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Post no. 32 (The Dawkins Delusion III)

April 7, 2010

Another thing that really rubbed me the wrong way in the Delusion was Dawkins’s line that there is no God because there is evolution. I mean … really.

I am what would pass – only just – for a practising Catholic. Before going on I need to state 2 things up front:

1)      Anything written here is my understanding of the subject. It is not the last word, it is not authoritative and in no way does it pretend to convey the teaching of the Catholic Church.

2)      Despite (1) above, the treatment will have a distinctly Catholic flavour …

Recently I’ve taken an inordinate interest in the Catechism. It makes for very interesting reading. It gives a whole new perspective on various issues. Admittedly, it’s a bit of an acquired taste, but once you get the bug …

Back to evolution eliminating God …

In the Catechism it says that God created everything in a state of journeying (in statu viae) towards an ultimate perfection.

I think that the state of journeying towards an ultimate perfection can – should – include evolution. I’ll focus on this aspect of my understanding of the statement and I’ll ignore the “ultimate perfection” bit, as it is an unnecessary source of friction within the scope of this discussion. The “state of journeying” implies that creation, although good, is constantly changing and it is not the finished item. Why this should be the case is anybody’s guess and since it cannot be investigated, it is outside the jurisdiction of science.

(I like to think that it’s free will in a format suitable for a universe – where a set of laws may give rise to various universes capable of supporting intelligent life. God has even left Nature free to take its own path within the confines of its laws … but I digress)

I wished to make the point that Catholicism does not reject evolution. On the contrary, evolution is implied (in my opinion) in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Besides, why should an institution support a theory that goes contrary to evidence? And please, nobody mention Cuvier.

(It is not the Church’s mission – not even its competence – to elucidate the mechanisms involved, but I think that it should work at making its position as an ally of science very clear. Precious few people realize that Catholicism (at least) and science are two facets of the same truth. Both are imperfect inasmuch as they’re run by humans, but the intentions of both are – beyond any reasonable doubt – genuine.)

Many opponents of evolution like to mention the eye (clichéd , I know) as being that organ of “irreducible complexity” that must have been designed. Looking at the human eye, one would tend to agree … I mean, all those parts working together etc etc … but what about all the other “eyes” across the board with varying degrees of complexity? (Even plants are light sensitive, go figure) So would it hurt so much to admit that one can’t exclude the possibility that the eye is a product of evolution? Besides, I think that relying too much on such arguments will weigh in with the God of the gaps. Science will show – because that’s its job – that evolution really happened and that all organs of all organisms have developed from more primitive precursors (you can’t help comparing the “state of journeying” here). Then what? Where will that leave the proponents of Intelligent design? Invoking God to micromanage nature is, quite frankly, a disservice to believers. (It belittles the depth of creation and the effectiveness of the laws within which it operates, I think). This is not to say that he is not present in all of nature and all natures exists because of him. You don’t see an architect laying all the bricks and tiles, installing electrical fittings, doing the plumbing etc … he’s on hand to give advice when and as needed. It’s his idea, his design and his plans.

God created Man in his own image, surely Man cannot be descended from the apes. Why not? Can’t we allow God the discretion to insert a soul (in the Catholic sense) into that organism that he, in his infinite and perfect wisdom, sees fit to receive a soul? And surely he’ll be able to do it on a case-by-case basis. He is God after all, isn’t he? This is not science. This is faith – at best religion. There is no overlap between the two, even though they’re stuck to the same mast. Science cannot tell us anything about God, just as faith cannot tell us much about the universe. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place where they contradict each other.

People will say that the theory of evolution rubbishes the account of creation in Genesis. Using the same token, we can throw out all of Aesop’s fables because there was never such a thing as talking crows and storks and what have you. If the protagonists of the story never existed, then the lessons derived from such fables cannot be valid. I’m sure you get my drift …

The account of creation in Genesis, apart from squaring with our current understanding at some points, was primarily intended as an allegory, if you will, of the order (as in hierarchy) of Creation, and to show that there was actually an act of creation by – wait for it – God. The rest of Genesis – I assume – has to be taken in a similar spirit. It would be foolish to look for archaeological evidence supporting the existence of Adam and Eve and co. I think that the author of Genesis just wanted to make the point that life after severance from a state of grace is necessarily full of trials and tribulations as humans began to trust themselves rather than God.

Genesis never claimed to be the last word in cosmology and biology, so dragging it in to knock down (or support even) evolution is nonsensical.

* * *

My original intention was to rebut certain points in The God Delusion, but by the time I finished it all my enthusiasm fizzled out. I was glad to see the back of it. I have no intention of seriously attacking Dawkins personally, but I can’t begin to imagine what possessed the authors of the rave reviews plastered on the front pages of the 2nd edition. The book reads like an unbearably long adolescent’s whine. I bought the book with the best intention, expecting to meet challenges through which I wanted to strengthen my (poor) knowledge of Catholicism. I put down the book (not mercy killing, even though it seemed a good idea at the time)  – after having trudged through it – feeling as though I had been taken for a ride. The saving grace in the book is when he takes breaks from his forays into “theology” and writes about evolution – which he does with unrivalled skill.

From → The Elephant

  1. Karlos permalink

    I have enjoyed reading your posts on Catholicism and Dawkins. It is not often that you come across scientifically-literate (or seemingly so, anyway) practicing Catholics that are able to reconcile their spiritual beliefs with science. I’ll lay my cards on the table and say that I don’t consider myself religious even though I was brought up Catholic. I am curious as to why you consider yourself lucky to have been indoctrinated as a child. And further why you have decided to carry the Catholic indoctrination through to your adulthood. In other words, why the Catholic God?

    I find the term ‘leap of faith’ is ambiguous. It’s unjust to measure the ‘leaps of faith’ required in superstition and in science using the same yardstick. The peer review process in science evaluates how much of a leap one needs to go from A to B. This is what dictates whether the scientific article is sound enough to be published and be put up for criticism by fellow researchers. Whether the science relies on direct or indirect evidence is irrelevant, it’s progress nonetheless. The shortcomings in science should be attributed to the immaturity of the respective disciplines, and not to science per se. This may all sound convenient for science, but it is the only way that we’re going to bring about progress. This method does have a proven track record after all.

    I’ve read most of Dawkins’ books too, and they’re certainly not easy reading. I agree that the theological sections really bring the book down. However I found a sense of consistency within the books that paints a picture of Dawkins’ take on society from an anthropological perspective, which in my eyes holds a lot more weight than theology. Although Dawkins’ sharpness of teeth is not liked by everyone, I find it valuable in piecing together his thoughts, paving a way to a place where I can weigh his thoughts up with mine and easily identify the inconsistencies. Dawkins is one of the first to have a serious stab at this, and I consider his books as being a valuable addition to my bookshelf.

    • I’m glad you found the posts interesting and grateful for letting me know 🙂

      I just wanted to clear up one issue – an important one, to my mind.

      “Science” and “religion” do not tackle the same aspects of reality. You can use one to do the job of the other, but you’re bound to hit a wall at some point. They’re not interchangeable.

      I see absolutely no dichotomy between science and religion, just as much as I would deem unusual a hammer and a spanner in the same tool box.

      For Catholicism to oppose science would be contradictory. Catholicism says that there was a gratuitous act of creation. It cannot also say that the human activity that discovers the fruit of this event is “specious”. Science is an activity that Catholics should embrace.

      I wouldn’t call my religious education “indoctrination”. I was (and still am) free to ditch the whole lot and embrace something else. But should I? Try to get your hands on a copy of our Catechism and you’ll be impressed with the level of thoroughness and cross-referencing; it will add a new and deep level to your understanding of the Catholicism.

      You may find this post 38 on this blog interesting, too.

      You’ll come across people who will insist on literal interpretation of Scripture and who would want to do away with tradition. Those are not Catholics, unfortunately.

      Regarding the bit about leaps of faith … well, what can I say? A leap of faith is just that. You jump out of the window believing there’s somebody to catch you. You don’t have to believe something that you can qualify and quantify. God forbid science were to start using leaps of faith to achieve results.

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