Monday, February 16, 2009

Vatican buries the hatchet with Charles Darwin

From the London Times courtesy of my old pal Matt:

Professor Leclerc said that too many opponents of Darwin – above all Creationists – had mistakenly claimed that his theories were “totally incompatible with a religious vision of reality”, as did proponents of Intelligent Design.

Darwin’s theories had never been formally condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, Monsignor Ravasi insisted. His rehabilitation had begun as long ago as 1950, when Pius XII described evolution as a valid scientific approach to the development of humans. In 1996 John Paul II said that it was “more than a hypothesis”.

Father Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, Professor of Theology at the Pontifical Santa Croce University in Rome, said that Darwin had been anticipated by St Augustine of Hippo. The 4th-century theologian had “never heard the term evolution, but knew that big fish eat smaller fish” and that forms of life had been transformed “slowly over time”. Aquinas had made similar observations in the Middle Ages, he added.

He said it was time that theologians as well as scientists grappled with the mysteries of genetic codes and “whether the diversification of life forms is the result of competition or cooperation between species”. As for the origins of Man, although we shared 97 per cent of our “genetic inheritance” with apes, the remaining 3 per cent “is what makes us unique”, including religion

More here.

Here's a comment Matt included in the email he sent me with the link to the above excerpted article:

Interesting stuff. And thankless - the hard core evolution types will still think they're mystical morons and the evangelicals will say, "see, told you Catholics weren't Christians!"

Personally, I think they got it right...
...and if I had enough faith to call myself a believer, I'd agree with Matt that the Catholics are right on this--why can't what scientists have discovered about physical reality be God's design? But then, this is no surprise to me. An institution cannot exist for as long as the Catholic Church has without an ability to evolve and adapt to different times and places--it took hundreds of years, but they did eventually pardon Galileo for asserting that the Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than vice versa.

Not having been personally burned by them, I've always liked the Catholics. I mean, this is a sliding scale, of course; I must admit to having numerous deep ideological issues with Catholicism, but they didn't mess with my head the way that Southern Baptists did. And what I like about Catholics is their traditional emphasis on rational thought and philosophy. You can have some good conversations with them, especially if they went to a good Catholic school. They don't get all offended by skepticism: they take it as an intellectual challenge, and fun debate often ensues, totally the opposite of Protestant evangelicals who start to shout when challenged.

Don't get me wrong. You eventually get to a point in the discussion where faith and religious irrationality start to play a bigger role, but it's always a fun ride until you get there. The bottom line is that science plays a much bigger role in Catholic cosmology than it does with their retarded cousins, the evangelicals. Religious debate starts with irrationality for the fundamentalists--it ends with irrationality for the Catholics.

That, too, is no surprise when you compare the institutional structures of these two varieties of Christianity. Catholicism is hierarchical, with virtually all its clergy and leaders steeped in general philosophy, as well as theology. That is, you don't have any power or authority in the Catholic Church unless you're formally educated in the traditional European liberal arts curriculum. For that matter, the Catholics invented the entire concept of college education--historically, all universities are descended from the monastery. Intelligence and thought are quite literally embedded in the Catholic tradition. They have to think about this shit, deeply.

And then they tell their less educated rank-and-file parishioners what to believe. Okay, that's a major defect in their top-down institutional structure, lack of free thought among the masses, but it appears to be counterbalanced, somewhat, by the philosophy emphasis among the elite.

Contrast that with the diffusely non-hierarchical and anti-intellectual structures among fundamentalists. They have loosely affiliated seminaries, yes, but this isn't a Catholic education--these institutions tend to be much more dogmatic, more about rote learning than philosophical theologizing. And many evangelical churches are led by ministers who have not attended seminary at all. Pretty much anybody, from any background, can rise to a leadership role among the evangelicals, and, boy lemme tell you, they do. That is, fundamentalists are anti-education dumbshits who, as their first principle, insist that the Bible is to be understood literally. A simple maxim for a simple people. For the evangelical, when science appears to be in conflict with the plain literal meaning of the Bible, God's word must necessarily trump.

The democracy-loving American in me loves the fundamentalists' bottom-up organizational structure, but I have to admit that such looseness has resulted in mob rule. And when you get enough of these types together it really does start to resemble the French Revolution. It is ironic, indeed, that the stricter top-down hierarchy of Catholicism makes Catholic thought more rational.

Anyway, good for the Catholics!

I'd like to think that maybe this will inspire the fundamentalists to go the same way, but then I realize that Protestants have been defining themselves as "not Catholic" for five hundred years, and evolution will now likely be just another reason for Catholics to go to Hell.