Letters to the Editor
|FAITH Magazine January-February 2009|
EVANGELISING SCIENTIFIC CULTURE
Dear Father Editor
Professor Laurenzi argues persuasively that the US education system ensures that, as a rule, the scientifically trained are not formed for faith and that the religiously literate are not strong on science. (Letters, November 08). It seems we are in for the long-haul as regards re-evangelising a technological culture. In the meantime let us pray for the conversion of scientists to faith, but especially of articulate Christians who "miss the import of science" (article, July '08) to getting it.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: See a papal contribution on page 32 of this issue.
Dear Father Editor
I would like to draw your attention to an article in L'Osservatore Romano for 24th September.
The article is called: 'Scientism' and the search for life's origin and purpose.' It includes this passage: 'The possibility that the Creator also makes use of the instrument of evolution is one that the Catholic faith can countenance.'
I wanted to bring this article to your attention, because (as I am sure you realise) for some of your readers mention of 'evolution' is like a red rag to a bull. Indeed, if I remember rightly, I have crossed swords myself in your Letters column, with someone who thought of evolution as heresy!
Anyhow, I cannot end without saying how valuable Faith is.
Fr. Aldhelm Cameron-Brown OSB
Dear Father Editor
If a man challenges another man's belief that the Universe was made four billion years ago by providing evidence of a young Universe, the second man is not going to rebut that view by merely uttering the truism that science and religion are not incompatible.
Yet this is the method that tends to be adopted when attempting to answer similar objections from some of your correspondents (November '08). Neither does a proposition become true merely by re-asserting it. That form of circular reasoning is known as "begging the question".
None of your correspondents has claimed that faith and science (or reason) are incompatible. That is common ground and not under challenge.
What is under challenge is the view of some people as to what constitutes real Faith and real science - a rather different thing. Circular re-assertion of an unchallenged view means either failing to understand the objection made or else arrogating to oneself an inability to err, both of which positions are untenable.
Neither does one improve the argument by setting up and knocking down straw men as a substitute for answering the real question. An example is pointing to the more obvious errors of those who think that Evolutionism allows us to exchange Catholic belief in God for a pantheist "World-Soul". This is a view so obviously contrary to Catholic doctrine as to be no more than a convenient distraction from the main issue.
So what is the main issue? It is this. You write, in response to various correspondents, as follows: "What we advocate in this magazine does not alter or accommodate the faith to
scientific theory, but if anything the very opposite". This is a vital and timely objective and no good Catholic can gainsay it. However, merely asserting it does not equate to achieving it.
To teach, as some writers have, that we must accept the "insight" of modern Evolutionists, as true beyond reasonable doubt, that humans came into existence in various places at differing times (so-called "Polyphyletism") is to compromise the Church's infallible teaching that there was one first man (Adam) and one first woman (Eve) from whom we all descend. This infallible teaching is sometimes called Monogenism and is not an optional extra for any Catholic but a dogmatic truth that must be accepted. It is expressly taught in Human! Generis of Pius XII and by Arcanum of Pope Leo XIII, as well as by the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium since the Church began.
If this clashes with the views of some scientists then we must remind ourselves that the transitory theories of science cannot be placed on a par with the consistent, infallible and dogmatic teachings of the faith unless we wish, thereby, to deny the faith. You are quite right to teach and believe that the author and creator of the scientific Universe is the very same divine author of faith.
You rightly conclude that it is a false conclusion, then, to argue that this same faith must be made to accommodate recent scientific theories. But how else are we to characterise the view that says that the infallible teaching on Monogenism is to be departed from in order to accommodate what is no more than a recent scientific theory that there were many original men and women and not just one pair?
The only logical view - whether for a Catholic or indeed for anyone - is to admit what is patently clear, in any case, that a mere scientific theory is simply not conclusive of a purely metaphysical issue and there is simply no compulsion upon us to accept it.
Such a denial or dismissal of this particular theory or "insight" is by no means to "undermine the credibility of the Church and the message she preaches" and to suggest as much is to substitute physical scientific "insight" for dogmatic truth.
Even for those who are not theists at all, it is plainly clear that one is by no means obliged to jettison a metaphysical belief for a purely physical theory or "insight". Now, if that is so for atheists and unbelievers then why should the same clear logical conclusion be denied to Catholics simply because they are believers?
Yet this is what we are in danger of doing if we allow the physical to overrule the metaphysical. It is even more untenable a position when the physical consists in no more than a currently fashionable theory among some Evolutionists. We should take care, then, not to fall into the very trap we are warned against, namely seeking to alter or accommodate the faith to mere scientific theory.
Kings Bench Walk
London EC4Y 7EB
Mr Bogle's letter does raise a number of related and important issues, which, however, need to be carefully distinguished from each other.
First let us say that one of the distinctive and abiding characteristics of Faith Movement, clearly stated in our aims and ideals from the very beginning, is the intention to uphold and positively defend the defined teachings of the Church . The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur have never been refused to any of our catechetical publications. This does not mean, of course, that all Catholics will be in agreement with theological opinions expressed therein. But we are confident and assiduous that we do not promote anything contrary to de Fide doctrine.
With regard to the specific issue of human origins, Mr Bogle rightly defines
polyphyletism as the opinion that human beings descended from various ancestors that were constituted as human "at different times and in different places". This opinion is indeed incompatible both with the theological unity of humanity as a single family under God who all inherit the consequences of a fall from grace at the dawn of human history, and with the genetic unity of the human race which makes us a universally interfertile species. No Faith publication has ever advocated polyphyletism.
However, the issue of polyphyletism is not the same as the debate over poly-or monogenism.
Polygenism refers to humanity beginning with a group of genetically related individuals in one place at the same time. Monogenism is the corresponding thought that humanity takes its origins from a single primordial pair. We make no case for polygenism as such, but if there is scientific evidence to support it, we must ask whether polygenism is compatible with defined doctrine, or are Catholics bound to hold mongenism as an infallibly defined dogma?
In Humane Generis Pius XII did indeed speak very strongly in favour of monogenism, saying "it is in no way evident" how any other view could be reconciled with defined teaching about Original Sin. The phrase "it is in no way evident" does not amount to infallible definition. Legitimate debate about the issue has in fact been conducted and permitted in the official organs of the Church's Magisterium over the last forty years.
For example, a 1969 edition of L'Osservatore Romano published an article by Roberto Masi which said:
"Revelation and Dogma say nothing directly concerning Monogenism or Polygenism, neither in favour nor against them. Besides, these scientific hypotheses are per se outside the field of Revelation. Within this context, different combinations of the scientific theory of evolution are therefore hypothetical^ possible or compatible with the doctrine of original sin."
After considering various possibilities for reconciling polygenism and Original Sin, the author concluded:
"These hypotheses are only suppositions which many think are not contrary to Revelation and the bible. Even if we accept as valid the scientific theory of evolution and polygenism, it can still be in accordance with the dogma of original sin in the various manners indicated."
This article was later been republished on the EWTN web site. More recently, several proceedings of the International Theological Commission, all endorsed by Cardinal Ratzinger have addressed the question. A document on evolution and creation from 2004 states:
"While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage. However it is to be explained, the decisive factor in human origins was a continually increasing brain size, culminating in that of homo sapiens."
This passage admits of both monogenetic and polygenetic interpretations, since it is unclear whether the "humanoid population" is to be regarded as the first humans, or the immediate ancestors of the first humans. And further:
"Catholic theology affirms that the emergence of the first members of the human species (whether as individuals or in populations) represents an event that is not susceptible of a purely natural explanation and which can appropriately be attributed to divine intervention."
Lastly, the document mentions Adam:
"Every individual human being as well as the whole human community are created in the image of God. In its original unity - of which Adam is the symbol - the human race is made in the image of the divine Trinity."
In a January 16, 2006 article in L'Osservatore Romano, Fiorenzo Facchini states: "The spark of intelligence was lighted in one or more hominids when, where and in the ways God willed it."
None of these opinions has attracted censure. Yet we are rightly reminded to be cautious in this area. There is so much that we do not know. If we entertain the possibility that the first true humans were a group, it would have to be small group in a closely integrated locale, otherwise it would indeed not be apparent how the Fall could be a single historical event. What Pius XII was ring-fencing in Humanae Generis was the Tridentine definition of Original Sin being passed on by generation not by imitation, not the existence of an individual named Adam as such. The name is symbolic in any event. And the scriptural account speaks of the disaster of sin being passed, in the first instance, among the small group that is Adam and Eve. The first act of sin was not committed by Adambut by Eve who infected him through temptation and willing complicity. The fact and effects of fallen human nature were then passed to subsequent generations by natural propagation.
We can only talk cautiously of possibilities here, on condition that they can be actually reconciled with orthodox doctrine. Mr Bogle is right to point out that assent to defined doctrine comes before all else. Where we and others of greater authority than ourselves in the Church, differ from his view lies in the assessment of exactly what is defined and what is not.
It is also true that we must be equally cautious about too rashly accommodating the latest scientific datum to specific scriptural events or doctrines. For example, it seems that there have been a series of "bottleneck events" in the history of the human genome, which could explain the close genetic solidarity among all living human beings. Such bottlenecks are created by environmental pressure and may well be the driving force for
adaptation and speciation at crucial points in our evolutionary past. One such genetic bottleneck has recently been identified which would have reduced the ancestors of humanity to a few tens of thousands.
This is very interesting, but we cannot safely conclude that this is the event that triggered the mutation for the increased brain capacity occasioning the creation of the soul, and that therefore the first human community consisted of many thousands. That would indeed be hard to reconcile with the doctrine of Original Sin. There might have to have been a number of such mutational/ environmental shifts on the path to true humanity. Which event was the decisive one that brought about true Man would be very difficult to determine. Despite the enormous and impressive progress being made in genetics, it would be as well for scientists, even Catholic scientists of orthodox intention, that we are barely out of the primary school in our understanding of human nature its origins. We may yetdiscover that all species actually begin with a single mating pair. Humility is a scientific as well as a theological virtue.
Finally, while we agree wholeheartedly that Revelation takes precedence over human reasoning, we cannot agree with the assertion that metaphysics can never be modified in the light of advances in physics. Metaphysics is a human science that ultimately derives from empirical experience. For Aristotle it was a second level of reflection upon the structure of reality which followed directly on from his physics. If metaphysics is incapable of reference back to the physical world, it becomes philosophical Idealism, entailing a complete separation of matter and meaning, phenomenon and noumenon, which we find alien to our Catholic vision of creation.
Dear Father Editor
It was most encouraging to see the review of Aidan Nichols's book: "The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England." (July issue). Having read the book, may I share one small success story which illustrates his theory of 'integral evangelisation'? i.e. the method of the 'intellectual, mystical and institutional'.
My department has been facilitating a new marriage preparation course on the innovative "Engage" programme from the Pastoral Matrimonial Renewal Centre, Australia. The six sessions draw upon insights from John Paul ll's theology of the body. The material is brought to life by mentor couples guiding the engaged couples.
The feedback from the couples has been extremely positive and correlates with Fr. Aidan's theory on 'integral evangelisation'. His work is to be commended and not just as theory but as a refreshing basis for what can be done. For more information on "Engage" and to receive a promotional DVD contact my Department or go to www.engage.com.au
Director, Department for Pastoral Affairs
Diocese of Westminster