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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pope Benedict's comments on evolution: Hey, don't read too much into media spin

There's been a fair amount of speculation based on media reports. But media reports are almost never a good source of information on Catholic teachings, so let's wait and see. Most deadtrees see their role as promoting materialism. So even if they understood what the Pope was saying, reporters would feel duty bound to garble it.

Jay Richards, a research fellow at the Acton Institute and co-author of Privileged Planet [remember the Smithsonian uproar? No no, not the one that involved Rick Sternberg, the other one] offers some thoughts as to why such reports are almost never a useful source of information:

I suspect there's a translation problem here. Reading between the lines, it looked like Benedict said some pretty strong things. Of course he's challenging scientism and calling for a broader concept of reason than is contained in experimental science. That's easy for classically informed philosophers and phylogenists to understand. But you can be sure that exactly 0% of reporters and 1% of readers will understand that. What every reporter will take away is that all this talk about God, purpose, and design are private, since in modern parlance, only "science" constitutes public knowledge. Thus the story ends: ""This ... inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science ... where did this rationality come from?" he asked. Answering his own question, he said it came from the "creative reason" of God."" Thus is the dispute domesticated into categories acceptable to the secularist. God gets to be discussed in conversations that go "beyond science," along with fairies and the Easter bunny.

This issue is just not that complicated, despite the sociological pressures to keep the fog machines going at all times. Either (some or all) of the history and complexity of life are the product of design or they're not. Either that design is discernible or it's not. Evolution is either purely random or it's not. Not even God can direct an undirected process. Complicated discussions about the definition of "philosophy," "reason," and "science" are dull blades. The reader is thus left to vaguely believe something that I'm sure is not true: that the Pope endorses a two-truths view, according to which Darwinism works as "science" (narrowly defined) but theological types get to talk about God as long as they call it philosophy and promise not to make trouble for the Darwinists.

No, I'll bet B-16 doesn't think that either. For a more credible idea of Catholic thought on the subject, go here.

Here are some stories I posted at the Post-Darwinist yesterday:

Origin of life: Tangled skein continues to tangle

Intelligent design and popular culture: Psychiatrist tries analyzing ID folk en masse

Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth, offers some insight into why Darwin's theory was controversial and how long it took most evangelicals to actually "get it":

The tragedy is not just that evangelicals failed to meet the challenge: For the most part they did not even recognize it. As good Baconians, evangelicals denied the role of philosophical assumptions in science - and thus they were powerless to critique and counter the new assumptions when they appeared on the intellectual horizon. A great many of them simply took the facts that Darwin presented and inserted them into the older philosophy of nature as an open system - not realizing, apparently, that the older philosophy was precisely what was under attack.

Great news! ID theorist Mike Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution, following up on Darwin's Black Box, has already attracted a profoundly negative review - and it is not even published yet.

Re the recent accusations that the ID guys are in denial: Here's a link to an interesting column on the origin of "denial" as an alleged problem in the wilds of therapy talk. You'd think sci guys would want to steer clear of that goop, but hey.

Oh, you STILL can't sleep?: A few brief notes to make wakefulness fun


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