Update, May 17, 2:35 pm: Many thanks to Jerry Coyne for clearing up the question of Richard Dawkins’s views on human inevitability in evolution. As I thought, Dawkins does not hold the view Ruse attributed to him. Coyne has Dawkins’s response to Ruse’s piece, so follow the link and go have a look.
It’s been all book, all the time around here. The first draft of the BECB (that’s the big evolution/creation book) has benefited mightily from the heroic efforts of a number of proofreaders, but this has meant a certain amount of rewriting to produce the second draft. I’m putting the finishing touches on the revised draft now, and I expect to be handing it off to the publisher in a week or so. Yay!
Alas, that has meant yet another dereliction of my bloggily duties. Sorry about that. But I would like to poke my head up to comment on this recent essay, by Michael Ruse, over at HuffPo,
Ruse is perturbed, and rightly so, by something that arose in the Pope’s recent Easter sermon:
I don’t think anyone would want to say that the present pope, Benedict XVI, has the charisma of his predecessor, John-Paul II. Or the avuncular warmth of John XXIII — or the deep-seated understanding of that prelate about how his institution was in need of reform. But, we are often assured, one place where Benedict does make up is as a theologian. When it comes to understanding and developing what it all means intellectually, he is the very best.
Why then does he have such a blind eye or tin ear — you choose your metaphor — when it comes to modern science? Over Easter, in the most important sermon of them all, he stressed that whatever humans may be, we are not random. We are as we are by design.
If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine reason.
Ruse now notes that from a Christian perspective it is unacceptable to think that humans are just a chance occurrence unlikely to recur if evolution were played out a second time. He is rather forceful that there is no scientific justification for seeing directionality in evolution. This leads to a problem:
The point I am making is that, as things stand at the moment, there is a flat-out contradiction between the claims of modern biological science and the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. And the fact is that the Pope, for all of his vaulted theological expertise, is either ignoring this fact or is glossing over it, probably because he has made the decision that, when push comes to shove, theology trumps science. Schönborn was not out in left field on this matter. Indeed, he is tipped to be the favorite for the next pope and so he was hardly saying and writing things that would put him out of the running.
Schonborn was a Cardinal from Vienna who expressed very similar thought in op-ed a while back. At the time it provoked great consternation over whether the Catholic Church was withdrawing its support for evolution.
There is certainly much to appreciate in this paragraph. Ruse is absolutely right that there is a serious conflict between what the Pope said and evolution as scientists understand it. And I think he is also right in thinking that for this Pope, theology trumps science.
I would point out, though, that there has always been a conflict between Roman Catholic theology and modern evolutionary science. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find this:
The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ. The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice”. This grace of original holiness was “to share in. . .divine life”
That sure sounds like Adam and Eve are to be treated as actual people, and that they were the only people on the planet at the time. That’s a mighty big point of conflict with science. I suspect no one really calls attention to this because, while the Catechism can say whatever it wants, most Catholics, at least in America, abandoned a literal Adam and Eve a long time ago. The question of human centrality is of far more fundamental importance.
So what are we supposed to do about this conflict?
Note what I am saying and what I am not saying. I am saying that “as things stand at the moment” there is a clash and that the Pope is not helping. I am not saying that the clash could not be resolved. Although as it happens — and I have said this on many occasions — I don’t think the clash can be resolved by trying to get more out of science. Richard Dawkins (following Darwin) seems to think that humans are more than chance because evolution works through “arms races” — the prey gets faster and so the predator gets faster — and that ultimately this will produce human-type brains. Simon Conway Morris thinks that there exist always niches waiting to be occupied, one of these niches is for humans, and so at some point it was bound to be filled. Even Gould thought that complexity increases and so at some point, if not here on earth then somewhere in the universe, humans would appear.
I need a little help here. Can someone direct me to where Dawkins argued that human-type brains are effectively inevitable? He certainly emphasizes arms races frequently enough, but it is a long road from there to human-type brains. As I recall, when he reviewed Gould’s book Full House, he did not take that position. Unfortunately, I can’t find that review online just now. So it is possible my memory is faulty. It’s relevant to something I address in the BECB, so if anyone knows what Ruse is talking about I’d appreciate it if you could let me know.
While we’re at it, where did Gould say that he thinks humans would appear somewhere inevitably? He was always at pains to emphasize contingency, and did not think there was an actual trend towards complexity. So, again, if anyone can direct me to whatever reference Ruse has in mind, I’d appreciate it.
Ruse now argues briefly that the strategies mentioned in this paragraph do not work. Again, quite right. But if the conflict cannot be resolved by getting more out of the science, then where will the hoped for resolution come from?
My own thinking is that if you are going to get anywhere then you need to work on the theology. I have suggested that, since we have appeared, we could appear. Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear. A bit of a waste admittedly but we have that already in our universe.
As the parent of this idea, I am expectedly rather fond of it. But I am not promoting it now because it is right, but simply to say that some solution needs to be found. At least, some solution needs to be found by Christians. Otherwise, the New Atheists are right, and science and religion cannot be reconciled. Hence, you must take your choice, and since science is right the appropriate conclusion follows at once.
To me, saying that since you can’t solve this by getting more out of the science you will have to work on the theology, is tantamount to saying, “You can’t resolve this by gathering facts and evidence so you will have to do it by making stuff up.”
That aside, I would point out that theologians like John Polkinghorne and John Haught are on record saying that talk of multiple universes is just a desperation move invoked by atheists to get around the fine-tuning issue. Somehow I don’t think they will be too pleased with Ruse’s suggestion.
I am impressed that Ruse is so forthright here. I’m also impressed that he managed to get through an entire essay about science and religion without once bashing the New Atheists. (After reading the essay’s opening, I was sure he would claim that the Pope’s anti-evolution sentiments are blowback against the NA’s.) But I would point out that he has just basically admitted that Christians currently lack a satisfactory way of coming to terms with the blow to human significance dealt by evolution. Why, then, is he so disparaging of people who claim it is very difficult, if not outright impossible, to reconcile evolution with Christianity? After all, we could pile on by pointing out that, in addition to this issue, we know that evolution exacerbates the problem of evil, refutes the design argument in biology, and forces us to abandon many traditional understandings of the Bible, among other problems. If someone looks at all this and sees a strong cumulative case against the possibility of harmony between evolution and Christianity, are you really certain they are being unreasonable?