Friday, February 13, 2009

The Church and Evolution

This year the Pope and the Vatican have become more accessible by way of Vatican You Tube (I've added a link to the right column). It started in January, and there are about 3 videos per day of the Pope and / or Vatican events. It gives a view of Vatican happenings, and to see the Pope and the people and even the buildings makes me, for one, feel closer. The Internet brings those who have seemed distant, such as Bishops and the Pope, more into our everyday lives. It is a connection that I believe will help the Church in the long run. (Another website along these lines is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).

There is a video dated Feb. 9, 2009 called "Benedict XVI: Reduce Material and Spiritual Poverty." In the film, the Pope receives the ambassador to the Vatican from Brazil. He praises Brazil's efforts to decrease poverty. He says the Church appreciates governments which encourage dialogue among people to reduce poverty, both material and spiritual. The Pope has been careful, I think, in his ongoing teachings, including encyclicals, to try to keep the spiritual always before us.

The view of spirituality as imparting riches, or its lack as poverty, is an interesting one. Of course, those with material poverty do not necessarily have spiritual poverty, and likewise the rich are not necessarily spiritually rich. I'm sure the Pope refers to our belief in and relationship with God, and the thoughts invite reflection.

Also on Vatican You Tube there is a film of a press conference dated Feb. 10, 2009 called, "Biology and Theology for Understanding Man." This is the announcement of an International Congress on Evolution to be held March 3-7 in Rome. I will give more updates and links about this in the coming weeks. I want to note, however, that a point was made to not invite any ID advocates to the meetings, as reported, among others, by Catholic News Service (CNS), "Vatican evolution congress to exclude creationism, Intelligent design." (In a Fox News story dated Feb. 10, it was announced, "Vatican to Discuss, but Not Endorse, Intelligent Design." The decision to exclude ID was reversed, but organizer Saverio Forestiero said it would not be discussed on "scientific, philosophical or theological grounds.")

The CNS headline about "Creationism" being excluded is in reference to Young-Earth Creationism, but introduces my point. In fact, the word Creationism has been used to describe that particular type of Creationism, but the word really means a belief that nature and humans were created. It seems a bad start by the Church to exclude Creationism itself from discussions about how humans got here. Of course, what people really mean can get lost in translation through media and otherwise. But the CNS article quotes that the organizers "wanted to create a conference that was strictly scientific." (These organizers are persons from Notre Dame Univ. and Pontifical Gregorian University among other groups. I do not believe they include the Pope himself.)

The history of the Church in relation to science is caught up in the mistake with Galileo. Church authority took centuries to acknowledge the scientist was right about the position of the Earth around the Sun. Now many scientists (and others) who are Christian seem very sensitive to criticism from the prevailing academic leaders who insist on strict naturalism (where nature is allowed only to behave as a result of materialistic forces). Many Christians are themselves so convinced that God would do things in only one particular way that they have trouble seeing other perspectives concerning the changing the face of biology.

After Galileo, Newton was convinced God touched the planets every so often to keep them in place, but Laplace showed they could stay there by natural law. However, Laplace was a determinist, believing, for example, that we could theoretically make perfect predictions about atom movements and positions. Quantum physics proved him wrong. And, recent scientific discoveries about the universe show measurements with degrees of fine-tuning unimagined by any of these great scientists. Data on gravity, electromagnetism, the structure of atoms, indicate a very fine balance of forces which are necessary for existence. What is being called the "Anthropic Principle" is an understanding which brings us full circle from strict naturalism to the magnificence of God's creative powers upon the heavens.

The world of science has without doubt given us fabulous accomplishments. So has the world of economics. But in economics, money can rule and even for Christians, subtle rationalizations can take place. The Pope pleads for us to consider distributions of income and to help the poor. In science, a scientist or educator rightfully learns from past successes, but can be slow to adjust when totally new ways of thinking are in order. One can even honestly believe he or she knows the facts, and hence miss other factors that need to be considered.

There are facts yet to be discovered, and perhaps we've put the facts we do have together in wrong ways. That is the case for naturalistic evolutionists, theistic evolutionists, and people who believe God actively created organisms at one point or another after the universe began. We need to be open to new ideas when new discoveries come along.
And all Christians are Creationists and should have no hesitation in saying as much. When we start with the proper priorities, the rest will fall into place.

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