Sunday, September 05, 2010


This morning on Canal 3 we watched a Spanish Catholic priest by the name of Jorge Loring, author of a fat tome titled Para Salvarte, ably demonstrating the tortuous and somewhat tortured reconciliation the Universal church has made with Darwin.

Only men have tools and honour their dead, Loring preaches, so their spiritual status is completely distinct from animals. (He doesn't mention what we are to make of the spiritual status of Neanderthals who lived in his own native land some 30,000 years ago. They certainly made tools, and evidence exists that they also honoured their dead. They also had bigger brains than modern humans, with whom they briefly coexisted in Europe. Were they just walking matter like 'los monos'? Where did they fit in God's plan?)

The Bible, he also informs us, does not have to 'make history'. It is a collection of messages not of facts. So when it tells us that God made Adam from clay, what it might mean is that God made Adam from the body of a monkey, which like mud, is just a lump of matter.
In this sense the Catholic church has 'no problem' with what Loring calls Evolutionism. What really matters then is the 'jump' made from the animal to the spiritual plane.

Ironically, this reasoning itself derives from an an interesting historical fact, for we know that the originators of scripture had in mind an ontologically-distinct kind of textual experiences for its readers, something altogether more complex than a simple distinction between facts and messages can encompass.

And while the Bible may not itself make history it is in fact made of history, something churchmen usually seem less ready to discuss with the faithful. We know for example when, where (and in some crucial instances like Genesis, why) its various components were put together. The minimum insight we can glean from this is that the Bible was not 'composed' in the order in which it is usually presented, and that the myth of creation it contains was not the earliest formative myth of the middle eastern peoples within whose culture and history it emerged. But context it seems, is best left to trained theologians, for when it comes to the ordinary faithful, it might rightly be considered a substrate for doubt.

Anyway, in spite of all this, Loring then advises us in altogether more stentorian tones that evolution remains 'discutible' and opens the pages of his own book in order to quote from the 'numerous' scientists who consider Darwin to be in error. One of these has been cited before in this blog, but Loring fails to distinguish between a reasoned scientific opposition to natural selection as the sole mechanism of evolution and a principled but ill-reasoned objection to evolution in toto.

Don't worry then, Loring concludes, Catholics have no reason to feel obliged to reject Evolutionism, but they also have no reason to feel obliged to accept it. And in this he's right of course. It's not obligatory to believe that the Earth revolves around the sun, that men landed on the moon, that Princess Diana's death was an accident etc. Reason, unlike religion, doesn't function through obligation. And scientific knowledge (as well as historical knowledge) is acquired though the piecemeal synthesis of facts and hypotheses, where truth is always provisional rather than absolute...but never so relative that it's OK to believe anything you want if the empirical evidence starts to line up against it.

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