Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lean Stupid: msnbc Tackles Catholicism and Science, Fails Miserably

"Oh, are we seriously having this discussion again? Fine. ANDREA! HOLD MY CALLS!"
So, there's this guy, right? His name is Daniel Berger, and he fancies himself a "Political Junkie/Policy Wonk" and is msnbc's Community Editor. He's kind of a big deal.

He also just so happened to have the most popular article on for much of Tuesday, featuring this completely-not-sensationalistic-and-totally-journalistic headline:

Pictured: Subtlety.
The article in question covers Pope Francis' recent comments supporting the theories of evolution and the Big Bang, asserting that he is taking Church teaching in a new direction and contradicting the theology of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. As a really important, obviously qualified journalist™, surely Dan's got his facts right? Right?

Let's see where Francis is "[b]reaking with his predecessor" on the issue of evolution:
Francis explained that both evolution and the Big Bang are not incompatible with the existence of God. In fact, he said, they “require it.”
'Kay. So, Papa Frankie Fresh is cool with evolution, as long as God did it. Seems legit. Now, what about Pope B-Unit?
The language was a notable departure from Benedict XVI and his close advisers, who had voiced support for the idea that intelligent design underpins evolution. In 2005, close Benedict associate Cardinal Schoenborn wrote a New York Times op-ed in which he declared, “evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense – an unguided, unplanned process – is not.”
So, Francis says evolution is okay, if God did it, and a "close associate" of Benedict says it's okay, if God did it. Basically, they're saying the exact same thing, except they're not. Basically.

The man is right.
First off, let's actually quote Benedict on the matter of evolution, shall we?
Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called "creationism" and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance. [Emphasis added.]
But, you know what? I'll cut Dan some slack here. The quote he proffered to show Benedict's supposed Creationist tendencies was from 2005. This quote is from an address he gave in 2007. Perhaps the Bavarian Pontiff, wait for it, evolved on the issue. And perhaps this article won't get any more clever than this. Which is a sad commentary on me and my wit.

Let's see what Benny had to say back when he was still just boring ol' Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Grand Inquisitor Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, in 1995:
We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the 'project' of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary—rather than mutually exclusive—realities. [Emphasis added]
Um, okay. Fine. Say, you know who was Pope at the time? John Paul II. He's a Saint, you know. Really popular guy, to say the least. I mean, maybe Dan was just one Pope off. Surely, this Polish guy, he was a scientific troglodyte. From 1996:
In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points.
Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory. [Emphasis added.]
Wait, what? Pius XII? He was Pope before Vatican II. JPII must have been high on incense, or something. There's no way that, in 1950, Pius was okay with evol—
[T]he Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.
Oh, that was... measured of him. But, okay, wait. Pius did hold to the clearly unscientific view that all present-day humans had to have come from a single couple (i.e. Adam and Eve), so he's still just spinning a fairy tale, right? Well, I mean, unless you disregard the seriously discussed theories of Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosomal Adam, sure.

All right. One last chance. Catholic opinion nearly a century after Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species would logically be more muted and less dogmatic. Those silly Papists had decades to come to their senses and figure out that Genesis is just some dumb story, right?
As to the Divine Design, is it not an instance of incomprehensibly and infinitely marvellous Wisdom and Design to have given certain laws to matter millions of ages ago, which have surely and precisely worked out, in the long course of those ages, those effects which He from the first proposed. Mr Darwin's theory need not then to be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill. Perhaps your friend has got a surer clue to guide him than I have, who have never studied the question, and I do not [see] that 'the accidental evolution of organic beings' is inconsistent with divine design — It is accidental to us, not to God. [Emphasis added]
That would be Blessed John Henry Newman, the renowned Anglican cleric who founded the Oxford Movement, was received into the Roman Catholic Church and would later become a Cardinal. He wrote that in 1868, while Darwin was still alive.

Well, uh, but... the Big Bang theory! Why aren't you talking about that?

Probably because it was first posited by Georges Lemaître, a Belgian astronomer, cosmologist, professor of physics and... Roman Catholic priest.

Fun Fact: One of these guys proved that our Universe is expanding, not static. Can you guess which? (Hint: It's not Einstein.)
I shot a bunch of tweets at Berger earlier on this matter, and he has yet to respond. He probably won't respond to this blog post either, but really, we shouldn't be surprised. The current media narrative pitting Francis against Benedict is par for the course. A story is boring without conflict, and the Church simply doesn't fit within the media's understanding of what makes for good entertainment.

It is easy to take apart the Church's vast array of teaching like a lazy student reading only the chapter summaries of a science text, without fuller context. But the Church cannot be distilled into such grossly reductionist terms. The Church and the corpus of her teaching must be read as a storybook, from cover to cover, with every chapter, every line, every word, every syllable and every character who illustrates that story read, studied and absorbed in total — and then read again.

But hey, if you want to read the Catholic Church's Cliff's Notes, I suppose there's always the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It's not that long.

This post was brought to you by the scientific method, which was brought to you by Bishop Robert Grosseteste, Friar Roger Bacon, Friar Theodoric of Freiberg, Friar William of Ockham, Father Jean Buridan and Saint and Doctor of the Church Albertus Magnus — all of whom have absolutely nothing in common.


  1. That was fantastic, Damian!

  2. Enjoyed reading this! Whole is nourishing. Reductionist is fast food junk. Loved the last line.

  3. Thanks for linking to this from Facebook. I'm going to bookmark it--and I KNOW it will come in handy in the future.