Monday, October 29, 2007

Science, Don't Get Christianity Either.

Intelligent Design People Don't Get Theology, Either
If the theory of evolution only appeared formally and scientifically with Darwin in the 19th century, and famously continues to evolve with burgeoning discoveries and nuances in our own time (the New York Times featured an entire section dedicated to the pullulating perspectives of evolutionary theory on June 28, 2007), perhaps religion can be forgiven a certain tardiness in catching up to the swiftly accumulating evidence. To be sure, St. Augustine already had a seminal theory of seminal causes within the potency of matter in the early fifth century. Also, Pope Pius XII already stamped his basic approval on the theory in his encyclical Humani Generis in 1951. Nonetheless, events like the famous Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925 did not put an end to the furor in evangelical religious circles, which continues unabated and debated today regarding "intelligent design" in school teaching. In any case, the subject of evolution has always awed and fascinated me—even though I played the opposition (i.e., Matthew Harrison Brady) in Inherit the Wind as a young Jesuit! In modern times, the famous French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) was the most passionate proponent of evolution in Catholic circles. He was a paleontologist and mystic/poet who saw the entire universe as striving towards ever-greater "complexity-consciousness," and thus ultimately toward its fulfillment in and through Christ, whom he termed the "Omega Point." It is an enthralling vision, although both scientists and theologians complained that he tended not to respect the methodologies of their disciplines (for more on this read my initial blog entry on this topic). Hence, his fellow Jesuit Karl Rahner wrote to vindicate him in more formal theological language in his Theological Investigations. Basically, Rahner sees matter as guided upward and outward by the creative impulse of what Christians term the Holy Spirit, who is Creator not just at some hypothetical moment of creation, but necessarily present in creation at every moment with a vivifying and ever-expansive action. Such a dynamic perspective makes God's creative involvement all the more majestic, magnificent, and personal, stretching over millions, and indeed billions of years, even as, for God, "a thousand years are like a watch in the night." Here we are very far indeed from a "watchmaker" that winds up the universe, and then goes his way, as the Deists tended to argue. Yet we are also very far from a literalism that, as Rahner remarks, does not in fact take the texts literally, but actually misreads them. For, the first chapters of the Book of Genesis were never meant to be taken as history or science, as "eyewitness" accounts, either of God or of someone impossibly "interviewing" God, but as a spiritual, theological, and mystical statement about God's relationship with the world; as an "aetiological myth," to use Rahner's phrase, that provides an explanation, based on the human author's contemporary experience, of how things must have gotten to be the way we see them. The "seven days" are not seven days (how could there be a "day" before the fourth "day" when the sun was created? So asks Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind), but stages to show how creation splendidly unfolds, directly related to God in all its panoply and detail. Of course, we must also avoid the facile and misguided efforts to find correspondences between the "days" and scientific geological ages. On the contrary, modern scriptural scholarship confirms what the Kabbalah intuited centuries ago—i.e., this first chapter of Genesis has a different source from the second.
More specifically, it is a later priestly source, whose concern was to ground the sabbath and the seven-day week in some kind of primordial validating event. In other words, God's creating the world in six days and then resting on the seventh is not the source of the sabbath observance; it is the other way around.
What I would like to suggest, however, is that mature theology is also very far from intelligent design, which I consider to be a particularly unfortunate, maladroit, and problematic notion, at least as it is commonly presented and understood. It is true that the fifth argument of St. Thomas Aquinas for the existence of God is based on the design and governance of the universe. Yet theologians themselves noted, long before Richard Dawkins, that the argument is hardly cogent, and probably better serves as a reflection (in a double sense) of faith by believers than as an effort to persuade unbelievers. In addition, according with Stephen Jay Gould's insistence on the paramount role of chance in evolution, a priest friend of mine often takes the case a seemingly irreverent step further: with all the chance, chaos, entropy, violence, waste, injustice, and randomness in the universe, the project hardly seems very intelligent! Do we imagine that God is intelligent in basically the same way that we are, just a very BIG intelligence and "super-smart"? And "design," once again, evokes the watchmaker who somehow stands outside the universe, tinkering with his schemes at some cosmic drawing board. How could God be outside of anything or stand anywhere, or take time to design anything? Read the full blog post on MSM's Discover Magazine (here)
Note the following about this blog post:
The author quotes a rogue theologian whose writing have been banned by the Roman Catholic Church. Karl Rahner was never considered a scientist and his theological insights have a lot to be desired (sorry Rahner fans). When you want to know the position of the Roman Catholic Church quote the Holy Father's Benedict and John Paul II. For Pete's sake at least quote the Catechism! By the way, why does the author compare evangelicals with Catholic's?
Real Catholic takes on creation, (here), (here) and (here)

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