Catholics proclaim complete harmony between science and their faith, trot out Aquinas again

August 27, 2012 • 6:23 am

As science advances, shrinking the domain of explanation previously provided by religion, the faithful frantically seek ways to show that religious dogma remains compatible with science.  All too often this involves retrofitting: retinkering with or reconceiving of scripture in a way that comports what you must believe (if you accept science) with what you want to believe (your faith).

In January of this year the Pope established a “science and faith” foundation designed to wrest some kind of harmony out of these disparate magisteria. As The Catholic News Agency reported:

Pope Benedict XVI launched a new foundation at the Vatican aimed at building a “philosophical bridge” between science and theology.

“I don’t think most people necessarily see science and faith as being opposed but I do think there is confusion as to where to put faith and where to put science in their life,” said executive director Father Tomasz Trafny.

“So the question for us is how to offer a coherent vision of society, culture and the human being to people who would like to understand where to put these dimensions – the spiritual and religious and the scientific,” he told CNA on Jan. 19.

The Science and Faith Foundation will be headquartered at the Holy See under the leadership of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

This foundation was mentioned in a meeting this week in Rimini, Italy, where two religious academics, Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History (a well known anthropologist who works on human evolution) and William E. Carroll, a theologian at Oxford, firmly proclaimed that science and faith are best friends forever.

Their reasons will be familiar to readers. As CNA reported yesterday, Tattersall and Carroll called for a productive dialogue between science and faith.  They also engaged in a bit of theology:

“A proper understanding of creation, especially an understanding set forth by a thinker such as Thomas Aquinas, helps us to see that there is no conflict between evolutionary biology or any of the natural sciences and a fundamental understanding that all that ‘is’, is caused by God,” Professor William E. Carroll of Oxford University’s theology faculty told CNA Aug. 22.

“Evolutionary biology is that area of science which helps us to understand better the origin and development of human beings, but whatever those arguments are in evolutionary biology they, in principle, do not conflict with the fundamental understanding that all that ‘is’ is created by God,” Carroll said.

. . . “God causes the world to be the kind of world which it is and the natural sciences help to disclose what kind of a world we have,” Carroll explained.

. . . “One of the great insights of the Pope, which he continually emphasizes, is an enlargement of reason, a recognition that rationality is not limited to what the natural sciences do but that there’s a larger sense of rationality that includes both philosophy and theology,” Carroll said.

Who is to blame for the Big Rift between science and religion? One guess:

[Carroll] suggested that the recent debate has occasionally become confused by the interventions of high-profile scientists like Richard Dawkins or Lawrence Krauss.

Both, he claimed, “are really ignorant of philosophy and theology, and so they make all sorts of goofy philosophical and theological claims.”

Sorry, but the debate has been “confused” ever since science began showing that the claims of religion, including Catholicism, are not credible. And that debate has been lively since 1896, when Andrew Dickson White, co-founder of Cornell University, published his two volume anti-accommodationist opus History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. It continued, of course, with the writings of atheists like Bertrand Russell, H. L. Mencken, and Carl Sagan. (If you want to see how stridently anti-religious the Old Atheism could be, read Bertrand Russell’s “An outline of intellectual rubbish.“)

The key to Carroll’s weaselly accommodationism lies in two phrases: “a proper understanding of creation” and “whatever those arguments are in evolutionary biology they, in principle, do not conflict with the fundamental understanding that all that ‘is’ is created by God” (my emphases).

“Proper understanding,” when spoken by a theologian, always means “my understanding,” that is, the speaker’s own interpretation of scripture.  And that translates further to this: “I am the authority on which parts of the Bible were meant literally, and which metaphorically.” The fact is that Carroll’s understanding of the Bible and of God is no better than anyone else’s. Yes, we know that science has rendered huge swaths of religion—nearly all of it, in fact—unbelievable. But the faithful still want to hold onto some science-defying religious truths, like the reality of Adam and Eve, the existence of a soul and Original Sin, the virgin birth of Jesus, and Jesus’s resurrection.  Does Carroll accept, then, the reality of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of humanity, a doctrine officially affirmed by the church in Humani Generis (article 37)?  That, of course, is absolutely contradicted by recent findings in population genetics showing that modern humans could never have had a population smaller than about 1200.

And no conflicts “in principle”? All that means is that with the proper tweaking of theology, reading bits of it (without justification) as metaphor, we can comport some bits of the Bible with scripture. The problem is that many Americans (about 40%), a sizable fraction of Christians and Jews in other lands, and nearly all Muslims don’t accept that principle, and see the Genesis story or some kind of instantaneous creation as literally true. So Carroll is simply telling Catholics how to read the Bible. And, as usual Aquinas is dragged out as The Great Metaphorizer, ignoring the many other Catholic theologians (including the Pope himself) who see parts of the Bible as absolutely incompatible with science.

And was Aquinas really such a metaphorizer? Not nearly as much as most people think. While he’s famous for saying that scripture could be read metaphorically, he actually argued that scripture could be read both literally and metaphorically; in other words, he waffled. And if there was a conflict, scripture won.  Here’s Aquinas’s discussion of Paradise from Question 102, Article 1, of Summa Theologica:

On the contrary, Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. viii, 1): “Three general opinions prevail about paradise. Some understand a place merely corporeal; others a place entirely spiritual; while others, whose opinion, I confess, hold that paradise was both corporeal and spiritual.”

I answer that, As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xiii, 21): “Nothing prevents us from holding, within proper limits, a spiritual paradise; so long as we believe in the truth of the events narrated as having there occurred.” For whatever Scripture tells us about paradise is set down as matter of history; and wherever Scripture makes use of this method, we must hold to the historical truth of the narrative as a foundation of whatever spiritual explanation we may offer. And so paradise, as Isidore says (Etym. xiv, 3), “is a place situated in the east, its name being the Greek for garden.” It was fitting that it should be in the east; for it is to be believed that it was situated in the most excellent part of the earth. Now the east is the right hand on the heavens, as the Philosopher explains (De Coel. ii, 2); and the right hand is nobler than the left: hence it was fitting that God should place the earthly paradise in the east. [My bolding of the answer.]

So Aquinas was a waffler, at least on the question of Paradise, but seems to come down on its historicity. People like Carroll always ignore then when they tout Aquinas as the prescient, science-friendly theologian.

Aquinas’s overall views on things relevant to evolution seem to have been the following (see here and here; the quote below is from an ID proponent but gives the relevant references to Aquinas’s views):

Aquinas believed in a 6,000-year-old Earth. Far from believing in an old Earth, he was actually inclined to believe that the work of the “six days” in Genesis 1 was actually accomplished in an instant, and that plants and animals were simultaneously created by God at the very beginning of time. Aquinas also maintained that plants and animals were made by God, according to their kind (with the exception of those that were capable of arising by spontaneous generation). Additionally, Aquinas taught that the bodies of Adam and Eve must have been produced immediately by God, and by God alone. Finally, Aquinas held that Christians were bound to believe that Adam and Eve lived in a real Paradise, that Adam’s descendants, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah, were all real historical figures, and that Enoch was Adam’s great-great-great-great-grandson. For Aquinas, no Christian could deny that Lamech begat Noah, or that Elcana begat the prophet Samuel, without also denying Scripture.

So let us hear no more about Aquinas showing that there’s no conflict between the Bible and science, since the Bible could be read as metaphor. It seems to be Carroll, not Dawkins or Krauss, who displays his ignorance of theology—and he’s a theologian! Actually, I’m sure he knows about Aquinas’s views, but is merely dissembling to pretend that there’s no conflict between science and faith.

Let me add one more fact about Catholicism: the Church officially accepts the existence of demons that can possess people, as evidenced by many church statements and the existence of official church exorcists (there’s a Head Exorcist in the Vatican). Does Carroll want to claim that there’s no conflict between science and demons?

As for Tattersall, he trots out the same tired arguments for accommodationism:

“Science is a different way of knowing than spiritual faith, both answer to a need that humans have ‘to know,’ but they are answering different parts of the question,” added Tattersall.

In fact, Tattersall pointed out, “many scientists are believers, so there’s certainly no incompatibility in principle between the two.”

My response is two-fold, and not new, either.

1.  Spiritual faith is a way of trying to know, but not of knowing itself, for, based on revelation and dogma, it cannot arrive at truths about anything. Spiritual faith has never answered any question with certainty—not even whether there is more than one god.  It may give you personal “answers” that make you feel better, but those are merely self-help bromides, not universal truths.  Unlike religion, science does more than pose questions: it answers them.

2.  The assertion that some scientists believe in god is the cheapest and sleaziest way to comport science and faith. It says nothing about their different methodologies, their different philosophies, and the differences they arrive at when tackling questions about the universe.  That is the fundamental incompatibility between science and faith.  Saying that compatibility is proved by the fact that some scientists are believers is like saying that there’s compatibility between Catholicism and child rape because many Catholic priests are pedophiles.  Such facts demonstrate not compatibility, but the widespread ability of humans to hold two conflicting views in their head at the same time.  Newton, remember, believed in alchemy. Does that show a compatibility between alchemy and science?

When I read attempts of people like Tattersall and Carroll to revise theology so that it becomes science-friendly, I’m reminded of this statement by Carl Van Doren in his wonderful essay, “Why I am an unbeliever,” as strident as anything Dawkins ever wrote, but produced in 1926:

“With respect to the gods, revelation, and immortality, no man is enough more learned than his fellows to have the right to insist that they follow him into the regions about which all men are ignorant.”

There can be no productive dialogue between science and faith.  The dialogue is actually a monologue: science tells faith that its tenets are wrong.  That does nothing for science, and just forces the faithful into continual rationalizations and retrofitting of dogma.  Whether that’s productive or not is up to the faithful.

h/t: Justin Vacula, Grania Spingies

104 thoughts on “Catholics proclaim complete harmony between science and their faith, trot out Aquinas again

  1. Religion corrupts science whenever it makes any attempt to dictate the results of science as happened in the era of Galileo and is happening now in creationist debates. And much of Western religion keeps trying to undermine science (see recent Huffington Post on pseudo-science among our religious senators). You might easily have a Gouldian NOMA with religious philsosophies like Taoism, Confucianism, etc, but traditional Christians generally won’t stay in their bounds.

    I don’t think scientists should be in the business of trying to !*help*! religion, but if religious folk want to support modern science, by retrofitting their theology or whatever I won’t stop them as long as they understand the terms and conditions of their co-operative participation of science. (I had one terrific colleague at NASA circa 1979 that was very religious! Not to mention I was very religious also at the time!) A friendship between science and religion is conditional, and frankly science sets the conditions!!

    Is the fellow above citing Aquinas’ method or his specific teachings? If the latter, he is indeed being disingenuous.

    1. Eehhh, according to modern insights the Cardinals were right and Galileo was wrong. The dispute was not about the Earth revolving around the Sun, but about the question if Galileo could present his model as the absolute truth.
      What’s more, according to modern physics we as well may say that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Motion is relative.
      Be careful with your arguments.

          1. Tell that Karl von Gebler, Arthur Koestler and Gerhard Prause – guys who actually cared to read the original documents.
            Unlike you three.

            1. And the church knew modern physics? What through revelation?
              There are some pretty good reason why the church thought they were right – Ptolemy and the Bible – but even if they were correct at the time, it was for the wrong reasons.

              1. Just to say, the Bible is a horrible reason to think you’re right about the universe, especially in the face of contrary evidence.

        1. Ask a teacher of physics.
          Ie a colleague of mine.
          Or consult Atam P.Arya’s Introductory Physics, 1979 Chapter 9.
          Or consult Bertrand’s Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy, 1945, Third Book, Part 1, the end of Chapter 6.
          The only problem with the relativity of rotational motion is that the tangential velocity of the rotating subject might exceed the speed of light, but we won’t meet that problem in our Solar System.

      1. Sure, and using a geocentric model implies that Saturn is moving at 1/3 the speed of light around us. At a certain distance this model yields stellar objects moving in excess of the speed of light. And this is not even getting into the byzantine hoops the model has to jump through to handle the retrograde motion of Mars and other planets.

        I question your assertion that Galileo presented heliocentrism as an “absolute truth”.

        On the other hand the Cardinals did present geocentrism as a biblically mandated absolute truth backed up by threat of death for those who dissented.

        1. Besides which, the Earth doesn’t have enough mass for its gravity to hold anything other than the Moon in orbit around itself. Geocentricism only works if celestial mechanics are governed by something radically different from gravity. Newtonian mechanics would be out the window, too.

          Besides which, heliocentricism is trivial to demonstrate, once you have a telescope capable of resolving the Galilean moons. Point the ‘scope inward and you’ll see phases on Venus and Mars; that should seal the deal right there and then. Add in some transits, eclipses, and occultations, and the facts scream in your face. And by the time you’re bouncing radar off the other planets (let alone actually sending probes to them), geocentricism is as laughable as the flat earth theory or creationism.

          Might as well blather about it being rational to cling to belief in the Easter Faery, the Jesus Bunny, and the Tooth Christ.



          1. Actually, the phases of Mercury and Venus would be consistent with a hybrid model in which they orbited the Sun, but the Sun orbited a stationary Earth. (Was it Keplar that suggested this model?)

            Historically, geocentrism, which was widely held not just for religious reasons, needed Newton’s theory of gravity and observations of stellar parallax to kill it dead.


            1. I can only envision that if you don’t have the sizes and distances of the planets and the Sun correct.

              I know we didn’t have the size of Earth’s orbit until the measurement of seasonal aberration, but did we have any approximations of distances before then? I seem to remember the ancient Greeks doing some impressive work based on observations of lunar eclipses, but I don’t remember if they were able to get the distance to the Sun with their methods.

              Of course, once you have the distance to the Sun, and a telescope that can resolve the phases of the inner planets, most everything else, especially including the size and location of the rest of the resolvable objects in the Solar System, becomes a matter of simple geometry. When you’ve got that, you can plot the motions, and Kepler / Newton ain’t at all far behind.



              1. Of course the hybrid model wasn’t Kepler’s, but Tycho Brahe’s.

                Nevertheless, the Tychonian model, with the “correct” dimensions, is still consistent with intra-solar-system observations.

                But yes, there was movement towards pure heliocentrism. It just needed Newton to show why we weren’t flung off a moving Earth and Bessel (and Henderson) to show that the Earth did indeed orbit the Sun (as well as Foucault to show that the Earth rotated).


        2. The problems with calculation are mathematical in nature, nothing more. And of course Galileo didn’t know anything about Relativity, so couldn’t use that argument either.

          1. This is appalling: Galileo introduced the concept of relativity. It applies to inertial frames, but the relative motion of the Earth and Sun involves acceleration, and Galilean relativity does not then apply. Any attempt to force the concept to fit introduces spurious forces, which cannot be detected experimentally.

      2. That is mistaking (an approximate in this instance) map for the territory. As already noted, it doesn’t comport with physics except if you make your own interpretation of physics.

        So it is riding a sky fairy into space when you make the faith based claim that it can be used (said) “as well”. As opposed to Newton gravity it doesn’t make a factual, easy to use approximation to the physics except in very constrained cases.

        It is Newton gravity that is used to steer interplanetary crafts, and general relativity that is used to IIRC GPS position the local horde. With your “absolute truth” physics we wouldn’t have gotten to the Moon.

        Nothing in physics is “absolute truth”, but starting with factual observation and theory beyond reasonable doubt. When it becomes well tested those facts are no longer reasonable challenged. The simplistic truth value then approaches the complicated logic of testable facts. I would never try to make the claim that those are equal.

        Absolute Truth™ is observably inferior to facts, and that is why we have this discussion in the first place. Those catholic torture experts, IIRC, admitted to that much.

        (I can’t believe that institution, besides name changes, still exist! Religion truly poisons everything.)

      3. Your history is dead wrong. The Cardinals held that heliocentrism could only be discussed as a “mathematical fiction” and was “contrary to Scripture”, i.e. they held it was absolutely false. Even in the framework of relativistic motion with the Earth standing still, all the OTHER planets would be revolving around the Sun, so your appeal to relativity theory is a huge glowing red herring.

        I don’t know why this was a reply to my post.

        I was simply saying religion needs to stay out of science, but you can have either a friendly or hostile separation of the two, and I opt for a cautiously friendly one.

      4. MNb, yours is a breathtakingly unexpected statement to encounter in the third year of the second decade of the 21st century! What is the source of your history and nature of Galileo’s persecution and of your understanding of physics and the empirical evidence opposing geocentricism?

        Factually, Earth and the sun both mutually orbit the center of their combined masses, a point WAY DEEP within the sun itself; that is NOT geocentricism (and then on top of that there are the orbits of the other planets in the solar system and the orbits of their moons, none of which in any sense orbit Earth).

        And so, yes, indeed “be careful with your arguments!”

        1. Tsssk. Consult some reliable sources instead of relying on a myth made up a Century later by the Frenchman Augustin Simon Irailh in his Querelles Litteraires.

          1. And of course you can’t cite any “reliable sources” for your claims. What are these “reliable sources” that you would have me consult, MNb? Cat got your tongue and afraid to be justly ridiculed for such “sources” as you would have to actually list?

      5. In case the physics wasn’t expressed in sufficiently comprehensible terms, the “Motion is relative” canard is an oft-repeated and extremely boneheaded misinterpretation of relativity. Angular momenta does not equate to the energy of orbit. Rotation of body A does not somehow magically equate to the orbital motion of body B around A. All motion is not relative. Relative motion is relative (relative translational speeds, for instance). Next time you hear this howler, try to correct it. Just think of how fast Andromeda galaxy would have to be going to complete an orbit of the Earth in 24 hours. (better yet, calculate it right now, just to see how silly it is.)

        1. Ooh! Ooh! Pick me! Pick me!

          Andromeda is ~2,500,000 light years away.

          That gives a circumference for the not-orbit “orbit” of 5,000,000 * pi, or about 15,000,000 light years. Divided by 24 hours, and you get about 180 light-years per second, or around five and a half billion times the speed of light.

          Um…that’s a bit faster than Warp 10, isn’t it? I think so maybe.



      6. Nice to see how all those self-declared skeptics immediately throw their skepticism out of the window as soon as it doesn’t suit them.
        Sorry, guys. If you are looking for an anti-catholic martyr try Giordano Bruno instead. Copernicus and Galilei just don’t fit. The latter was “punished” by a ban to publish. When he did anyway (in my home country, The Netherlands) the Inquisition just left him alone.
        Which means that Pope John Paul II was a hypocrite. Anyone amazed?

        1. When he published anyway, he was forced to either recant his views or face Bruno’s end–death by slow-roasting. That deed accomplished, they put him under house arrest for the remainder of his life – and THAT not being enough, denied him a decent burial on “vehement suspicion of heresy”. So what?

          What friggin NIT are you trying to pick, anyway? Additionally, what do you have to say about “all motion being relative?” Are you quite done authoring some of the most blinkered, asinine comments of the year? Or are you going for a record of some sort?

        2. Even if true – bannning someone from publishing because they declared something a fact is being anti-science (and anti-freedom). Your attempts to excuse the church just damn them further.

      7. @MNb
        That statement is about 10% true and 90% deceptive. It’s like how a theist saying “You can’t prove there is no god” is, technically, correct.
        The old Ptolemaic-derived geocentric theory used epicycles to adjust it to fit the observations. Galileo’s heliocentric theory with circular orbits didn’t fit as well, hence the Cardinals were – technically – correct; Galileo couldn’t prove it. That does NOT make them ‘right’ and Galileo ‘wrong’. (It wasn’t until Kepler came up with elliptical orbits that it fitted).

        “we as well may say that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Motion is relative.”
        That is a ludicrous misinterpretation of physics and serves solely to show you know nothing about it.

        Similarly, we know now the Earth is NOT ’round’ or spherical. (It’s slightly pear-shaped). That does NOT vindicate the flat-earthers.

        1. Oops! My comment referred to MNb’s first statement (“Eehhh, according to modern insights the Cardinals were right and Galileo was wrong. “) Darn WP nesting catches me out again.

          And before someone takes ‘pear-shaped’ too literally, I know it’s an exaggeration, OK?

      8. Be careful with *your* arguments. Only inertial motion is relative in the way that would make this argument work; also, in accelerated contexts matters are not so simple. Consult a GR expert; there are certainly some who would disagree with this.

        But this is all irrelevant: putting someone under house arrest and threatening them with torture because they disagree (however dogmatically)? This is appalling … and a modern defense of it even more so.

  2. A god of even modest power that wished its will be known would have communication skills at least on a par with an undergraduate journalism major. The Bible is far more contradictory and confusing than even the most poorly written of high school newspapers; this is trivially demonstrated by the utter failure of believers to come to even a general consensus as to its meaning.

    Therefore, the Bible is not the work, even inspirationally, of any god of any power that wishes its will be known.

    But, far more insidious…is that theologians such as Carroll, when they speak in the royal third person about the “true” and “proper” way to understand scriptures, are doing nothing more than usurping unto themselves the authority of the gods they claim to speak for. It should hardly be surprising that they then so dearly love such a confused mess as the Bible; it’s the perfect palimpsest for overlaying their own “interpretations.”



  3. It was fitting that it should be in the east; for it is to be believed that it was situated in the most excellent part of the earth. Now the east is the right hand on the heavens…

    Well, east is on the right if north become the direction of orientation. And how did that happen? Presumably(??) as a result of the North Star. So then the exalted status of the East is rooted in a combination of science and right-hand centrism / left-hand condescension.

    I suppose you can’t fault pre-literate societies for coming up with this stuff, but I’m at a loss for words why anyone devotes time to weaving it into the current conversation.

  4. Seems to me that calling one’s opponent “goofy” is an automatically an admission of defeat. The Church can come up with no stronger condemnation of atheism than that?

    “I do think there is confusion as to where to put faith and where to put science in their life,”

    No, there isn’t. Anyone who gives this a bit of reflection (even if it’s based simply on self-interest) knows exactly where to put ’em. Those who cling to faith are so deeply in denial that “confusion” no longer describes their state of mind.

  5. For priests who are also scientists, successfully integrating their knowledge with their faith poses no problem. It should be no problem for the rest of us. It may be that many people are threatened by knowledge as it relates to their belief because they are not very secure in that belief to begin with, making them over-zealous. Science and religion can be compatible.

    1. I don’t know how an understanding of science can be compatible with belief in a resurrection or virgin birth of a human.

    2. Can you give an example of a religious scientist “successfully integrating their knowledge with their faith” ?

      I’d be interested in a paper published in a top-tier peer reviewed journal where a religious scientist used their faith to make a falsifiable claim.

      I think that you will find that real scientists who happen to be religious jettison their faith as they enter the laboratory.

      To be “secure in that belief” as you put it means that your belief is not amenable to change when presented with evidence that contradicts that belief, which is of course the antithesis of science.

      1. I remember several examples of scientists publishing results they had faith in without bothering to collect the necessary evidence in support of their hypothesis. The other common thing between them is that they got busted for research misconduct.

        1. joe, would you care to expound upon what Christian principles Collins integrated into the Human Genome Project?

          Nobody questions that there are a very small handful of prominent scientists quite accomplished at the art of doublethink. The question is how much the one actually interacts with the other.



    3. “Science and religion can be compatible.”

      Well, yes, science and religion CAN (in principle) be “compatible,” but ONLY IF it is the claim of RELIGION (not the claim of empirical science) which is modified or abandoned whenever a claim of religion conflicts with a claim of empirical science.

      However, the PRACTICE of modifying or abandoning claims of religion (and not the claims of empirical science) that come into conflict with the claims of empirical science is historically AND PRESENTLY not widely occurring (forgive the British understatement) — witness for example the present situation where in the USA today nearly 1 out of every 2 Americans (~43%) think Earth is less than 10,000 years old and that all the many different “kinds” of life we see on Earth today appeared on Earth within a few literal days of each other.

    4. This has been refuted so many times – why do we have do go over it again?

      The existence of religious scientists does not prove the compatibility between science and religion. All it proves is that:

      1. People are not computers and they have the ability to hold contradictory views in the same time

      2. It is not necessary to adhere to the core epistemological principles of science at every moment in your life as long as you do so while you’re in the lab or writing papers (whether religious scientists actually successfully stick to that separation is a whole different subject – after all, Francis Collins was openly bragging about inserting God in the announcement of the completion of the human genome)

      3. It is not necessary to be a good scientist to be a successful scientist – a good scientist can not believe in God because belief in God is incompatible with the above mentioned core epistemological principles of science, however the majority of science consists of purely technical stuff that one can do properly without him violating those principles when it comes to God getting in the way

      1. Aquinas aptly demonstrates why epistemology is simply not congruent with faith. “Nothing prevents us from holding, within proper limits, a spiritual paradise; so long as we believe in the truth of the events narrated as having there occurred.” He may recognize limits (for whatever his opinion regarding limits is worth), and even describe them to offer as guidance, but what can possibly universally limit people’s willingness to believe any narration, whether solidly grounded or fantastic, except the practice of skepticism?

    5. No it is not. Religion, and I’m guessing you mean Christianity, makes claims that are completely against observed reality. It is *only* by lying, by cherry picking your religion and ignoring great parts of it, that you make up a religion that is “compatible”. You have made a god that is intentionally vague to excuse its inaction and impotence and a religion based on that is just as pointless.

      1. Ah but Sir that is where you are wrong. The Abrahamic God was not inactive and impotent; on the contrary. He slaughtered the entire world to start from scratch again, only to realise he didn’t know how to start from scratch again. Whoops?

        Also he literally was emotionally insane, like a full-blown Toddler 3-year-old sociopath slaughtering peaceful ‘suckers’ who couldn’t see insanity coming, murdering their defenceless families in cold blood but he wasn’t _entirely_ evil!

        Numbers 31:18
        But all the women children who have not slept with a man, keep alive for yourselves.

        When you understand how proactively anti-children the Abrahamic God was, you will understand some dark Truths about those who aren’t merely propping up the major religions.

        They are not victims; or at least they don’t see themselves as victims. They are breeding their own slaves to take ‘advantage’ of. They aren’t interested in “forsaking all that [they] hath”, that wasn’t written for them. They know it’s written for you. Everything is about you. Just ask them, they’ll preach at you. They’ll tell you everything you should do. Them? Their focus is elsewhere.

        On your daughters. And if a war looms, your sons will be needed for the Goliaths. It’s what children are for. Anyone who read the Bible would understand.

  6. Newton, remember, believed in alchemy.

    Given the state of knowledge of chemistry and the total lack of knowledge of atomic structure at the time, it was not at all unreasonable to suppose that, for instance, lead could be transmuted into gold via chemical processes. It wasn’t until the discovery of the periodic table in the 19th century that the true nature of the elements began to be uncovered. Thus, IMHO, Newton must be given a pass on this issue.

    1. Well, yes, he didn’t know any modern chemistry. But that’s still no excuse because as far as I know the story, he really believed this stuff as if it was true, i.e. it’s not as if he treated it as some unproven hypothesis to be tested. If he did treat this way clearly stating that there is no evidence up to that date to back it up and that he was doing research on the topic, then it would have been completely legitimate. But that’s not what he did, so he committed the mortal scientific sin of believing things without any evidence in their support…

      1. Historically, Newton actually got his correct ideas about white light being a composite of multiple colors from the Incorrect belief in alchemy!!! It was also from alchemy that he got the idea of action at a distance ergo gravity!!! You can’t separate them. Since Newton’s ideas we have separated the wheat from the chaff more deeply. (Come to think of it, Niels Bohr was no believer but got some correct ideas for quantum physics from Vedanta Hinduism.) And Newton did experiments to try to verify various other alchemical ideas and come up short. I see no problem here!

        1. I used the words “as far as I know” for a reason – as you can imagine, at any given moment, I have much better things to do than to study Newton’s writings.

      2. John Maynard Keynes was scheduled to give a lecture to the Royal Society on Newton in 1946 but died before he could deliver it. The text of the lecture survives and is worth reading (just google “Keynes on Newton” to find it):

        “Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago…
        Why do I call him a magician? Because he looked on the whole universe and all that is in it as a riddle, as a secret which could be read by applying pure thought to certain evidence, certain mystic clues which God had laid about the world to allow a sort of philosopher’s treasure hunt to the esoteric brotherhood. He believed that these clues were to be found partly in the evidence of the heavens and in the constitution of elements (and that is what gives the false suggestion of his being an experimental natural philosopher), but also partly in certain papers and traditions handed down by the brethren in an unbroken chain back to the original cryptic revelation in Babylonia. He regarded the universe as a cryptogram set by the Almighty – just as he himself wrapt the discovery of the calculus in a cryptogram when he communicated with Leibniz.”

  7. If Science is compatible with Catholicism, then Science should also be compatible with the Lord of the Rings. lol.

    1. They are in fact compatible as long as you aren’t foolish enough to believe that what is being described in the book comports with reality… same goes for the Tolkien piece.

  8. Catholics already believe that child rape is perfectly compatible with preaching superior morality, so is it any wonder they believe science is perfectly compatible with their faith?

  9. I kinda dislike the term “New Atheism”. It’s as though it dropped down from nowhere without any sort of historical context. This isn’ “new” atheism, this is Post 9-11 Atheism. The “New” Atheism would not have happened had it not been for 9-11.

    1. Actually, the only thing new is the attention we’re getting. Jerry linked to a piece by Bertrand Russell that’s as snarkily dismissive of religious claims as anything Hitch ever penned — and Twain did it better than Hitch. Twain, himself, was a latecomer…by millennia. even Epicurus would fit right in with today’s “New” atheism.



      1. I just read Hume’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1777), and it’s pretty clear that he’s in the New Atheist lineage. While careful to acknowledge the primacy of faith and revelation as justification for religion (which some of his readers probably thought sounded very devout!), he argued rigorously against any actual truth-claims proceeding from faith, revelation, or theology. The peroration should be familiar:
        “If we take in our hand any volume, of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

  10. I feel sick to my stomach when I read this. And though it is due to something I ate that is not agreeing with me, Tattersall’s and Carroll’s accommodationism is not helping.

    Ian Tattersall is, or acts as, a creationist. He is on Templeton Foundation’s take on their board of advisors.

    Apparently his idea of personhood is that it magically and uniquely appeared in humans of a specific species ; also wrote , “Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness (Harcourt Brace, 1998)”.

    Not coincidentally then he is an Out-Of-Africa proponent. A multiregional hypothesis would topple his cart of intelligently designed eggs.

    Personally I wouldn’t give two pennies for his ideas on emergence of human cognition, as religion poisons everything. Neanderthal art has now been found IIRC, and they are suspected to have had the same vocal apparatus as us hyoid bone construction; same language promoting alleles).

    And I hear that their absence of plastic skeleton modifications signifying spear throwing as in [i]H. sapiens[/i] instead is replaced by modifications signifying scraping of hides. Recent claims have been that the animals they took down was also more structured in population and season for making great pelts than meats.

    In other words, they might not have thrown spears because it destroys quality of hides, they may have done their hunting into natural corals for clubbing. This could explain why they had the typical skeleton damage of rodeo artists.

    Neanderthals may have been their times fancy dressed cowboys busy chatting up the girls. They certainly succeeded with some of our ancestors. Yeehaw!

    This outburst (slightly edited) was prompted a few weeks ago by Arse Technica commenter noob, which said the following on Tattersall in relation to the new crossbreeding finds:

    “As I’ve mentioned in other threads, I’ve been reading Ian Tattersall’s new book “Masters of the Planet”, which takes a new look at all the latest shreds of evidence for human evolution. Although strictly one scientist’s opinion, some of the things he proposes do cause some pause (for thought). With regard to the Neanderthals, he proposes that although smart and technically proficient, there is absolutely no evidence they had acquired symbolic thought processes, and much indirect evidence that points in the direction that they didn’t. In other words, he proposes Neanderthals had no art, no language (which is symbolism at its most useful), etc. Obviously Neanderthals communicated to each other, but there is no evidence they did so with language. A couple of quotes from the book:

    [quote]When we ponder the differences between the Cro-Magnons–whose lives, like ours, were doubtless riddled with myth and superstition–and the Neanderthals, perhaps the closest thing we can obtain to a glimpse of the divergence in psyche comes from the grisly yet matter-of-fact fate of the hapless denizens of El Sidron, and from the casual way in which that piece of skull bone from La Quina was used as the most inconsequential type of tool. I cannot help but read an intense form of focused practicality–and a related lack of symbolic imagination–into these and all the other material leavings of the Neanderthals. These large-brained relatives certainly were smart; but their particular kind of smartness was not ours.[\quote]

    [quote]When Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons met on the landscape it seems probable that, for all their similarities, they would have perceived each other as alien beings, each with its own way of viewing and dealing with the world. Language would have been a major issue, among many others.[\quote]

    I’m not entirely convinced Tattersall’s projections above (from the rather thin evidence in existence) are correct, but I don’t have any evidence to dispute it either. Sure, there likely was inter-species sex going on from time to time with them, but the more directly relevant inter-species breeding may have been with another species, like the Denisovan’s mentioned above.

    As to whether Neanderthals were human? Probably not. Depends what you mean by “human”.”

    My suspicions were later confirmed by going to Wikipedia summing up Neanderthal finds.

  11. So Joey the Rat crosses the Rubicon and spouts this pap in the hometown of Federico Fellini and we’re supposed to see this as some sort of spiritual rebirth? LOL! The guy really is out of touch, isn’t he?

  12. Yes, we know that science has rendered huge swaths of religion—nearly all of it, in fact—unbelievable. But the faithful still want to hold onto some science-defying religious truths, like the reality of Adam and Eve, the existence of a soul and Original Sin, the virgin birth of Jesus, and Jesus’s resurrection.

    Oh, I think we can go farther than that. ‘Science-defying religious truths’ can also include the failure of testable theories like mind/body dualism, psychokenesis, ESP, and vitalism. Remove those from our model of reality and the supernatural drops right out of religion… which makes it no longer “religion.” Mechanism and composition have been removed. All you’ve got left is philosophy, ethics, empiricism, and other secular areas.

    Catholics want to pretend that the subsets of “theism,” spirituality,” and “religion” are their own separate category. No. They’re derived from the larger categories — which still remain without them.

  13. I would say “why do they bother” but they need to in order to remain relevant in the modern world, but it is wrong to think that Genesis and Evolution can be reconciled, you need to abandon faith when you discover truth.

  14. Bertrand Russell’s fine piece refers to this:

    1 Timothy 3:2
    A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

    I knew the Pope had a butler, but I didn’t realise there was a Mrs Ratzinger.

  15. Ah, the old “you don’t know Sophisticated Philosophy and Sophisticated Theology” canard.

    As for the “dialogue”, it’s really more of talking at cross-purposes. Religion willfully pretends that it is superior to science and makes up increasingly complex apologetics to allegedly show how there is no conflict. Science tries to inform religion, but religion prefers blissful ignorance. Religion in turn moans about how mean science is and how they can really all get along – something which science naturally rejects.

  16. “recent findings in population genetics showing that modern humans could never have had a population smaller than about 1200.”

    Can you please give a reference for this?

    1. And this in the quotation from Aquinas: “others a place entirely spiritual; while others, whose opinion, I confess, hold that paradise was both corporeal and spiritual.”

      Should the phrase be, “whose opinion I confess” (no comma) – that is, “whose opinion I admit to (holding myself)”?


      1. Almost certainly. I was scratching my head over this a bit myself. Otherwise, “opinion” ends up as the subject of the verb “hold”, which is still more or less coherent, but would mean that one of the two is inflected incorrectly (“opinion holds” or “opinions hold”).

    1. It is if you rely on propaganda instead of facts, yes. Colin Russell:

      “Draper takes such liberty with history, perpetuating legends as fact that he is rightly avoided today in serious historical study. The same is nearly as true of White, though his prominent apparatus of prolific footnotes may create a misleading impression of meticulous scholarship”.

      Some of you guys aren’t any better than the average creationist, just repeating myths over and over again until they seem true.

      1. Colin Russell? Colin A. Russell, President of “Christians in Science”?

        I take it that you consider the above quoted opinion to be a statement of fact? Coming from Colin Russel, who has made a career of cherry-picking the history and achievements of scientists who also happen to be Christian to further his accomodationist agenda?

        You don’t consider THAT propaganda? I guess you ARE going for the Greatest Number of Pig Ignorant Comments Made in a Day Award. You win.

      2. You said: “…Karl von Gebler, Arthur Koestler and Gerhard Prause…”

        Propaganda and not facts, right there.

        1. Notable, Von Gebler’s book lists the inquisition as one of the co-authors. Hardly independent evidence, eh?

        2. I can only find that Koestler wrote a book that was originally to be about kepler but included some stuff about galileo and others. That material includes unreliable reports of conversations between the two that read like they exchanged text messages.

          1. Do you mean ‘The Sleepwalkers’? I read it years ago, IIRC it was interesting, not sure how reliable it was. As I recall Koestler was quite religion-friendly. He claimed Galileo’s main problems arose as a result of, shall we say, arrogance and bad PR on his part – trying to get his heliocentric model officially accepted when the data didn’t support it.
            From other accounts I’ve seen occasionally there may have been some truth in that.

            1. yes indeed; his data did’nt support his model.

              “Galileo Galilei was right: Earth moves around the Sun, just as Nicolaus Copernicus said it did in 1543. But had Galileo followed the results of his observations to their logical conclusion, he should have backed another system — the Tychonic view that Earth didn’t move, and that everything else circled around it and the Sun, as developed by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in the sixteenth century. This is the conclusion that Christopher Graney… ”


  17. How many of you guys also believe that christianity killed off ancient science?
    That’s another stupid anti-clergical myth.

    Just remember: the scientific method means accepting facts even if they debunk your prejudices. That’s as valid for believers as for atheists – like me.
    The so called science-religion conflict is for a too large part just made up bullshit. What’s left, like Darwin getting criticized, is bad enough.
    Wake up, this is not a predictable good guy vs. bad guy western of the 50’s.

    1. When someone claims that a human can come back from the dead, or give birth to a child without having sexual intercourse, then they are in conflict with science.

    2. You’re right, it’s not a “good guy vs bad guy” situation. The conflict is between epistemologies, not individuals. But it’s perfectly acceptable to call out those individuals who corrupt the only legitimate epistemology we have with special pleading and wishful thinking. Religion is all about accepting claims or believing things on piss-poor or zero evidence. How on earth could an enterprise like that be compatible with the rigorous methodology of science?

      In my experience, accomodationists really only have two arguments:

      1) Lots of scientists are religious.


      2) Scientific descriptions and explanations are fine and dandy, sure, but, you see, god made everything to work that way in the first place!

      (1) only demonstrates cognitive dissonance. It does nothing in the way of reconciling the two epistemologies.

      (2) was countered perhaps most famously by Laplace.

  18. “So the question for us is how to offer a coherent vision of society, culture and the human being to people who would like to understand where to put these dimensions – the spiritual and religious and the scientific,”
    Well, you could start by admitting that your religion, based on a Bronze Age book, is nonsense and, at best a historically interesting work of fiction. You could then go on to apologize to the millions of people whom you have harmed: for the guilt, shame, and fear of eternal torment over bodily functions that for the most part are entirely natural; for condemning millions to living in poverty because they are not allowed to limit the size of their families, all so your church membership and the resulting income can increase; you could admit that science has shown that there is no evidence for demon possession, or for wine and wafers turning into anything resembling blood and flesh; and you could apologize (by shutting down all services and operations worldwide other than those that provide for the poor)for the macho arrogance and the feeling of infallibility that has lead to priests abusing their positions of trust all over the world, ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men while you do your best to pretend that it’s not happening. I COULD go on…..

  19. Jerry, many thanks for the introduction to White’s History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. What I’ve read thus far (the first 18% of the free Kindle edition) has been a fascinating tale about this constantly recurring theme: Science introduces an idea contrary to the hidebound assertions of the theologians, and they resist it with all their might. When it finally becomes too ludicrous to deny, however, they give way and either move on to some other reactionary battle or try to find some way of claiming that Holy Writ actually taught the new idea all along. Over and over again it repeats: the round earth, the presence of humans at the antipodes, the age of the earth, and of course evolution.

    It’s very readable for a 116-year old book, and I’m glad to have learned about it. Highly recommended.

  20. Actually, there was no retrofitting in the reminder that Catholicism and evolution are compatible. Augustine, a saint who liven in the fourth and fifth centuries, actually wrote about Genesis and discussed how the “days” were almost certainly nonliteral. A bunch of Church Fathers actually posited similar beliefs. Evolution is perfectly acceptable belief to Catholics so long as we still believe it was guided by God and that man’s soul is essentially different from animal souls.

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