper would aver from another quarter, there is not one square inch of our lives of which Christ does not say: “This is mine!” “Render unto Caesar … and to God ...” does not mean that Caesar is autonomous and independent of divine authority, but that whatever his proper jurisdiction may be, that he too is ultimately accountable to God.

I offer these generalities only to illustrate how I view all theoretical activity: none of it is autonomous or independent of the claims of God. This doesn't turn biology into theology (as the likes of Copleston might have thought if it were suggested to him), but that even biology can be pursued in a way that is faithful or inimical to the claims of Christ and His Church. (I would add that the error of theories that are inimical to the Catholic Faith lies is not primarily in their failure to conform to Catholic teaching, but in their failure to offer a coherent account of their own data.)

An illustration: my first love was psychology. In high school while in Japan I read Man's Search for Meaning by V. Frankl, the founder of the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy (Logotherapy) and an Auschwitz survivor. I returned to the States determined to major in psychology. During my first class, I was confronted with a behaviorist prof excited about stimulus and response theory and experimenting on rats in cages. I was dismayed. Eventually I learned that there were multiple schools of psychology (Freud, Adler, Jung, Rogers, Marxist, Existentialist, Gestalt, etc.), rather than a neutral value-free discipline that just dealt with “the facts” of psychology. These differences, furthermore, were based on differing underlying philosophical assumptions about human nature. Behaviorism, for example, aspiring to become a “rigorous science,” redefined its subject matter as the study of, not the publicly unobservable subjective “soul” or “mind,” but observable external behavior, which could be measured and quantified; and it denied the existence or relevance of anything inside the “black box” of human consciousness in its analysis of external stimuli and physiological responses. As a result, Skinner wrote Beyond Freedom and Dignity, in which he declared C.S. Lewis a threat to scientific advancement because of his adherence to outmoded notions of “free choice” and “responsibility.” Behaviorist theory, “scientific” though it may claim to be, is utterly inimical to Christian anthropology in its metaphysical presuppositions. This doesn't mean that it lacks insights into conditioned responses, which can be employed in animal training or child rearing. But metaphysical behaviorism (as opposed to methodological behaviorism) goes way beyond “observation” in its claims, allowing its reductionist assumptions to color its conclusions. So do most Evolutionary theories, I would claim.

(Continued ...)





Pertinacious Papist

said...

(Continued ...)

Finally, I can't believe that you would have us humbly submit to Evolutionary theory for the sake of pacifying the likes of Richard Dawkins, with his preponderance of altogether non-scientific agitprop screed, much less make such submission a sort a condition for a rational presentation of the Gospel. I thought Cardinal Pell in his debate with Dawkins (on YouTube) rather made micemeat of his own position by doing just that – conceding too much and nearly throwing the baby out with the bathwater. With all the intellectual resources the Catholic now has at his disposal, there is no excuse for anyone to be cowed by a buffoon like Dawkins, either on account of his fine pedigree as an Oxford Don or his loquacious British accent, and let him get away with bamboozling his audience with bald insinuation and unsupportable nonsense. I would love to see a well-informed Catholic American – especially one with a good Southern hillbilly accent – open a can of whupass on the arrogant cuss.