Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

FAITH Magazine May – June 2011

THE NEED FOR CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHERS OF SCIENCE

Dear Father Editor,

I read with great interest and appreciation all the articles in the January issue of Faith. Two things struck me with particular force. In your editorial overview, "Science and the Spiritual: The Unaddressed Relationship at the Foundation of Modern Evangelisation", you point out that, to the degree that Catholic thinkers have dismissed the influence that the discoveries of modern science should have had on metaphysics, Stephen Hawking's dismissal of philosophy scores a significant point.

Scientific culture proceeds today without any need for the notion of a Creator. However debased Hawking's understanding of basic philosophy, it has been encouraged by the lack of real engagement with modern science by Catholic theologians. This lack has left a deep void in our culture. In the absence of a broad metaphysics informed by modern science, people give more credence to the bad philosophising of scientists than to theologians.

And secondly, Stephen Barr's point seems to be a real solution: that theologians need to learn the language of science - not just absorbing the factual evidence of recent discoveries, but also the methodologies and modes of thought that scientists, whether quantum physicists or population geneticists, employ in their day-to-day grappling with problems in their fields.

I raised this issue before in my earlier essay for Faith in 2008, but I think it bears repeating. As Etienne Gilson suggested more than fifty years ago, the Church should consider establishing an Order or Academy of theologians trained as scientists precisely to enlarge Catholic metaphysics with what science has discovered over the past century and more. But they will have to be trained from the ground up so that they do grasp science at the root level.

In the 13th century, the Church could rely on the extraordinary efforts of a single theologian, like St. Thomas. In the 21st, it must call upon many more.

Yours faithfully
John Farrell
Newton, MA USA

REJECTING EVOLUTION BY CHANCE

Dear Father Editor,

I was a little surprised at the "Evidence of Mind and Matter" article and the seeming acceptance of Professor Ayala's idea that "the evidence of evolutionary theory is overwhelming" [Cutting Edge column: "Avoiding the Key Question, January-February 2011]. It suggests that Professor Ayala accepts the idea of evolution by natural chance. Perhaps Professor Ayala is postulating the idea of God as something like a watchmaker who creates the initial laws in such a way that there is no need for His later intervention. In this view, we humans have common ancestry not only with monkeys but also with trees and fungi and all other living things by a process of natural chance.

We do not assume that the similarity of cars on the road proves that they all come from a common factory and so similarity cannot be regarded as proof of descent and your article is wrong to suggest that the fossil record demonstrates this. The fossil record only shows distinct species; it does not show a single missing link. Molecular biology, contrary to the article, does not support evolution by natural chance because evolution cannot occur without inheritance, inheritance cannot occur without DNA and DNA is so complex it could not have evolved by chance unless we are to assume that molecules just happened to arrange themselves into the DNA molecule at the same times as a nucleus formed to hold the DNA, at the same time as the cell membrane just happened to form around it, at the sametime as all the cell maintaining process in the cytoplasm just happened to come into existence to form a single cell and that all these aspects just happened to come together and work harmoniously. Complexity such as this, according to Darwin, evolves by small imperceptible changes, each one of which must produce a survival advantage or else it will die out. However, to explain the origin of DNA as the mechanism of inheritance, evolutionary theory requires that hundreds of millions of small changes must be retained for thousands upon thousands of generations without producing any survival advantage until some point in the dim and distant future when, lo and behold, they suddenly start working together. This is not scientifically credible because inheritance cannot begin until DNA, thenucleus, the cytoplasm and the cell membrane are all in place. Prior to the time when they all just happened to come together there can be no inheritance, so how did DNA evolve?

Evolution by natural chance is not scientifically credible and I would hope that this would be made clear in your magazine. The Book of Genesis does seem to suggest an evolutionary process from initial elements, through plants and different forms of animals to humans. But also it does seem to suggest that the universe exists because of God's creative action and the scientific evidence we have indicates that this creative action was not a one-off event because, in addition to the problem of inheritance, the actual conditions for life to occur on Earth are so stringent that they could not have happened by a process of natural chance.

Yours faithfully
Charles McEwan
Via Email

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Mr McEwan would seem to be right (i) in his depiction of Professor Ayala's somewhat deistic leanings concerning the role of the creator (see our Cutting Edge column July 2010), (ii) that we, with Ayala, affirm that physical, chemical and biological evolution is a well attested fact, and (Hi) that the idea that this process is a chance one does not work. Where we part company is in our belief that evolution without chance does not imply, in a creationist sense, that "God's creative action ... was not a one-off event" - in other words that God continually intervened to create new species. For us evolution is one thread of the purposeful unity of the space-time fabric of the cosmos which, as a holistically layered unity from top to bottom, is theobject of God's one knowing and loving through the one Logos.

DIALOGUE WITH NEO-PAGANS

Dear Father Editor,

Might it be fruitful to encourage dialogue between groups such as Faith movement and the ever-growing environmental and non-Christian "spiritual" movements of our age? It has been said that it is easier to convert pagans than materialist and reductionist atheists.

I refer in particular to the bi-monthly periodical Resurgence, which I have taken for many years. It is a high quality periodical (published in Devon), with a worldwide readership.

It is very environmentally conscious and very "spiritual" (without being especially New Age). It is basically pantheist in its outlook, with strong inputs from Buddhism, Hinduism and "indigenous" religions and peoples. It is very influential. I find many articles refreshing, and quite a few irritating.

If there are not already erudite Catholics monitoring, and trying to have a dialogue with such movements (and with Resurgence) would it not be a good idea?

In Resurgence No. 262 (Sept/Oct 2010), for instance, there is a review (p. 62) of two of the books of Fr Thomas Berry O.R (1914-2009) - a great hero of Resurgence and most environmentalists. The books are The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth and The Sacred Universe (I have not yet read these two books, but cf. C. S. Lewis' The Discarded Image - the sacred universe of the medieval imagination - which I have read). Berry also believed that there had been a failure in religious imagination in Christian thought over several centuries, and wished to marry it to our scientific understanding of the universe.

I do not know how far this connects with the writings of Fr Edward Holloway, or how orthodox Fr Thomas Berry may be - Resurgence tends to downplay orthodox Christian beliefs. For instance, there is in the same issue a review of Eaarth [sic] by another important American environmentalist, Bill McKibben (p. 54), without any mention that he is actually a practising Christian (Methodist). Another review (p. 56) mentions that the authors have "a Christian background" - though the review seems very pantheistic.

I am sure that the Church needs to have, where possible, a knowledgeable and sympathetic interaction with such movements and periodicals, without abandoning Catholic truth.

Yours faithfully
David Taylor
Somerset Avenue, Exeter

SAVING THE BIBLE

Dear Father Editor,

I have just read with great interest, your letter headed "Author of John's Gospel" in the March-April issue of Faith Magazine.

Although I am certainly not a Biblical Scholar, I feel I am sufficiently able to sniff unorthodox "Historical-critical" scholarship. Mr Leonard concludes "Against such works, I believe there is much objective evidence, and would be happy to make this available to interested readers". I am one such reader.

Father Andrew Byrne's critique of the CTS new Catholic Bible {Faith, November-December 2010) was superb. What a golden opportunity the Catholic Truth Society missed by producing this elaborate edition with all its high profile publicity, including Bishop Paul Hendrick's presentation to the Holy Father. If only the CTS had published an authentic version on the lines of the Ignatius Bible and including the Liturgical Notes, this would have been a tremendous help to people like myself.

Yours faithfully
Frank Swarbrick
Garstang Road, Fulwood, Preston

THE NEED TO TREAD WHERE ANGELS FEAR

Dear Father Editor,

I have found your material concerning issues not necessarily central to the Science/Religion synthesis most informative and helpful, including articles addressing homosexuality (see letters on Faith magazine in last two issues). If the focus of your magazine were excessively narrowed to exclude topics not expressly dealing with the confluence of science and religion ;I would have to cancel my subscription. Your "across the pond" (from US!) perspective on Catholic orthodoxy I've found refreshing, informative and thought-provoking.

Concerning preaching on aspects of the Catholic Faith that don't always render comfort to the subjective dispositions of all the listeners I've found that the critiques frequently lie along the lines of, "Oh Father, you're always talking about (fill in the blank)" or "It's just too complicated an issue." Critiques offered in such responses more often than not say more about the critic's adherence or not to the Church's teaching on the subject in question than they do about the incessant nature of discussing the topic or its complexity.

Yours faithfully
Fr Robert Grabner
South St. Paul, Minnesota, USA


Faith Magazine

May - June 2011