Sunday, July 26, 2009

What Does the Roman Catholic Church Believe about Evolution?

 
As I'm sure you all know by now, the "official" position of the Roman Catholic Church is theistic evolution. Humans evolved over billion of years from primitive single-cell organisms. God intervened near the end of the process to add a soul and some other religious goodies but the important idea is that a literal interpretation of Genesis is not part of Roman Catholic dogma.

Or so I thought until I saw this. Here's a Roman Catholic priest, Father Jonathan Morris, stumped by a question about Adam and Eve and their children. I guess he must have forgotten what he learned in seminary? (We can't blame this one on FOX News.)




[Hat Tip: Friendly Atheist]

26 comments :

  1. Speaking as someone who was raised in a Roman Catholic household in a predominantly Catholic environment (Ireland of the 1970s and 80s) I never got the impression that evolution was ever a serious issue.
    There was no obvious attempt made to outlaw or forbid the teaching of evolution (in my case it simply wasn't taught in biology class but I surmise it was more a case of a teacher who wasn't exactly up to date on the material rather than a fundamentalist who opposed the subject). On the other hand I can certainly recall that there was zero effort made to teach churchgoers that particular parts of the bible were metaphorical rather than literal. Sermons would frequently involve Adam and Eve and other old testament stories as well as the usual gospel tales - all of which were treated as historical fact - albeit without the reference to a particularly strict 6000 year time-line that we are familiar with from creationist dogma.
    Its absolutely no surprise that this priest thinks in this way - its the same way most priests and their catholic parishioners think.
    I suspect the difference between catholics and fundamentalist protestants on this issue is simply that catholicism avoids thinking about the implications of the theory of evolution - thus catholics are generally able to say they believe in the Adam and Eve story and also believe in evolution. Protestant fundamentalists at least recognize the incompatibility of these two concepts (Jesus could not have redeemed Adam and Eves original sin by dying on the cross if Adam and Eve were fictional).

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  2. Ignoring the floundering nonsense that that ridiculous priest was saying...

    The "official" Catholic position is exactly as Larry says. (Common descent is fine, supernatural intervention near the end).

    However, the "official" Catholic position on Adam and Eve is strictly literal as well. A&E were "real" people, not metaphors for an early human population. They were the first two to possess immortal souls and therefore have the *ability* to fall away from God.

    Now, where is this leading? We have a pre-human* population, and all of a sudden two humans are created/ensouled in their midst. The only other condition is that all of us living today *have* to be descended from those two as we share their original sin.

    Is this strictly contradictory with current scientific models of human development? If so, how?

    (I'm no life scientist, so I'd appreciate others chipping in here. But it appears to me that to go far back enough to get to one pair of organisms that are our first true common ancestors, they wouldn't look anything like a human being. If someone could describe what sort of creatures they would be, I'd be grateful).

    ------------------

    * I'm going to follow the Church's example and treat ensoulment as a defining characteristic of anything that can be called properly human. No soul => not human, no matter how human-like it may appear. Don't blame me, I don't make the rules up.

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  3. I remember when I first learned about evolution. I was in an all girls high school run by the Sisters of Notre Dame. The teachers who were not nuns were male, young and fresh out of teacher's college. The male teacher who taught science told us about evolution and told us that he was allowed to teach us about evolution as long as he made it very clear that when humans came on the scene, God gave them a soul. It was a long time ago (1965) when I was interested in two subjects: English Lit and boys. I wish now that I'd paid more attention to science and less attention to boys.

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  4. snafu asked
    "it appears to me that to go far back enough to get to one pair of organisms that are our first true common ancestors, they wouldn't look anything like a human being. If someone could describe what sort of creatures they would be, I'd be grateful"
    The common ancestors of all living humans lived in Africa within the past couple of hundred thousand years (perhaps a lot later, if any anthropologist types would like to add). They would, howerer, have looked pretty indistinguishable from many humans alive today.
    Even the much more distantly related Neanderthals might be able to blend in with certain populations (a certain horrifying blind date set up by an old 'friend' comes painfully to mind).

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  5. Protestant fundamentalists at least recognize the incompatibility of these two concepts (Jesus could not have redeemed Adam and Eves original sin by dying on the cross if Adam and Eve were fictional).

    That's why the "soft" versions of religion are actually more dangerous than the fundametalist ones.

    You get the whole package of magical thinking without the insanity of it being so obvious.

    At least the YECs from the Bible Belt are honest and by being honest they are very easily defeated.

    That's why it is also a very bad idea to consider theistic evolutionists as "allies"; the correct approach is to expose their bad theology at every opportunity. After all, if your bible says certain very specific things, why are you backing down from them, and not from the whole thing?

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  6. Georgi Marinov wrote:

    At least the YECs from the Bible Belt are honest and by being honest they are very easily defeated.

    "Very easily defeated?" Have you been following the situation in Texas? Did you see what the State Board of Education did to the science standards? They had Stephen effing Meyer on the science "expert review panel" and now they've got David effing Barton on the social studies "expert review panel." Do you have any idea how hard the NCSE and local citizens for science groups work to oppose the fundamentalists in places like this?

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. See, I am not concerned with the local situation, I look at the big picture. By looking at the big picture I have reached the conclusion that a bottom-up solution to the problem with creationism does not exist and only a top-down approach can work, precisely because of the people who will never listen to arguments - unless you force them to do so. The other part of the problem is that we are sitting back in defense, and we have no offense - by just preventing lunatics from hijacking school boards and imposing creationism on students, we aren't doing anything about the big issue, which is that some >90% of the population have their reasoning ability amputated by religion.

    However, an aggressive top-down approach is impossible as long as the Constitution defends religion (my blood pressure rise every time people cite the Constitution as a major reason why creationism is kept out of the class room - this may be true, but the same set of laws is also a major reason why we have to fight that battle to begin with, because it protects religion). And the Constitution defends religion, because religion is typically understood in its "soft" form. If we could force society to decide between the religion of the fundamentalists on one side as a representative of all religion and science on the other, I don't think we would lose. And by doing so we will get rid of the soft religion too. However, as it is right now, it is the "soft" religion that is representative of all religion and it is something else that is practiced, from which the "soft" religion really differs very slightly if you think about it. But it is enough to make it look like there is no problem. And if it looks like there is no problem, it will never be seriously tackled.

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  9. Do you have any idea how hard the NCSE and local citizens for science groups work to oppose the fundamentalists in places like this?

    It has occurred to me several times that this is seriously misguided effort and we would actually benefit more if we let them win. Let Texas teach creationism to kids - what difference does this make? As if kids are actually learning something about evolution the way things are now - truth is they aren't even learning what they're being taught and it is pathetically inadequate even if it was taught well.

    However, the publicity this will generate will outweigh all harm done by a few years of creationism in schools - it is Texas after all so the majority of kids enter school already being creationists and leave it the same creationists they were before that. But the fact that the state that has the most influence on the educational standards in the nation decides to teach creationism will be all over the media, will generate a lot debate about it, and will be a good opportunity to to polarize the issue and identify religion with all the educational evils it brings.

    I highly doubt that such a decision will last long after that, the next time around it will be reversed, but in the end the positives will be on the science side.

    So why not do it? I don't think the NCSE has a clear strategy how to defeat creationism once and for all. Maybe it's because they will be jobless if they do, maybe it's sheer incompetence, I don't know, but they aren't doing a good job at it right now. It's a stalemate right now and we need to get out of it and act

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  10. "Very easily defeated?" Have you been following the situation in Texas?

    Maybe he means very easily refuted. Fundamentalists are easily refuted but the softer religions are like a moving target because you never know what it is you're supposed to refute. Nobody ever knows what the heck they're talking about. Adam and Eve? Who knows!

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  11. Ford Prefect, Venture CapitalistMonday, July 27, 2009 12:05:00 AM

    I think that the belief that the human soul was somehow "created" during our evolution is just as pseudoscientific, if perhaps less overtly and patently false, as vulgar creationism.

    Despite my qualms regarding evolutionary psychology, to close off the human brain (for surely the "soul" is a mental product?) from investigation using scientific procedure is not a noble or savory course of action for the church.

    The more the Catholic Church cedes to science, the more it becomes atheism.

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  12. That guy bears an uncanny resemblance to the priest from Angels & Demons.

    http://img.thesun.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00803/SNA15EWAN2_380_803590a.jpg

    Just sayin...

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  13. Well shoot I knew this one. That is if we were going off a more literal take: After Cain whacked Abel he wandered off to some town and got busy with a girl there.

    Checkmate!

    -(PS Don't ask where the townsfolk came from that could be blasphemy.)

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  14. Dawson wrote: "After Cain whacked Abel he wandered off to some town and got busy with a girl there.

    ...

    "PS Don't ask where the townsfolk came from that could be blasphemy."

    Yeah, for many of those who actually think about such things as children, the story of Cain is the first "Waitaminnit..." moment.

    After Cain kills Abel and is cursed by God, Cain is worried that others will do him harm: "[A]nd it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me." So God takes care of that: "And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him."

    Hunh? Who exactly is it who will find Cain, and requires warning with this mark?

    (BTW, note that the source of Cain's jealousy is the fact that God is apparently much happier with Abel's animal sacrifice than Cain's offering of crops. Wonder if the PETA folk have thought about this.)

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  15. Perhaps another example of Father Morris' reasoning might help us understand where his reasoning comes from.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIjuEmpnVpw
    Its basically the traditional catholic strawman attack on atheism with a little added Intelligent Design.

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  16. "The only other condition is that all of us living today *have* to be descended from those two as we share their original sin.

    "Is this strictly contradictory with current scientific models of human development? If so, how?"

    Yeah, it is strictly contradictory. Human genetic lineage is traced in differing ways for the two genders. For matrilineal inheritance it's through the mitochondria, whereas for patrilineal it's through the Y-chromosome. "Mitochondrial Eve" and "Y-chromosomal Adam" (the woman and man from whom all contemporary humans descended) were not contemporaries. (One source of additional detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrial_Eve.)

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  17. Re Georgi Marinnov

    The reason why Mr. Marinovs' suggestion that Texas be ignored is ignorantly wrongheaded is that, because textbooks in Texas are selected statewide by a state panel, Texas has an inordinate influence on textbook publishers. Thus, the other 49 states are stuck with moronic decisions made by the morons on the Texas State school board because of the publishers incentive to pander to that state.

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  18. SLC,

    The influence of Texas on textbook publishers is greatly exaggerated. Texas has never, ever, removed a science textbook from the list of approved textbooks in spite of the fact that many of them promote evolution.

    It's true that authors and publishers sometimes make minor changes to their textbooks in response to the Texas curriculum but those changes are not terribly significant.

    The big publishers are very experienced at making textbooks that are only sold in one stare. Ken Miller's book, for example, has a Florida edition and, for all I know, there may be other state-specific editions.

    The latest trend among major biology textbook publishers is to simply ignore the decisions of the Texas school board and let them try to get enough votes to remove those books from the approved list.

    It's really quite naive to imagine that prominent biology textbook authors/publishers would insert Intelligent Design Creationism into their books just because Texas requires it.

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  19. The reason why Mr. Marinovs' suggestion that Texas be ignored is ignorantly wrongheaded is that, because textbooks in Texas are selected statewide by a state panel, Texas has an inordinate influence on textbook publishers. Thus, the other 49 states are stuck with moronic decisions made by the morons on the Texas State school board because of the publishers incentive to pander to that state.

    If you bothered to actually read what I suggested, you would have seen that this is one of the best reasons why we should do what I suggested.

    P.S. And Larry certainly know a thing or two more about textbooks than all of us

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  20. Woah! I asked that question when I was six years old. He's just wondering that now?

    No wonder they didn't want me back in Sunday school.

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  21. I've found a few more youtube videos of Father Morris giving advice on Fox and have come to the conclusion that the guy is a delusional idiot.
    He talks about all manner of religious stuff (Adam and Eve, Angels, Devils, Demons etc) the same way you or I would talk about trees or mountains - in other words as obviously real tangible entities.
    Why is he hired by Fox?
    Because he talks about what most religious people actually believe. For every 'sophisticated' religious believer there are 100 Father Morris' or parishioners that think in exactly the same way.

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  22. Georgi Marinov wrote:

    [W]e would actually benefit more if we let them win. Let Texas teach creationism to kids - what difference does this make? As if kids are actually learning something about evolution the way things are now - truth is they aren't even learning what they're being taught and it is pathetically inadequate even if it was taught well.

    However, the publicity this will generate will outweigh all harm done by a few years of creationism in schools...


    This would truly be a disaster, a great leap backward to Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 that would spawn the same legal battle all over again. Remedy poor biology education by teaching creationism? You're being sarcastic, right? Of course, for anyone looking to destroy the scientific competitiveness of the U.S., it's a dandy solution....

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  23. I am talking about something a lot bigger than Edwards v. Aguillard. But anyway, I don't think that's something we can agree on, people are afraid of confrontation so they will always avoid it if they can, even if it's actually detrimental to their long-term goals

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  24. Jud (responding to Snafu), actually mito-Eve and Y-Adam being non-contemporaneous does not contradict the statement that there were two "original humans", contemporaneous and presumably close to each other, with the original souls provided by God.

    Mito-Eve lived long before Y-Adam, but these are only the MOST RECENT common ancestors in the two lineages. It is entirely consistent with a "first couple" scenario that Mito-Eve dated Y-Adam's ancestor - or far more likely, Mito-Eve's distant ancestor boffed Y-Adam's far more distant ancestor.

    Indeed, if you go far enough back, this certainly did occur. The part that isn't certain is the addition of a "soul" to the mix.

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  25. Jesus believed Adam & Eve were from the beginning.

    Mark 10:6 But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 7 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one.'

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  26. Reading all these comments I can only say this is what happens when you get your theology or anything else from your television. I'm surprised a college professor would do the same.

    One only needs to go to the source to determine what the Catholic Church teaches about evolution. Simply go to its catechism, beginning with para. 295 and following for the facts of what they believe and teach as a Church.

    Thank you!

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