Thursday, October 04, 2007

Deistic Evolution

Now there's a more appropriate title for the viewpoint/belief/rationale whatever you want to call it. The so called concept of "theistic evolution" bears more features in striking resemblance to classical deism than to the 'revealed' theism.

Theism (at least Judaism/Christianity/Islam) are 'revealed religions'- so labeled by deists. The labels are true enough - we didn't discover God by scientific experiments and or by rationale but rather God sought us out according to the very core beliefs of our religion.

I've often wondered how a diehard theistic-ahem deistic-evolutionist would explain the creation story to their child. Would they say God created the world in seven days? Something tells me they'd modify the story. Something tells me they'd keep it simple enough for a child to understand and be interested in, but modify the language so that there was obvious room for the possibility that the accounts in Genesis were thoroughly metaphoric.

But the question would be, why? Why do you need to modify the language of the story? If you don't read Genesis literally, the only possible explanation of why God chose such misleading words could be that He needed to use language and literary conventions accessible to the people of that time (unlearned cavemen that they were).

But by anyone's estimation, the adults in 2,000 BC were still much smarter than the children of today. So why would anyone feel the need to modify the language? I'm sure I could catch someone in the act (though I haven't seen it). I'm sure liberal children story books have a very Darwinian friendly account.

It just leaves me wondering why God didn't just explain that He created the world and let nature take her course when He revealed the Word to Moses. Then again, I suppose it would be a bit paradoxical for God to 'reveal' that Deism is basically true.


Kenny said...

Aren't you in conflict with the Vatican here?

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

The Vatican does not endorse evolution but does allow that God may have used evolution as part of the creation process.

Death entering the world by sin of course is a Catholic dogma, and the Catholic Church teaching is that all men are descended from Adam and Eve (just like the Bible teaches, just like Christ taught).

With evolution, death entered the world long before sin and even the original sin itself would be metaphorical.

I don't know how theistic evolutionists explain it off.

But the answer to your question is no - the only official teaching I know of regarding evolution is that some aspects of evolution (random mutation, natural selection) are perfectly fine - that's science not theology. (See Humani Generis):

"When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents."

Full scale Darwinian Evolution is as compatible with Catholic teaching as abortion is. The real truth of the matter is that many Catholics and many Catholic schools are the ones in conflict with the Vatican. But they're in conflict over other issues too - embryonic stem cell research, contraception and even abortion.

Kenny said...

Here are some quotes, from Pope Benedict, from a New York Post article. I realize there are concerns about context, but I haven't been able to find a transcript of his talk.

Debaters wrongly present the two sides "as if they were alternatives that are exclusive - whoever believes in the creator could not believe in evolution, and whoever asserts belief in evolution would have to disbelieve in God," the pontiff said.

"This contrast is an absurdity, because there are many scientific tests in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and enriches our understanding of life and being.

"But the doctrine of evolution does not answer all questions, and it does not answer above all the great philosophical question: From where does everything come?"

This doesn't sound to me like what you are saying, and everything else I've found backs this up: the Pope views evolution as scientific truth, as far as that goes, but he believes that many people view it as a sort of foundational life philosophy and he sees this as dangerously misguided.

Also, many Biblical interpreters accepted day-age theories long before Darwin.

That said, the problem of death before sin is a serious one. (I'm not here to defend evolution per se; I'm uncertain about what I believe.) I've been meaning for a very long time to read this PCA report on the question of the seven days of Genesis which, I understand, contains some discussion of that question. (I believe the report concludes that a variety of positions are within the realm of Presbyterian orthodoxy.)

Joseph said...


Let me help you. Quotes from the "New York Times". Enough said. GFF, quoted from Humani Generis, a papal Encyclical.

Joseph said...

The New York Times has alot more experience taking quotes and writings out of context than any of us. They could create their own completely new religion if they decided to do that with the Bible, and it would be convincing to most.

Kenny said...

Joseph - first, that was the New York Post, and second, your comments are greatly exaggerated (though not completely off the mark). There were news reports about a more recent encyclical by Pope Benedict, but I have been unable to find it.

Here's another quote, from a Catholic news source based in Rome:

The Pontiff said that today in Germany, and also in the United States, there is a "fervent debate between so-called creationism and evolutionism, presented as if one of these alternatives excluded the other: Whoever believes in the Creator cannot think about evolution and whoever affirms evolution must exclude God."

However, Benedict XVI called this apparent conflict an absurdity.

"Because on one hand," he explained, "there is a great deal of scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and that enriches our knowledge of life and of being as such. But the doctrine of evolution does not answer everything and does not answer the great philosophical question: Where does everything come from? And how does everything take a path that ultimately leads to the person?

"It seems to me that it is very important that reason opens up even more, that it sees this information, but that it also sees that this information is not enough to explain all of reality. It is not enough."

Joseph said...

Ok, the New York Post is alot better. Thanks for the correction. You are also lifting quotes from a partial discussion that you have not been following. What "evolution" is Pope Benedict speaking of? The philosophical theory that has become a religion to atheists? No. The Pope isn't saying anything that is contradictory to Church teaching. The Pope doesn't talk in terms of the present. He doesn't abandon Church tradition when he speaks. That's why you should read Church teaching on the matter along with any media reports.

...your comments are greatly exaggerated (though not completely off the mark).

I don't know what you are suggesting here sorry. My comments were very plain. If you're defending media reports because they favor your belief that the Pope believes in evolution (the multiple humans or human like creatures before Adam and Eve type) then, sorry, I can't help you. That is your opinion. You can read Church teaching on evolution if you like. But they might be opposed to your opinion on the matter.

Joseph said...

It's unfortunate that no one chooses to review Church teaching holistically on the matter of creation and evolution. We all tend to live in the bubble of the present, as if the time we have been on this earth is the only time of natural discovery. The Church is older than us, the battle of souls is older than us, and the universe is older than us.

So many Catholics disregard Church teaching in favor of out of context (by out of context, I mean without the understanding that the Pope doesn't speak on topics detached from Church teaching and tradition) media sound bites. Is it because they want to "fit in" with the modern day secular world that proposes that God set the world spinning then let everything happen on its own? That, by the way, is no different from the way many Freemasons view creation (GFF pointed that out by linking it to Deism).

Kenny, please read Humani Generis in full. It is also stated that this encyclical, as an act of ordinary Magisterium, is binding on the Church (contrary to the opinion of the liberal Catholic professors out there who want to believe we "evolved" before God inserted a "soul" into us). Also, read on the entire magisterial discussion of evolution. There are numerous writings on it. Only read magisterial works, as non-magisterial theologians and scholars do not qualify as "magisterium".

After that, read the media reports you've selected once again and see if you come to a different conclusion as to what the Pope meant. You may be surprised that the every accurate New York Post spin is incorrect.

God bless

Joseph said...


Here is another article for you. Remember, it's just an article. Claiming that the Pope is in favor the the philosophical theory of evolution sets a precedent. Do you think that he is agreement with these religious evolutionists?

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Another thing we need to keep in mind in all of this- Catholic dogma is that God very deliberately created and yes - designed human beings and all animal life as we know. Period.

The Scriptures say so, we cannot contradict it. Again - to what degree species have changed or "evolved" is not part of this problem.

There was one Adam & one Eve. Two literal people just like me and you. They sinned - we inherited it. We are all descended from them.

As for what B16 believes exactly, I dont know. But I do know that he's one of the greatest theologians on the planet (whether you're Catholic or not) and a man of his caliber wouldn't say anything contrary to the dogma of the Church.

I know of another quote of his:
"We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution," ..."Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."

Apparently the "willed" and the "evolution" or "evolved" in Italian is a PUN as if to show deliberate contrast between the two- or so I've heard. I don't speak Italian.

Aside from the theological problems of Darwinian evolution, I believe there are serious scientific and logical problems with it as well.

Kenny said...

First, let me clarify that I'm not here to make an argument, or challenge a position about either (a) whether these things are true, or (b) whether they are Catholic dogma. I should note (to Joseph who may not know this) that I am not even Catholic, so (b) is purely a matter of curiosity for me, and holds relatively little personal importance. But, Joseph, although I haven't read humani generis, I think I'm more familiar with the Catholic debate on the subject within the last 50 years than you give me credit for, which is why I posted my question in the first place: I've read a lot of news reports about the views of JP2 and B16 on the subject, and how they relate to humani generis, and what GFF says in the post seems to me to contradict this, so I came, not to make an argument, but to ask a question. If I have pressed the point further, it's because I haven't felt that my question was adequately addressed.

I never meant to suggest that any Pope (or any Catholic theologian of any significance) accepted the philosophy of neo-Darwinism, or any such thing. You'll note that in the Benedict quotes I posted, he explicitly distanced himself from that. On the other hand, both B16 and JP2 are consistently interpreted by everything I've read as also having distanced themselves from the Evangelical "creationism"/"intelligent design" proponents. The best explanation I've seen of this was an article I read on the Thomistic view of nature, which I'm not remembering as well as I should. In other words, what I've read is that they view the purely scientific theory of evolution as true (at least for the most part), but the philosophical baggage most people associate with it as being radically mistaken and even dangerous.

At any rate, I'm confused because GFF seems to be calling a view not just wrong (casual statements by popes are not, I understand, taken by anyone to be infallible), but even heretical, and everything I've read about it says that the current and the last pope have both held those views. So what I would like to have clarified, if possible, is what JP2 and B16 have actually said, and how that lines up with your reading of Catholic dogma.

BTW, Joseph, when I said your remark was greatly exaggerated, but not entirely off the mark, I meant the remark about the unreliability of the NYT. It's certainly slanted, but most, if not all, news is slanted, and I find that it is easier to correct for the biases of a source when those biases are opposite to my own. When read with this understanding, intentionally correcting for biases, I don't think the NYT is bad at all, but I certainly wouldn't accept it uncritically.

Joseph said...


You have proven to me that you have clearly made your mind up. I have said what I have said.

God bless

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Kenny - what I'm stressing is the only official Catholic teaching I know regarding evolution: that is that we are free to believe in it so long as we admit that there was one man and one woman from which all humans descended (in short making a super-implausible scenario for evolution).

Obviously natural selection occurs. This hardly amounts to evolution though.

Again I don't know what B16 or JPII believed regarding evolution. I know a lot of intelligent Catholics believe in it. I know a lot of intelligent Catholics who don't. Catholics certainly are free to believe both (but again they have to admit that there was one man and one woman in the beginning).

And I think what Joseph is saying is that you have to take almost every quote you see from the secular media regarding anything Catholic with a grain of salt.

Here's an article from Catholic Answers with an imprimatur and nihil obstat that might help clarify things.

Kenny said...

GFF - thanks for the clarification, and the article. Everything in your last comment and in the article is consistent with everything I have heard attributed to JP2 and B16. At this point, I am not sure whether you have backed off of your initial position or I misunderstood your position in the first place. I think my confusion stemmed from your implicit assumption, which you have just now stated explicitly, that monogenism is "a super-implausible scenario for evolution," which I think many informed people dispute.

At any rate, it seems clear to me from both what I have read before and what you have said and referenced now that the Vatican has explicitly left room for an account of evolution which is genuinely theistic, and not deistic. It also seems likely to me, based on what I have read, that JP2 and B16 both believed in such an account (with monogenism, of course). I (rightly or wrongly) interpreted your initial post as denying that a Catholic could hold such a position (or, indeed, that anyone could consistently hold such a position).

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Kenny - The whole evolutionary idea seems to me to be intuitively contradictory to theism in general.

I'd really have to sit down one on one with the Pope to feel comfortable speaking about his views on evolution. I certainly couldn't go on what I've heard reported in the secular media.

I know a lot of intelligent and well informed people disagree with me (that theistic-evolution even as allowed by Catholicism is implausible) but I don't know why.

I've just never been exposed to any good arguments on their side (not to say they don't have them, I just haven't seen any).

What I do see consistently from their side is discounting the logic/rationale of the ID movement by saying "that's not science" and nothing more. They haven't actually addressed any of the arguments that the ID movement has made.

There are solid scientific & logical arguments against evolution. I don't know anyone gets past those. And I really don't know how anyone gets past the theological problems. I know brilliant people do - when one of them takes the time to explain to me how, perhaps I will too. But until then - I just have to reject it.

Kenny said...

A while back I posted on my blog with a collection of arguments that have led me to the conclusion that it is unclear whether Genesis is in conflict with evolutionary theory (when the latter is restricted to science, and not expanded into an overarching atheistic philosophy). The collection of positions I consider has roughly the same constraints you've said the Catholic church has, namely: (1) that God created everything there is ex nihilo and (2) that "The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, as quoted by the article you linked).

I didn't address any of the scientific/logical issues, because I don't think they are nearly as serious as the theological issues, and also because I feel even less well equipped dealingl with those than I do dealing with Genesis.

Matt said...

Good post GFF. As a Catholic convert, I think one of the more troubling things for me in learning an attitude of obedience and faith towards the Church's teaching has been this allowance for (and sometimes implicit acceptance of) evolution.

I sometimes chalk this up to my pseudo-fundamentalist upbringing that put six-day creationism up there with the doctrine of the Trinity as one of the non-negotiables of the Christian faith.

At the same time, as a somewhat intelligent and fairly well read person, I do see glaring logistical, logical, theological, and philosophical problems with the theory of evolution, and I think it's problematic that so many Catholics simply capitulate to the party line just because the modern scientific establishment has swallowed evolution hook line and sinker.

I am a firm believer in the idea that any scientific discovery, especially in this age of uber-rapid flow of information needs to be regarded with a healthy degree of skepticism. How many dogmatic decrees of the scientific pontificate have been overturned in days, weeks, months or years? Are we so detached from the fact that a mere five hundred years ago people thought that rotten meat produced maggots? Five hundred years in the larger scope of scientific discovery is nothing whatsoever.

And just like with the global warming fiasco, anyone doing research that contradicts the forgone conclusion of evolution gets swept under the rug and shunned by his brother scientists.

Sorry to ramble, but it seems to me we live in an age of great deception on every level, cultural, theological scientific, sexual you name it. I am very hesitant to accept the de facto pronouncements of science, one of the most godless branches of our profoundly godless culture.

In Pax Christi,


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Matt - thanks for the comments.

Kenny - I like your essay. Good points.