Mar 2, 2009

Vatican Conference on Evolution

The Vatican is sponsoring a scientific conference on Evolution on March 3-7 to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species. The liberal Cardinal Paul Poupard and his former office, the Pontifical Council for Culture, as well as the University of Notre Dame and six pontifical universities are co-sponsors. I and others are not optimistic about this conference because organizers say intelligent design "represents poor theology and science."

The Church [needs] to look at Evolution again, "from a broader perspective", explained Professor Gennaro Auletta, the head of the Science and Philosophy faculty at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and the main conference organiser.

I found that Georges Chantraine will give one of the closing conference talks on the "Theological Vision of Evolution by Teilhard de Chardin.'" Chardin claimed to synthesize evolution with theology and imagined a dazzling array of creative projections of man's evolutionary ascendancy to 'supreme consciousness', a God-like state. I read two of Chardin's books with awe when I was young and impressionable (and stupid).

Then I read "The Trojan Horse in the City of God" by Dietrich von Hildebrand [called (informally) by Pope Pius XII "the 20th Century Doctor of the Church."], who showed that Chardin was a dishonest paleontologist and rogue priest whose disbelief in original sin (and other Church doctrines) meant Christ's sacrifice on the cross had no salvation meaning.
"It was only after reading several of his works, however, that I fully realised the catastrophic implications of his philosophical ideas, and saw the absolute incompatibility of his theology fiction with Christian revelation and with the doctrine of the Church."
Others also believed Chardin's teachings were a perversion of the Christian faith, including Jacques Maritain and Étienne Gilson and many others. Here are some links that show why Teilhard de Chardin remains a dangerous enemy:
Professor Gennaro Auletta, who is head of the Science and Philosophy faculty at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and the main conference organiser told Edward Pentin of Newsweek (Newsweek Blog): “We hope this will really be an example of how to hold an open discussion without overtones. We simply wish to dialogue between people whose mission is to understand a little more.”

So will creationists ( aren't we supposed to believe God created us?) who believe in intelligent design be invited to the Vatican Conference? Here is what the UK Register says:

The Vatican gave the Creationist lobby a left right sign of the cross today, announcing it would stage a conference on Darwinism next month and declaring that it was one of the Fathers of the Church that thought up the idea in the first place.

At one point the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University wasn't going to give Creationism or Intelligent Design a hearing at all. But apparently the organisers have relented, and will consider Intelligent Design as a "cultural phenomenon" rather than as a valid scientific theory, giving US-based IDers the chance to be smirked at by a room full of Monseigneurs, Cardinals and Bishops.

Previewing the conference yesterday, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Church's Pontifical Council for Culture, conceded the Church had been hostile to Darwin on occasion. But, he said, the Church had never formally condemned Darwin, and he noted that in the last 50 years a number of Popes had accepted evolution as a valid scientific approach to human development.

In view of the Vatican 4-day presentation highlighting the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" (and lots more Darwinian publicity elsewhere), be sure and take a look at this video with three scientists who contend there are major problems with Darwin's theory.


Anonymous said...

Whether evolution is true or not is generally a matter of science, and I certainly believe that Pope Pius XII said it best in Humani Generis:

"35. It remains for Us now to speak about those questions which, although they pertain to the positive sciences, are nevertheless more or less connected with the truths of the Christian faith. In fact, not a few insistently demand that the Catholic religion takes these sciences into account as much as possible. This certainly would be praiseworthy in the case of clearly proved facts; but caution must be used when there is rather question of hypotheses, having some sort of scientific foundation, in which the doctrine contained in Sacred Scripture or in Tradition is involved. If such conjectural opinions are directly or indirectly opposed to the doctrine revealed by God, then the demand that they be recognized can in no way be admitted. [+]
36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter-for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faithful[11] Some however rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question. [+]
37. 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. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12]"

Certain points to keep in mind:

1) Humans have souls and the souls were created by God.
2) The Magisterium (Teaching Authority of the Church) certainly permits investigations into the origin of the body of Man.
3) Forbidden is to consider as a hypothesis that Adam is a sign of many parents, or that the human race came from more than 2 parents (Adam and Eve), and that we have all inherited original sin.

Once these teachings are acknowledged and accepted, the science of understanding where life comes from can move forward. I personally don't have any stake in the debate (beyond what Pope Pius XII mentioned above -- he mentioned more that is to be condemned, but those were the key points). I would want good science grounded in good philosophy and theology to succeed wherever that science leads.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, 'anonymous'.

Adding to the discussion, here's what I know from my background in the natural sciences:

1. Evolution is a fact. Almost all the species of the Earth, including extinct ones, can be shown to evolve by careful analysis of a few generations of their species (or can be proven to have evolved by examining the fossil record). Evolution is a fast-process, more or less: It only takes about 3-5 generations to detect genetic evolution in living species.

2. Man does not evolve, nor has it ever been proven that he has evolved in the past. Darwinian evolution occurs through 'mass births' -- or the birth of more progeny than the environment can support. Of these large number of infant species, then, only the fittest -- or those best adapted to their environment -- can survive. Those traits that survive this occurrence of 'mass births' are the traits that are passed on to future generations.

Mankind simply does not procreate in this fashion. In the greatest percentage of human births, only one or two infants are born -- and both usually survive. Therefore, the theories of Darwinian evolution cannot be applied to mankind.

Also: Much has been made in scientific circles about similarities between the appendages and organs of various species, including those of humans. But most scientists that note such similarities fail to control for similarities in environment -- water, air, ground, gravity, sunlight, darkness, and principle elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen. In other words, it is quite likely -- and is a legitimate scientific supposition -- that different species often have similar-looking appendages and organs because they all live on the same planet, or in the same environment (i.e., they all have the best 'tool' -- foot, claw, hand, etc. -- for walking on land, or for picking fruit, or digging, or swimming, etc.).

Also, the idea that God made man and all the species on the planet is an idea that is routinely ignored; even though it is, scientifically-speaking, poor science and poor scientific-methodology to ignore that possibility.

- Keith

Joseph said...


You say,

"In the greatest percentage of human births, only one or two infants are born -- and both usually survive."

That's rather biased towards modern time, isn't it? For most of human history, infant mortality rate has been rather high, with 30% or more infants and children dying before the age of 5 (See, e.g., "Childhood in the Middle Ages" By Shulamith Shahar, or this article on infant mortality in Israel.) Still more died before reaching the age of childbirth.

Again, only one or two children are born at a time, but the mother continues to live, and often has more children. If every mother had only three children, and 90% of them lived, then from Adam and Eve, in some 3000 years there would be 10 trillion persons.

But the fact is, for almost all of human history humans had more offspring than live and produce offspring in turn. It is only in the modern contraceptive world that women frequently only have one or two children.

The possibilities you speak of are not ignored, but rejected because they don't fit the evidence. As Cardinal Schoenborn pointed out recently, "the idea of the creation of completed individual beings or species is absurd." It simply does not fit the data, and that is why it's no longer considered as a reasonable hypothesis.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your comments. However, I think you might be missing some of the fundamental points that I am trying to make.

Darwinian evolution is defined by 'mass births' or 'mass localized births', and subsequent trait adaptation across multiple generations through infinitesimal genetic differences, limited species survival, and the transfer of specific traits from those offspring that managed to survive the 'mass births' event and the limited environment that they were born into. Like, for example, thousands of frog eggs being born in a stream or a pond all at once; where the stream or pond and the surrounding environment can only support, say, 50-100 frogs. The frogs that survive to the next egg-laying season are the ones, perhaps, which find food the fastest; or are the ones that can survive in water that experiences a sudden shift in pH; or are the ones that can survive a gradual change in saline content. Or, to give another example, like bluejays in a forest -- wherein 50 separate trees throughout the forest hold one or two nests where bluejays have laid 2-3 eggs; but the entire forest can only support about 10-20 bluejays, where the hawks, a few parasites, and the scarcity of food eliminate the rest. When it comes to human beings, however, even if a local population of human mothers have each given birth to as many as 12 or 15 children across a time-span of 20 years (where all live or all die, or some live and some die), the defined mechanics of Darwinian evolution simply don't apply to human beings. If you try to *make* them fit, then you no longer have the same definition of evolution that Charles Darwin proposed.

Darwin was right about the evolution of species. What he observed clearly happens -- all over the world. But human beings simply don't give birth to tens or hundreds or thousands of babies all at once, where the ones that survive are best-adapted to their environment, and best-adapted to the struggle of trying to survive a 'mass-birth' or 'mass localized birth' event like the examples for frogs and bluejays that I gave above. Even in the case where human beings experience a dramatic change in their environment -- like a famine, or a drought, or a war, or a plague where one sibling survives and another does not -- adaptation in genetic material is not observed. Some may survive where others do not, but the survivor's ability to survive is not due to one or more specific genomic traits that those who died did not happen to possess.

Evolution amongst species is clearly needed not only because the world is a finite place, but also because the millions of individual micro-climates and micro-environments where different species have evolved are also finite in size. And where evolution is concerned, the fact that these micro-environments frequently *change*, and most of them are capable of *rapid change*, is far more important than the fact that they are finite in size.
Also, if you read non-biased textbooks (or better yet, go directly to the original written accounts), you'll find that Charles Darwin never meant for his theories to apply to human beings. Neither, by the way, did any of his close associates, or the natural scientists that did similar work during Darwin's time such as Alfred Wallace and Charles Lyell.

Lastly, you appear to be mis-applying Cardinal Schoenborn's logic in the statement that you quoted in your post. When Cardinal Schoenborn states that "the idea of the creation of completed individual beings or species is absurd," he is not talking about the beginning of Creation of which the Book of Genesis describes. Cardinal Schoenborn is talking about the absurdity of the spontaneous creation of, say, giraffes or leopards or beetles or plants in the year 1820, or in the year 2001, or in the year 1213.

The Book of Genesis is a canonical book of the Holy Bible, as defined by the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Trust me -- Cardinal Schoenborn accepts the account of Genesis as belonging to the Holy Word of God. He accepts the Genesis account as being of Divine Authority, wherein God revealed to mankind through God, the Holy Spirit that He once *did* spontaneously create man, woman, plant, and animal. Cardinal Schoenborn's statement, therefore, does not apply to God's original creation story, nor did Cardinal Schoenborn ever mean it to do so. After all, God *can* create sons of Abraham from stones if He wishes. Certainly, then, He can also create the first man and the first woman, and the first of all the other plants and animals. And Catholics like Cardinal Schoenborn believe that God *did* create them, in the beginning.

Man was created to love God and to love his neighbor, with his whole heart, his whole soul, his whole mind, and his whole strength. Animals and plants do not, as far as I can tell, follow this commandment (though they know, in some sense, Who God is -- see Luke 2:6-7; and Isaias 1:3-4). And lastly, since I have not seen the beetles and the frogs and the bluejays of the world go in to worship with me at Holy Mass, I believe that there is a fundamental difference between man and plant, and man and animal, that should be more than obvious to all.

Yours in Christ,