Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Catholic View of Evolution and Darwinism; Part II - How it All Relates

Assuming you read Part I, welcome back!  If you have not yet done so, i highly recommend you do. 

      Evolution and darwinism are not the same thing, nor are creationism and intelligent design.  Evolution is a completely legitimate scientific theory.  Darwinism is an absurdest philosophy masquerading as natural science.  Evolutionists and creationists are opposed to one another but they are both attempting to answer the same question; how did we get here?  They want to provide the efficient cause of humanity, earth and the universe.  Darwinism and intelligent design are similarly diametrically opposed, but they too are trying to answer a singular question; why are we here.  They want to explain the final cause.
      I consider myself a theistic evolutionist.  That is, i believe in an intelligent design to the universe but i accept evolution as God's modus operandi in creation.  It does not matter to me if you believe in evolution or creationism.  The theological truths about God and the universe are largely unaffected by what position you take there.  I would much rather spend my time blasting darwinism and upholding intelligent design.  However, i feel i should give a brief explanation for my position and i'll do that near the end.
      Evolution seems to fit well with naturalism as it doesn't expressly call for a supernatural outside force.  As i said last week, there is nothing inherently wrong with naturalism so long as it is merely methodological.  The problem arises when one corrupts it into metaphysical naturalism.
      Metaphysics is the study of being, it is the purest form of philosophy, seeking to understand the formal and final causes; what we are and why we are here.  Naturalism is the assumption of purely natural causality.  When it is applied to metaphysics we are left with a philosophy of being which rejects anything beyond the seen, beyond the natural.  This is, of course, incomparable with creationism and so it strives to find footing in evolution.  The resulting monstrosity is known as darwinism.
      Although this may at first seem a match made in heaven (forgive the pun), we quickly come upon two major problems.  The first problem is the law of entropy.  This argument has been used ad nauseum against evolution, and that is not my intention here, especially considering that it doesn't work.  However, the argument does have some weight against darwinism.  Entropy is sameness or disorder.  The law of entropy states that in a closed system the amount of entropy can only increase.  That is, assuming no outside force, things only ever get more similar and less complex.  Consider a camp fire reducing the wooden logs to their base components.  The diversity and complexity of the wood are gone.  Only ash remains.
      Evolution calls for a growing of complexity and diversity over time, seemingly in direct contradiction to the law of entropy.  The only explanation is that this isn't a closed system.  The darwinist would argue the decrees in entropy in evolution is attributable to increased entropy elsewhere, namely the sun and to a much lesser extent the earth.  However, just think about that.  What is really more impressive?  A universe simply snapped into existence with all the complexities already in place or a universe which gradually unfolds in time with the capacity to grow in complexity despite a tendency towards ciaos?  The second one calls out for God with far greater subtlety, but it calls out for a God far more worthy of being called out to.
      The second problem is easier to express and harder to refute.  Evolution is a process.  By definition it has to start somewhere.  You can't have infinite regression.  This is an old argument, but it still works just as well.  There must be a first mover, an uncaused cause, to set the entire process in motion.  Darwinism can't account for this.  In Catholic theology this is the very definition of God, the first mover, the uncaused cause.  Evolution can't tell me if God really is personal or loving or even sentient, but it tells me God exists.
      Creationism and evolution both call out for God, they just do it in different ways.  Creationism is more blatant, evolution is more subtle.  Creationism is in a hurry, evolution is more patient.  While creationism screams for God's existence, evolution suffices with a whisper.
      Intelligent design can be taken on multiple levels, but at it's core it simply says there is a reason for existence beyond random chance, that there is a God who is sentient and who designed the laws by which our universe functions.  It allows for meaning and purpose in existence.  It says there is more than just what we see.  Although it is usually paired with creationism, there is no reason to reject evolution as the means for this intelligent design. 

      I won't say creationism is a legitimate scientific theory, but there are many very intelligent people who embrace it.  I think creationists are wrong, but they do have some good arguments, and they keep evolutionists honest.  They even expose serious flaws in the theory of evolution which might otherwise go undressed.  However, when all is said and done, i thing the hard scientific evidence supports evolution.  In addition, when you contemplate how God has worked through history, evolution seems to fit better.  God didn't just just snap Israel into existence; he started with one guy and grew it into a family and then a tribe and then a nation and a kingdom.  Out of Israel He brought the Church, starting with the twelve disciples and growing it like a mustard seed into the billion strong liturgical empire we have today.  God created a temporal universe in order to lay foundations and build on them over time.  If He follows this pattern in recorded history, why not in prerecorded history?
      When all is said and done, i think creationists make the same mistake as darwinists.  They confuse natural science with theology.  Creationists and darwinists fail to realize that these things have different ends.  Natural science wants to understand how we got here and evolution provides an answer.  Theology tries to explain why we are here and evolution cannot answer this question, only God can.  The fatal flaw of darwinism is looking to natural science when the answers can't be found in nature.  The fatal flaw of creationism is the exact opposite.  The Bible has history in it, but it is not by its natural a historical textbook.  The purpose of the Bible is to answer theological questions, the questions of why.
      Evolution can tell us how we got here, but it cannot tell us why we are here.  The Bible doesn't say how God made us, only that God made us.  The Bible tells us we are made in the image of God, to manifest His authority on earth.  The Bible tells us we are here to glorify Him by loving one another.  It tells us how to find the meaning of existence, the purpose of our being, true happiness and fulfillment.

      I guess, for creationists, that's just not enough. 

<< - To Part I

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Catholic View of Evolution and Darwinism; Part I - The Philosophical Background

I'm a theologian, not an historian.  In my last two entries i've tried to delve a bit into history in order to lay a foundation for this discussion; the apparent dichotomy between science and religion.  I've attempted to show how this idea grew out of the enlightenment and i've striven to demonstrate how the supposed examples of this conflict are mythical.  Today i would like to begin an examination of it in light of the modern debate on evolution.
      I'm not really interested in discussing evolution as a scientific theory.  That would be outside my pay grade.   Rather, i think this is an excellent time to discuss science in general: What is science?  How ought we to pursue science?  Why should we pursue science at all?  In part II i'll consider the four terms; evolution, Darwinism, creationism and intelligent design.  Specifically, their relation to Catholicism and the philosophical concepts which i'll discuss here.
      To begin we need to cover some philosophy.  Although not directly related to evolution, understanding these classifications will allow us to understand the difference between pre-enlightenment and post-enlightenment thought.  Ancient Greek thinkers discussed four causes, or preconditions for existence.  These correspond to the three major questions we have discussed in previous posts; what, how and why.
      The first cause is the efficient cause.  This is how the thing came to be, how it was created.  For example, i am the efficient cause of my computer.  I purchased the components, i drove all over St. Louis trying to find thermal paste at 11pm, i assembled the components, i tried to turn it on, i spent two hours trying to figure out what i had done wrong, i fixed it, turned it on and installed the software.  (Max helped)  What is the efficient cause of my computer?  How did it come into being?  I did it.
      The second cause is the material cause.  This is what the thing is made out of, what it is materially speaking.  Again, turning to my computer, at the most foundational level it is made of metal and plastic.  We could come up a few levels and say it is made of a case, and a motherboard, and a hard drive, and a processor, and a video card, and a power source and so on.  Or we could go to a middle level and talk about circuits and cables and screws.  Like the efficient cause, the material cause can be discussed in gradients of precision without any loss of truth.
      The third cause is the formal cause.  This is what the thing is by way of definition, what it is in its essence.  What makes my computer a computer?  What distinguishes it from a bench or a house?  Some people say this is purely subjective, that a thing is defined but what we choose to call it.  However, this is to confuse essence with name.  It doesn't matter if you call it a computer or una computadora or diàn nǎo, it remains the same thing.  It remains distinct from a bed or una cama or chuáng pù.  The human capacity to distinguish between different concepts and assign them names proves the existence of essence.
      The fourth and final cause is the final cause.  This is why the thing came to be, why it exists at all.  My computer exists to to do my bidding.  To access those web pages i would have it access, for me to write thrilling and insightful blog posts and schools papers in a legible format, to compute and store what i would have it compute and store.  The formal and final causes cannot be discussed in gradients of precision.  They can be elaborated on or more carefully explained, but they are what they are.  If you leave something off, at best, you have only a partial truth and if you add something unnecessary you have a falsehood.
      When we pursue the first two causes we engage in the natural or physical sciences.  We learn about them through experimentation and the scientific method.  They can be explored in greater or lesser detail depending on the needs of the situation.  The second two causes are the realm of theology and philosophy.  They are not subject to experimentation so they must be grasped through reason or revelation.  However, they are all science.  Although we often use the term "science" in reference to solely natural or physical science, the word simply means knowledge and applies to any method by which we pursue knowledge.  Thus, we have a distinction between the hard sciences and the soft sciences.  In the hard sciences, natural or physical science, we seek knowledge of a thing's matter and how to control it.  In the soft sciences, philosophy and theology, we seek knowledge of a thing's essence and purpose, that is, how it ought to be used. 
     Prior to the enlightenment the soft sciences ruled supreme.  The hard sciences were not ignored or forgotten, but they were generally only pursued to the extent they could illuminate the more important questions of purpose.  Some of the perpetrators of the enlightenment saw the soft sciences as unreliable and rejected them as not being true science.  They denounced essence and purpose as being imaginary and non-existent.  This lead to a new focus on the efficient and material causes as the only ones which can be known.  This mindset is known as metaphysical naturalism.  Although the denial of purpose inherent to metaphysical naturalism led to a degradation of the human person, most of the major modern genocides and the general suicide of western spiritual well being, i do have to acknowledge that naturalism in of itself does have a positive effect.  The knew recognition of the value of asking how also led to the discovery of anti-biotics, the computer, blogs, cars, airplanes, spaceships and universal indoor pluming.  I like these things very, very much.
      So here we can make a distinction between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism.  Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophical worldview that denies essence and meaning and has been used to justify every atrocity you can name.  Although it claims to be "scientific" it actually impedes scientific progress because it rejects any thought which does not fall in line with its foundational assumptions.  It is bad, a scourge upon mankind, an evil to be feared and resisted to your dieing breadth.  Methodological naturalism is simply an assumption of consistency in experimentation.  It leads to all the scientific breakthroughs we know and love and i thoroughly endorse its usage.
      So, what does all this have to do with evolution?!?!
Well, come back next week and i'll tell you.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Galileo Myth

Galileo, Galileo.  Everybody knows this story, right?  Scientist puts forth a revolutionary new concept that challenges the presuppositions of the religious elites and so they and silence him.  People love telling this story because it perfectly illustrates the close-minded, anti-scientific nature of the Catholic Church, or maybe even Christianity in general.  The fact that it isn't true is... inconsequential.
      I should clarify; Galileo did believe the earth revolves around the sun (heliocentrism) and he was tried by the inquisition for heresy, twice, and the second time found to be gravely suspect of it.  However, his heliocentric views were not really the reason for his trial.  There are plenty of people who have already explained what happened.  If you want in in-depth look at the history or theories in dispute, try Google or click here
As I really don't like rehashing the same ground as everyone else, i'm going to try and take a slightly different approach.  I'm more interested in the theology and philosophy that got us into this mess in the first place, so i will try and discuss these.
      The Catholic Church has a strong dislike for schism and scandal.  At the time of Galileo this had grown into a blatant paranoia, largely due to the resent emergence of Protestantism.  This is understandable considering the 30 years of war and millions of casualties, on both side, which followed.  (However, in truth, this was more political than religious (i'll address it in a future post))  Although, as Christians we should be a little paranoid about these two things.  Schism is a break in the unity of the Church.  Christ's final request to the Father before His passion was that we would be one, that we would posses a true unity.  As the Church of Christ, we strive vigilantly to manifest that unity He prayed for.  To cause schism is to go in the completely wrong direction.
      To cause scandal is to cause another to stumble in their faith, to lead another away from Christ.  That is, away from the eternal joy of union with the Trinity and towards an eternal oblivion of despair.  Jesus says it is better that a man have a millstone tied around his neck and he be cast into the sea, than that he would cause scandal.  This is very serious.  Additionally, as a schism is a breaking with the Church, the ordinary means of coming to Christ, schism is a form of scandal.  When we discuss these, we are not discussing merely earthly affairs.  Schism and scandal can have eternal ramifications.  Under the Church's understanding of these things, they place people's immortal souls in jeopardy.
      This is my first premise; schism and scandal are very serious issues, the Church is completely justified in treating them as such.  At the time of Galileo the debate between geocentrists and heliocentrists was very heated.  There were scientists and theologians on both sides of the issue.  In fact, heliocentrism was the minority opinion among scientists.  Geocentric scientists and theologians felt very strongly about their position.  Heliocentric scientists and theologians felt very strongly about their position.  Within this debate Galileo emerged as a dominant and divisive figure.  (He was not nice to his opposition.)
      Galileo had a talent for angering his opponents and disenfranchising his friends.  The issue was not what he was saying so much as how he was saying it.  He was a brilliant scientist but politically, he was a moron.  He wanted to push his theory in political and theological circles as well as scientific ones.  Where ever the question could be raised, he was there raising it.  Eventually the Church told him to shut up.  They felt his tactics could cause scandal.  They were worried the debate had potential to give rise to schism.  In order to prevent this, they chose to embrace the majority scientific and theological position and suppress the dominate voice of the minority.  Again, this was done, not to refute a scientific position or define a theological concept, but solely to prevent those two great evils of scandal and schism.
      Imagine if you were in the military.  Your commanding officer gives you an order.  You would have to follow it, right?  Now, imagine if you disagreed with that order and you disobeyed.  What would happen?  It would not matter if you were right or wrong, you would be in trouble.  The Catholic Church is like the military.  As a Catholic i am under the authority of my superiors; primarily my priest and bishop.  If they tell me to do something i need to do it.  It was the same with Galileo.  The Church told him he was allowed to conjecture on heliocentrism but that he couldn't actively defend it.  (This is kinda like telling a five year old that he can play with a ball so long as he doesn't throw it.  There is nothing wrong with the ball, but if he throws it he might break something.)  So what happened?  Galileo decided to ignore them and threw the ball.. ah.. actively defend heliocentrism.  Consequence?  He got slapped down.  (There is nothing wrong with throwing balls, but i told you not to.  So now you are in time-out.) 
      It was felt that Galileo was causing schism and scandal.  His higher ups limited the means by which he could defend his position in order to stop this.  He didn't obey them and so he got in trouble.  If you study the history of the Church and contemplate the life of Galileo you will probably come to a few conclusions:  If he had avoided the political lime light rather than pursuing it, he probably would have been fine.  If he had limited himself to science, rather than defending his position in theological forums as well, he probably would have been fine.  If he had been willing to consider heliocentrism a theory, rather than definitively true, he probably would have been fine.  If he hadn't insulted and alienated all his politically powerful friends (like the Pope), that would have helped.  It seems as if Galileo was trying his absolute best to get himself excommunicated.  We should not be shocked that he almost succeeded.

(side note: Galileo believed the sun was at the center of the universe, so technically, he was wrong.)

      A few points in Summary:
-The Church never condemned heliocentrism as wrong, only as problematic.

-Galileo was not a pure scientist, he debated theology as well.
-Galileo did not get in trouble for being wrong, but rather for being disobedient.

(Edit: The sentence against Galileo was not an excommunication.  He was found gravely suspect of heresy, and sentenced to house arrest.)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Enlightenment is a Lie

Basically, the enlightenment is a lie.  This is not to say it didn't happen, it did, but it was not very enlightening.  It's the idea of the enlightenment, casting off the shackles of faith and embracing reason; that's what never happened.  The enlightenment, like all heresy, is based off a false dichotomy.  In this case, faith verses reason.  It claims you can only have one, and then rejects faith as mere superstition.  It claims to champion truth but in actuality it brings only doubt.
      A dichotomy is a choice involving only two options.  It is an either/or statement with no alternatives.  There are real dichotomies; life and death, truth and falsehood, women...  But most of the time they are false. 
      A false dichotomy tries to present an either/or when in actuality there may be a third option or some middle ground.  I would say Protestantism presents a false dichotomy in contrasting faith and works, Catholicism responds with the correction; faith and works are really the same thing and they are both gifts of grace.  Marketing campaigns love to present a false dichotomy of spend less here or more somewhere else; how about I keep the car I have and not spend anything?  The enlightenment presents the false dichotomy of faith and reason.  It fails to recognize that these are not in opposition to each other.  How can truth conflict with truth?

       The entire idea of the enlightenment presupposes a conflict between faith and reason.  It claims that now man can be free of religion by embracing science, that before the enlightenment man hid from reason, behind a curtain of faith, but in the enlightenment that curtain is torn away and the light of truth is shown upon the earth. 
      In reality the enlightenment obscures.  It shifts the focus from the why onto the how.  As i discussed last week, there is nothing wrong with asking how, but it shouldn't distract from asking why.  The question of how can't give meaning or purpose.  In denying faith the enlightenment mindset goes to an unbelievable extreme, it denies the ultimate question of why altogether.  It says this is all there is and there ain't no more. 
      In the name of this falsehood man's eyes are blinded from all but the material, only the purely natural can be acknowledged.  Faith is not hostile to reason but the proponents of reason seem to be very hostile to faith.  Perhaps it is because faith claims to answer questions pure reason cannot and the principles of the enlightenment cannot acknowledge that possibility.
      If you challenge a proponent of the enlightenment and ask for examples of faith conflicting with reason, they have nothing.  They may bring up the myth of Galileo, that he was excommunicated for believing the earth revolves around the sun. (Although he was excommunicated, and he did support heliocentrism, it was not the direct cause of his excommunication.)
      Perhaps they will bring up evolution, a theory the Church has never condemned, which I happen to support, but which has many holes in it nevertheless.
      Perhaps we could respond with Nicolaus Copernicus, a devoted Catholic and Canon Lawyer who developed the heliocentric theory.  (He was not the first to propose it, but he expand it into a true scientific theory.)
      We could point to the modern university system, developed within the Catholic Church.
      To Brother Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar, who first developed the entire field of genetics!  His work was ignored for 72 years by the enlightened Darwinists because it ran contrary to their materialistic philosophy.
      To Father Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest, who developed the hypothesis of the primeval atom, which would later became known as the Big Bang theory.  Somewhat humorously, his theory was largely dismissed by the scientific elite as well, partially because of his religious background and partially because the enlightened materialist worldview runs at odds with the universe having a beginning.  (Perhaps because it implies a beginner.)

      Sometimes defenders of the enlightenment will try and paint Christianity or religion in general as violent and barbaric.  Some modern historians claim that Christianity has been responsible for 3 million deaths in the last two millennia.  I personally would contest this number as far too high, and every few years a new study comes out to prove me right and it drops.  However, lets go with this number, take them at their word.
      Now consider the French Revolution, which flowed directly from enlightenment principles and constitutes the first modern genocide.  Over a quarter-million faithful Catholics were massacred for being just that, faithful Catholics.  They refused to disavow their religion; namely, their allegiance to the Pope.
      These deaths, however, constitute less than one fifth of one percent of the total victims of the enlightenment.  When we reject a reason for our being, deny any value to life, and focus solely on how to reach our goals, morality drops away.  Any faith would find these number abhorrent, but in the name of reason...
   -  From Nazi's enlightened eugenics program - 26 million
   -  Under Mao's new enlightened China - 38 million
   -  Under Russia's enlightened communism - 62 million
   -  From other communist nations (Cambodia, North Korea, Vietnam, etc.) - 11 million
Not counting war, preventable famine or abortion, that's 137 million people.
(The worst killer of all, abortion - 1.5 billion deaths since World War II (But we can leave the Enlightenment out of that and just attribute it to man's inhumanity.))
      Even when we compare the high estimate for Christianity to the middle estimates for enlightenment philosophy, we get a number 45 times higher, in only one tenth the time. 

      It is truly ironic that this idea should be named Enlightenment.  Rather than ushering in an age of light it brought darkness, such that the true dark ages are not the time that came before, but rather every day since. 
      Perhaps one day the world will realize that reason alone is insufficient.  Reason, unfettered by faith, won't take us anywhere we want to go.