I recently heard an interview with Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum two authors of a book published this past August entitled Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future. In the book they claim most Americans are scientifically illiterate. They try to explore why many Americans are skeptical of what the authors term “good science” and why we seem to accept what they call “bad science.”  I would like to add a dimension to the conversation that they did not cover, namely, how science has edged over into the religious world by demanding a kind of faith. This movement beyond the proper boundaries of science has caused the public not to be “illiterate” so much as skeptical.  Allow me to begin by stating some basic premises. 

  1. Science it seems to me is fundamentally about what is material and measurable. It is true that there are some areas on the cutting edge of science such as quantum that defy simply measurement, but most fundamentally science is about what we can physically measure, observe and quantify. The realm of science is the material world. Further, the scientific method and peer review remain essential components of the world of science. Now I say all this with respect. I think sometimes we ask too much of science. When a scientist will not postulate a personal God or does not accept biblical texts as raw data,  he does not lack faith necessarily, he is staying within his realm. To ask him to affirm some theological point or to use scripture in his reasoning is asking too much. The world of science is circumscribed by the material and the measurable. Many things of faith are not material or measurable. This does not make them less true but does place them outside the realm of what science can speak of.
  2. Faith on the other hand has a broader realm. As believers we not only accept the measurable and the material but also the spiritual and the authority of revealed truth. We are free to accept science into our world in a way that science is not free to accept us into theirs. Since it is a Catholic instinct that all truth is one and that truth cannot contradict truth, we can with some confidence joyfully accept the truth which science uncovers as affirming what we already believe. As we shall see this has to be done with some discernment for not all which is called science is settled or demonstrably true.
  3. But we have limits too. Although we are able to accept much of science into our world it also remains true that our faith imposes some limits. This is particularly true today since science not only measures the material world, it has enabled us to exert a significant amount of control over the material world. But simply because we can control does not mean we always should. Our moral tradition imposes limits on what we as Catholic Christians can accept insofar as controlling the material goes. Most recently the biggest area of tension is in the area of bioethics to include things such as embryonic stem cell research, abortifacients, cloning etc. Here there are tensions between the scientific world and the world of faith.
  4. But let’s be clear the Church is not and should not be intrisically “anti-science.” We ought to respect science and it’s boundaries and insist on proper limits when necessary. Some may argue that in the past when the Church has had more power we may have transgressed into the world of science inappropriately. While I do not think that every charge against the Church in this regard is true or fair, it seems clear enough that there were some regrettable moments of overstepping in our past. Yet it remains true that the Church has also been the patron of science. Through our universities and hospitals Catholics have well shown respect for science. Priests and religious have been among noted scientists.

But I want to propose that it is often science that oversteps its boundaries today and that this is what has led to what the authors above call “scientific illiteracy.” Some basic departures from the limits of science and the increasing demand that we simply put faith in what scientists say are very evident today and have led to a more general cynicism and skepticism on the part of the public toward scientific claims. What our authors call “illiteracy” may be rooted in doubt that science is all that pure anymore.

  1. “Settled Science” exaggeration- Some in the scientific world often request a kind of faith on the part of the public that what they claim is proved beyond doubt and is settled science. But the fact is, even so-called settled science changes a lot. I am only 48 and recall that when I was a young child being taught that the universe was in a steady state. But in the 1960s this basic scientific presumption yielded to the current expanding universe theory wherein the universe is expanding outward at a rather remarkable rate. When this theory was first proposed many scientists balked at the notion for it unsettled many notions of the universe. But rather sweepingly this theory has now gained almost universal acceptance. The proof for this dynamic expansion is the red shift indicating movement in the stars away from us. While it seems unlikely that we will go back to some other theory it always remains possible that the theory of the universe may shift to something else if new data becomes available. What was considered settled science wasn’t all that settled after all. Further, when I was in High School we were gravely informed by our teachers and the media that we were heading for a new ice age. By the year 2000 we should expect a major expansion of the ice caps and increasingly frigid winters in the north. Well 20 years later we were being told that global warming threatened everything. But which is or was the settled science? Cooling or warming (More on this later). The Theory of Evolution is often called settled science but it is just a theory and  the fact is that the fossil record raises serious questions about the theory as it is currently proposed. The fossil record shows that species appear and disappear suddenly and do not just morph into each other.  And we were all told without any doubt that there were nine planets in our solar system. Oops looks like that isn’t so sure either. When is s a planet not a planet? When it’s a planetoid of course! All sorts of other little examples come to mind: coffee is good,  coffee is bad. A glass of red wine is good, not it’s not. This causes cancer, well no it actually doesn’t and is in fact good because it has anti-oxidants (whatever they are). Now there may in fact be some things we can call settled science but the fact is that some scientists often demand a faith of the general public that is beyond what science should ask. Science steps out of its boundaries when it starts asking for a faith that certain things are settled when in fact they are not, or may realistically change. Many theories have come and gone and the public is not illiterate or stupid to remain less than enthusiastic about the latest claims of science. The latest findings may in fact be only that, the latest findings.
  2. Advocacy Science- As stated above science is about the material and the measurable. In it’s purest form science has deep reverence for data and the scientific method demands that theories be tested and the results be replicable. Intense peer review, testing, checking and analyzing of data, examining alternative explanations and so forth are all essential parts of science. But in recent years there has been a noticeable shift away from the careful world of true science on the part of some scientists. The media plays a big role in this. Also, grabbing up limited funding often requires that scientists behave more like salesmen. Publicity brings in bigger dollars for research so some scientist have left the careful world of scientific precision and taken up an edgy, provocative style that often exaggerates and goes beyond what the data actually say. They manifest a kind a religious fervor that may be appropriate for religion but not for science. Again this is not true of all or even most scientists, but there are enough engaged in this sort of hyperbole that the public again becomes suspicious that we are dealing with pure science here. When science steps out of the lab and begins to aggressively advocate for public policy shifts, funding priorities, taxes etc. it has left the scientific world and entered politics. It is unrealistic for scientists who walk into the political world and begin to advocate to expect the public to take their white coat so seriously any more. When science becomes about money and public policy and less about data it has left the world of pure science and cannot demand that it be treated as pure, objective, unbiased and just about the data. There is almost a religious proselytizing evident in some. The most obvious example of all this is the global warming (climate change) controversy. Many have suspected for years that this was not pure science but rather advocacy science, more about money and politics than about real science. Recent and persistent revelations about the data having been manipulated, a lack of peer review, poor source data and even the destruction of data lend great credibility to these charges. The chief proponent of this theory and Director of Climate Research at the East Anglia University, Phil Jones has stepped aside over this scandal. Things like this go a long way to show that the general public may not be “illiterate” in terms of science but is in fact skeptical. When science demands faith and that the public make major changes but does not level with us as to the theoretical nature of its propositions it has strayed beyond science. 
  3. There’s more to life than Science- This final critique is not directed at science per se but at our culture. There has been a tendency in our culture to emphasize the material and the measurable. But there are many things in life that cannot be measured or quantified. Justice, mercy and compassion are very real but they cannot be reduced to mere math. Love, joy, serenity, all real but not produced to a test tube or able to be put on a chalk  board. The existence of God who many know to be very real cannot be found under a microscope and God cannot be reduced to a computer algorithm. But there are some in our culture who so exalt science and materialism that anything outside their world “isn’t real.” Therefore for some who see only science as revelatory, faith is unreal and it is fantasy. It can’t be “proven” using the scientific method etc. Here too is a failure to recognize the limits of science. As I have said I see this as more of a cultural issue than of science per se. This sneering at faith and things outside pure science is a source for many in the public who are skeptical of science to some extent. Most people know that life is not just mechanistic, that everything can’t simply be quantified. A scientist may declare that drinking coffee is bad  but everyone doesn’t stop drinking coffee. Why, because they are illiterate? Not necessarily. Life has trade-offs. Coffee is about more than biology. It’s about relaxing, its about a small euphoria, it’s about socializing, its about taste, flavor, aroma, it’s about a lot of things.

So maybe we are not so illiterate after all. Surely it is helpful if we learn more of what science has to teach. But science is only one part of life. It is exists in the world of the material and measurable and we human beings live in the wider world, the world of faith, the world of love, the world  of wonder, the world that accepts some trade-offs and that life is not about one thing or view but about many. As Christians we ought to joyfully accept what science can offer us but also realize its limits. We should respect the limits that science has, that it cannot and should not theologize. But it is not wrong to ask science to respect its own limits too. And when it does stray into politics or faith and makes demands that we accept on faith as settled things that are not settled, or when our culture idolizes science as the only thing, we are not illiterate to tune out or to object. We are insisting on proper boundaries and that science not try to become religion or politics.

This old film from the Moody Bible Institute is a pretty good example of one way faith and science can work together. For the believer science helps us to develop the gifts of wonder and awe. God has done marvelous things. Science helps us to see just how marvelous as this film shows.

69 Responses

  1. Karl says:

    One must always be sceptical of those who are paid to do research, as where the money comes from can inordinately direct the outcome of the “research” and certainly the advertizing and sales of the results are directed to make more money. Profit itself is not wrong but abuse of the results is and then there are “ideological” motives…….

  2. Craig says:

    Actually, quantum mechanics is a quantitative field. What makes it bizarre is that the rules for obtaining a measurement are different than what we use in every day life.

  3. Ryan says:

    Msgr., as one who is studying to be an engineer, I find your article very interesting. However, I must agree with the authors that there is a great deal of scientific illiteracy. I think the problem tends to be with what people think they know as opposed to how what the real situation is. For example, most people take it for granted that the earth is round, but this took a great deal of thinking and reasoning before it was proven so. There is always the problem to reducing things to what we can measure, but I think God has given us an amazing capacity to discover, at least partially, how things work and taking part in this is an aspect of Divine providence.

    • I agree with you to a certain extent that there are misunderstandings and pop science out there that people latch on to. Snake-oil salesmen proliferate in the medical world etc. I do not deny that scientific misunderstandings do exist among the populace. However the fault is not entirely ours as scientists often take their debates out into the public and at a certain point no one is sure what to think since scientists are divided. So it isn’t just being poorly read. As for your example about a flat earth there may be some historical inaccuracy in thin this claim. The ancients seemed well aware of the curvature of the earth. The Romans refered frequently to the earth as “orbem terrarum” (the orb (or globe) of the earth). There may have been certain indiviuals who feared sailing off some edge or down into an abbys but at least by Greco-roman times the earth was understood as an orb. There are certain theories too that the ancient Hebrews thought of the earth as standing on 4 pillars with an abyss below and body of water above but ancient Hebrew cosmology is a bit murky, truth be told and it isn’t exactly clear what they thought. For example the sky is called a dome which certainly implies circularity but it is not all that clear. At any rate I just want to save the ancients from an inaccurate or at least unfair accusation that they all thought the world was flat which does not seem to be the case.

      Fianlly I also agree with you that science can only do so much and there is a lot beyond what we can measure or see. The Book of Sirach says it well after meditating on the majestry of creastion it concludes: “Beyond these, many things lie hide. Only A few of God’s works have we seen.”

  4. Bender says:

    Karl does have a point — when science and scientists are just another arm of the government bureaucracy, those government scientists will tend to get whatever results or nonresults that allow for continued government funding so that they can keep their jobs. To be sure, in their ideologically and politically-focused mindset, for example, the very fact that there has been absolutely no scientific evidence of the efficacy of embryo-killing stem cell research only demands that even more and more and more be spent on it, or that such funding even be a state constittutional right, as in California.

    The politicization of science is pretty close to killing off the discipline.

  5. assist24 says:

    “The Theory of Evolution is often called settled science but it is just a theory and the fact is that the fossil record raises serious questions about the theory as it is currently proposed. The fossil record shows that species appear and disappear suddenly and do not just morph into each other. ”

    That is exactly the kind of scientific illiteracy Mooney and Kirshenbaum are talking about.

    Please take the time to read and learn about a topic before making such frankly ignorant statements.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

    • Bender says:

      Sorry assist24, but yours is the kind of “defense” of present-day politicized science that we see all too often — essentially amounting to nothing more than “you’re wrong,” without addressing the specific points raised, or merely offering some pathetically thin tract as their proof.

      The scientific fact is that there are huge gaps in the fossil record. And too often the science ideologues merely ignore such “inconvenient truths,” as you have here.

    • I read some of the material you suggest and Bender is right, this sort of stuff just amount to a “you’re wrong” approach. Take for example the following quote that addresses the lack (my word) of fossil evidence:

      Recall that Gish stated: “There are no transitional fossil forms showing, for instance, three or two jawbones, or two ear bones” (Gish 1978, p. 80). Gish simply does not understand how gradual transitions happen (something he should understand, obviously, if he intends to criticize evolutionary theory). These fossil intermediates illustrate why Gish’s statement is a gross mischaracterization of how a transitional form should look. In several of the known intermediates, the bones have overlapping functions, and one bone can be called both an ear bone and a jaw bone; these bones serve two functions. Thus, there is no reason to expect transitional forms with intermediate numbers of jaw bones or ear bones.

      Basically this sort of answer simply amounts to a sneering “we get to set the terms of the debate you do not ” approach. The fact that you cannot supply the transitional fossil forms simpy is due to the fact that we your questioners “simply don’t understand.” In the movie Jerry McGuire he famously and often said, “Show me the money” I don’t I am a mere ignoramus. I have read scienstists question the numerous holes in evolutionary theory and ask questions about the lack of evidence. Simply being called illiiterate or an ignoramus doesn’t really answer my question. I saw lots of drawings in the extenive material you linked to but no actual fossil records. Show me the fossil record. Well, you seem to say, “There should not have to be a clear fossil evidence.” Am I wrong or is this not what you have given me to read seems to say. And why is it irrational, illiterate or ignorant for me or others, scientists among them, to ask for more evidence of so sweeping a theory? Do you not bear some burden of proof? Since when did evolutionary theory become evolutionary fact?

      • mrteachersir says:

        Darwin himself pointed out that, and I forget the book and the exact quote, the fossil record he found lacked all the sufficient information, and yet he was still convinced a) that the evidence would eventually appear (it hasn’t) and b) he was still right. He didn’t even have a great deal of proof, and he thought he was right!

      • Guy says:

        Actually the Talk Origins FAQ directly addresses the specific points that you raised, namely; “The fossil record shows that species appear and disappear suddenly (the fossil records shows no such thing) and “[species] do not just morph into each other” (Evolution doesn’t claim this).

        It is also interesting that you appear to have broken with Pope Pius XII, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI who are all on record as stating that acceptance of the evidence for evolution is not incompatible with Christianity.

        • Guy,

          Yes to say that it addresses the point is charitable. What it does is to dismiss it. Well I won’t be dismissed. It seems you ought to be able to show physical proof in the fossil record to make your claims. I am not out of line requesting this. I am asking for evidence in the fossil record which shows something very different from gradual macro-evolution. From the Cambrian explosion 530 million years ago forward, the fossil record shows the rapid appearance and disappearance of species.

          As for the Popes, they are simply saying that a Catholic is free to accept the theory of evolution. I agree, I have no religious objections to the Theory and think it can be easily squared with the Biblical record. My problem is that there is some very contrary evidence froma scientific point of view that seems to go unanswered. The popes are not requiring us to accept evolution only stating that a Catholic is free in this matter. Not every opponet of the Theory is a biblical fundamentalist. I wouldn’t even call myself an opponent, rather I am a skeptic who remains unconvinced because of my things. The fossil record is only one area. Molecular biology for eaxmple also raises some doubts. I stand ready to see the evidence but what I usually get is stuff like “you don’t understand.” Well, I’m a reasonably bright man and just don’t sense that my questions (legitmate I think) are being answered. Am I just “illiterate” perhaps for no one is a judge in his own case. But what I’m trying to be is a searcher.

          • assist24 says:

            Just how much studying in paleontology or molecular biology have you actually done? Or do your doubts come from reading throwaway lines in some popular press magazine? You say you stand ready to see the evidence, but that means you have to do your homework first and look for the data that’s out there. The evidence won’t suddenly just float over to you.

            It’s always a good idea to understand the topic first before you criticize. What would you think of someone who claimed “the Bible is just a porno novel filled with rape, and incest, and murder!” and it turns out they had never even read a single page of it?

            • Dear Assist24

              I read a good book many years ago called Darwins Black Box by a molecular biologist. But here again your implication is that because I have pointed questions I am either ingnorant, unread, unlettered, haven’t read the right authors, or if I have read they are not “true” scientists etc. etc.

              Your example about the Bible is a perfect one. I would respond with a religious zeal. But that is often appropriate in matters of faith. It does NOt seem appropriate in matters of science and that is why it makes me suspicious that this and a few other topics (eg certian global warming theorists) are dealing with a kind of religious sentiment here not purely a scientific one.

              Why do you presume I “have not even read a single page” of evolutionary theory. I was raised on this theory and I do not deny that aspects of it are quite likely true. I am not a creationist who simply rejuects it whole-cloth.

              • assist24 says:

                “Darwin’s Black Box” is not a scientific textbook. It is the popular press published work of a religious scientist, Michael Behe, in an attempt to give scientific justification for his religious views. The “science” in the book is atrocious, and has been thoroughly discredited in the actual molecular biology community. A quick Google search will turn up dozens of refutations pointing out Behe’s bone-headed blunders and outright falsehoods.

                Again you make my point – it is unwise to criticize something you don’t understand based on second hand hearsay, which is all you have done so far. Criticism of scientific ideas is both welcomed and useful, but only if it is INFORMED criticism. The ideas you have mentioned here so far have all been dealt with years ago by the scientific community. They generally are only repeated as ‘talking point’ by those opposed to the religious ramifications of the scientific findings.

                There are thousands of good sources with detailed and accurate scientific information, but you have to go to them. They won’t come to you. If you are skeptical of things you read in the papers and on certain web sites (which is a good thing BTW) then reference the primary scientific literature. Most bona fide science sites supply a list of such references at the bottom. Use Google Scholar to research peer reviewed papers and articles.

                Criticize science all you like, but do it from knowledge, not ignorance.

      • assist24 says:

        As others have pointed out, you can go to any decent natural history museum, or the paleontology department of any college or university, and see the actual fossils. There are hundreds of millions of them. Most have been thoroughly described in the published scientific literature. Your ignorance of the evidence doesn’t make the evidence go away.

        Sadly, you seem to be like so many others of the scientifically illiterate today. You demand to be spoon fed information, and if it can’t be contained in a 30 second sound bite you lose interest. The sciences that support evolutionary theory – paleontology, biology, genetics, etc – have over 150 years worth of cross-correlating and corroborating evidence. Professional scientists spend their whole lives studying and can only become specialized in tiny portions of it.

        There are literally thousands of web sites readily available that go into the scientific details. Or you could take a college class and read a textbook. It’s unthinkable that in today’s age of computers and search engines you can’t find the evidence you say doesn’t exist. Unless you don’t want to find it.

        The late biologist and author Stephen Jay Gould has a wonderful article on why evolution is both fact and theory

        http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html

        • The nature of your response goes a long way to make the point I was making in the article. Just let anyone transgress the sacred theory or even raise a question and watch how the name calling and venom lets loose. I admit that this happens from the creationist side too. But my point is to show why many “illiterati” tune out alot of scientific claims and counter claims, that it might be something other than we are just plain stupid.

          But as for me! Back to theology wherein dogma and revealed certitude are often appropriate ( :-) ) and I wish you well! I will check out the site.

  6. Tony in Central PA says:

    I liked the ” settled science ” discussion. Back when I was an undergrad in Molecular Biology in the early 80’s, we had our ” Central Dogma ” ( that’s what it was actually called ). It stated that in the process of life, the information for coding and growing all life went in a single direction : DNA > RNA > Protein. It was so solidly entrenched that I recall somebody had even taken the trouble to scrawl it into the wet concrete of the new sidewalk outside of the research lab I frequented ( its probably still there ). Well, a couple of years later researchers working on HIV discovered the Central Dogma didn’t apply to the AIDS virus and since then other examples violation have been discovered. It was an example of how absolute – sounding pronouncements from the scientific establishment almost always require some kind of disclaimer. These are often absent when it comes to Advocacy Science.

    • Thanks for this pertinent addition to the discussion. It seems too common to find dogmatizing in Science. In the realm for religious faith wherein much of the data is revelatory dogma may be more appropriate. But inscience it seems one ought to be open to new data and the possibilitiy that we we see data we never have before (thorugh better observation etc. ) and need to adjust. To put it in theological terms, perhaps scientific law should be seen more as what we call human positive law in theology. Human positive law can and does change and is unlike divine law which is immutable. There may be certain scientific laws that seem unlikely to change but to at least reamin open to the possibility that what we know in science could change seems a better attitude to have and allows for better observation of the real data which does not try to impose and answer. I only vaguely understand quantum science but from what I have read it the world of quantum a lot of stuff gets turned on its ear and that even the act of observing may effect outcomes. Need for a lot of humility here!

  7. Linus says:

    Those videos were great. So simple isn’t it.

  8. Monica says:

    Good article! There is even overlap between science and faith in this respect: scientists hypothesize about unknown causes by trying to account for known effects. The majority of science is unsettled though we come closer and closer to understanding the causes of the things around us. Take for example biology especially in regards to the human body, physiology involves extensive speculation, of course educated speculation, but the more we conduct research the more often we have to modify our original understanding.

    Faith is similar in that we are asking about the ultimate cause of all existence, and while we certainly don’t see God face to face, we can believe that he exists because of his effects, one of which is the created world.

  9. Loreen Lee says:

    What I appreciate about Faith is that it is a consciousness that is open to the ‘logos’ – i.e. the why and wherefore of what is. I think that that would be a good attitude to have also with respect to science and it’s findings. Then science would be more readily distinguished by its method, and not particular philosophic or political underpinnings. I would especially appreciate, for instance, if psychologists and psychiatrists, especially, were more open to the realities of the person, and not so absorbed in their abstract theories. Can’t they be scientific about the ‘individual’, or would that be asking too much! There is after all a distinction that can be made between hard and soft core sciences, and much of the advocacy science, in my experience, tends to be closed (rather than open to possibilities) even sometimes in their expectations, when their is funding for projects, or the aspirations of individuals to ascend the ladder of success, to consider. This, ironically can make them ‘unscientific’ because they have a closed set of expectations. (i.e. subjectively derived purposes which may be beyond the acceptable parameter of finding evidence in support of a theory). This my conjecture/theory/subjective submission based on personal experience. Thus, not science. But I will try to avoid prejudice and keep an open mind. I think I have said enough! Great post. Really enjoyed the video.

  10. Katherine G ERT says:

    I am a Psychology major, and Psych is a science field that is more qualitative analysis than quantitative. Yes, they have the surveys, and the experiments, just like other sciences, but the surveys only cover a small percentage of the population being studied, usually, unless they go for a very large population. Anyways, I was reading an interesting blog of a psychologist on why, cognitively speaking, we humans find it difficult to forgive at times. Here is the link :

    http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/2009/09/to-forgive-correct-the-fundamental-attribution-error/

    It basically states how we humans are scientists by nature (ok, maybe quantum physics is over quite a few of our heads) – when we observe an event, we want to make sense of it. It also discusses the Fundamental Attribution Error, which is about how if we feel good about something, or have accomplished something, we “blame” ourselves for the good fortune. If something bad happens, like we fail a test, or we crash our cars texting and driving (please don’t do that….), we tend to blame it on another force or person. If we fail a test, it was “the teacher’s fault. He/she didn’t like me.” If we pass the test, we passed it because ” we are smart, and we studied the right way.”

    As far as forgiveness goes, the Fundamental Attribution Error applies here as well. As human beings, we tend to be quite paranoid. If someone bumps into us on the street, and doesn’t apologize, we may assume that that person is rude or arrogant. That is our “personalizing” or paranoid quality speaking. We don’t think right away about how that person may be late, or distracted. The less paranoid, or personalizing, we are, the easier we forgive because we don’t assume that one faux pas is a personality trait and that person did something against us. This ties in to what you were talking about with Confession in your blog earlier this week/last week, Monsignor. It’s easier to forgive, or get rid of the bad behavior/sin, when we know why we are doing it, or why it is hard to forgive that person. This is my 2 cents, hope it makes sense! :)

  11. ejcmartin says:

    I would suggest anyone who enjoyed this post and discussion check out catholiclab.net. The podcasts do not “dumb” anything down and help to create scientific literacy in a Catholic context. (BTW I have no connection to the Catholic Laboratory other than being an avid fan.)

  12. Bender says:

    Guy —

    Mgsr. Pope can explain his position quite well himself, but the snarky objection was to this statement —
    “The Theory of Evolution is often called settled science but it is just a theory and the fact is that the fossil record raises serious questions about the theory as it is currently proposed. The fossil record shows that species appear and disappear suddenly and do not just morph into each other.”

    Nowhere has the Monsignor denied or rejected the possibility of evolution, he merely states that it is still just a theory. It is not settled. And according to the scientific method, which requires hard evidence, it cannot be deemed “settled science” because their are large gaps in the evidence. More pertinent to the usual question is that there are “missing links” between the species homo sapiens and other species which are claimed to be mankind’s ancestors.

    It is only by rejecting science and adopting a kind of ideological dogma that one can claim that it is “settled.”

    As for me, I am less concerned about how human life per se came to be than I am concerned with how inanimate matter became alive, or how nothing became something at the beginning of the universe. Neither of these issues are answered — or even attempted to be answered — by evolution. To be sure, the issues cannot be answered by anyone who has the constricted and narrowminded view that puts ideology before science.

    The Church submits that there exists noncorporeal, extraterrestrial life, and that there is a reality, a realm beyond the known temporal and physical universe (call it another dimension if you wish). Any real scientist worthy of the name would gladly admit the possibility of such things. What the Church calls God and angels and heaven and hell should be readily welcomed as quite possible by one authentically dedicated to science, even if he calls these things by other names. But to reject them out of hand, as so many atheistic ideologues do, is grossly unscientific.

    • Guy says:

      “…still just a theory”

      This is where the issue of scientific illiteracy comes up. Theory in science does not mean a guess or a hunch as in “I have a theory about…” It means the best, most plausible, most consistent explanation for a phenomenon supported by the facts. A scientific theory is the strongest possible statement about anything that science can give. EVERY scientific theory (the theory of evolution, the germ theory of disease, gravitational theory) are open to revision or replacement as new evidence becomes available.

      “I am concerned with how inanimate matter became alive, or how nothing became something at the beginning of the universe. Neither of these issues are answered — or even attempted to be answered — by evolution.”

      That’s because evolution does not address these questions. Evolution begins with the premise that life exists. Your questions are being actively studied by a field called abiogenesis. Yes, the two fields are linked by the study of biological life, but evolution doesn’t care how life began, only that it began. Evolution will not be affected whether life is determined to have been created by divine fiat (my personal belief), seeded by alien life (as some ID proponents hypothesize), or developed by inorganic means.

      • Dear Guy,

        I think that Bender was clear that he does not think that Evolution answers such a question. But as a fellow believer I can say that my concerns extend beyond what stages creation went through. I also have questions as to who made all this. To me the evidence for design is clear and I seek the desigener. I realize that science and evolutionary theory cannot and should not go tho that level of the question. Some eveloutionists however transgress when they insist that the process is blind or completely by chance. I realize that not all evolutionists say this.

        As for the word “theory” I realize that it does not mean just a hunch. I suspect Bender does too. But many in the discussion DO seem to treat Evolution as though is were a proven fact beyond any doubt and anyone who does suggest an alteration, raise a doubt, ask a pointed question, or suggest any departure from the “dogma” of evolution is “uninformed, illiterate, a religious findamentalist or just plain stupid.” I do not say this is your attitude Guy but it is a frequent occurance to those who “transgress” evolutionary “dogma.” So seem to holy this theory like a religious truth. That may be appropriate in certain religious settings but it hardly befits a scientific setting where it seems to be that ideas and doubts should be able to be freely quicked around without all the pressure and name calling. So if evolution is a theory in the way you describe it (which I am willing to accept) why all the venom (not from you) to those who transgress?

  13. Tom says:

    My wife introduced me to this blog and I find it quite thoughtful and faithful. As a trained engineer and an experienced science instructor I would like to add my two cents.

    I would start by asking we not use the phrase “just a theory” and say “it is a theory.” Theories occur to explain complex, unproveable issues — gravity and evolution are such cases at present (NB: the FACT that one falls in gravity is the LAW of Gravity). True theories cannot and never will be proven. They are supported by subsets of demonstrable evidence. These are basic priniciples of science.

    People often use the term theory for what is an hypothesis, conjecture, guess, etc… and that is fine for daily life. Just not when discussing science.

    As a Catholic I find no issues between scripture and arguements for evolution. But there really are issues of the mechanism for evolution. Many theories actually permit only a clockword God — sure he wound it up (or only built it — something else wound it) but after that He had no interaction. Sorry — No pope has approved THAT view. That species changed, appeared, or disappeared over time is certainly in the fossil record and even occurs now a days. But mechanisms??? Mutation, overuse, climate change, continental drift, cross breeding, etc… OK. And just how do you get humanity out of that? Where did the soul enter? Science can never answer that. Nor can science ever show that humanity is ensouled. Evolution is simply change in species over time — go to the Westminster Kennel Show and watch the dogs over several years. But please don’t tell me that space aliens bred us. (humor)

    The Msgr is correct — theories are often developed and eliminated. And as long a they are accepted as provising a reasonable explanation they are used in science. When the data no longer supports — then a huge fight generally ensues (not the disinterested debate so often portrayed) — and the new and radically different theory becomes the norm. So if one wishes to argue for a theory of evolution one must be specific — which version?! But to say that people are scientifically illiterate — first see if they don’t think things change over time before claiming they are illiterate.

    And lastly I NEVER believe in a theory — I accept it as a valid possible explanation — and so does every good scientist. My beliefs stay with God.

    • Dear TOm,

      Thanks for your response and for the distinctions you make. I think it is helpful to remind everyone as you do that it is possible for some one to find no major conflict with the biblical view and the scientific one. But even there, as you point out some distinctions have to be made. God is not uninvolved with any stage of Evolution from our point of view. It is true science cannot go there and talk about God for that is beyond its realm. I DO think some scientists go beyond their field when they insist that the process is completely “blind” That seems a theological point of view to me in that it explicitly denies God. SInce it seems that science cannot have access to the ultimate or primary cause that such scientists have transgressed. Not all scientists do this of course. As for your helpful remarks about the word “theory” I can also agree and might refer you to the reply I just made to guy along a similar theme. I’d be interested in your thoughts I my reply to him too.

  14. Simpson Grentle says:

    I would like to see a bit more humility on the part of Msgr. Pope. Humility is a Christian virtue, and Msgr. Pope is not a biologist or a paleontologist, so I think it would behoove him to pay more attention to what biologists and paleontologists actually say about evolution and the fossil record, and less attention to the creationist literature, which is rife with deception.

    So-called “gaps” in the fossil record are not surprising, since the probability of ending up as a fossil is quite small in most cases. They do not present a problem for the theory of evolution. When Msgr. Pope says “the fossil record shows the rapid appearance and disappearance of species”, this is not correct. For one thing, “rapid” must be understood in the context of geologic time, where it means hundreds of thousand years or millions of years. For another, there are many fossil groupings that demonstrate gradual change – such as the fossil horse series. The modern coelocanth differs only slightly, morphologically speaking, from the fossil examples found in the Cretaceous (ironically, this example of slow change is also used by creationists – wrongly – to cast doubt on the theory).

    When Msgr. Pope says, “I saw lots of drawings in the extenive [sic] material you linked to but no actual fossil records. Show me the fossil record” I must admit I am at a loss how to respond. Any museum will contain fossils, most of which are not on display. For example, the Paleontological Research Institute in Ithaca, NY, contains at least 2 million specimens, which curators will be happy to show you. Merely seeing the fossils, however, does not convey much information — if you are not a paleontologist. You must read the paleontological literature, which requires a large investment in time. Has Msgr. Pope ever taken a university-level course in paleontology, or studied a college textbook on the subject? if so, he hides his knowledge remarkable well.

    Finally, I would point out that Augustine had something valuable to say about churchmen who make false pronouncements about science: “It very often happens there is some question as to the earth or sky, or other elements of this world … respecting which, one who is not a Christian has knowledge … and it is very disgraceful and mischievous and of all things to be carefully avoided, that a Christian speaking of such matters as being according to the Christian Scriptures, should be heard by an unbeliever talking such nonsense that the unbeliever perceiving him to be as wide from the mark as east from west, can hardly restrain himself from laughing.”

    • Well, I am not going to say I am humble since no one is a judge in his own case. However, I am not sure why asking questions and not being fully on board with what you or others teach is a lack of humility. You are clear to point out that I have not taken graduate level courses. But doesn’t that mean that I am your audience? Aren’t I and others like me the ones you are trying to reach? It is true that I am saying I do not accept this as a dogma but rather consider it a theory and I have questions about it. But in response I don’t really get answers but the usual tactics get used against me and all questioners: Either I am not credentialed, I am illiterate, I am influenced by bad people like creationists (I am not a creationist by the way), I am asking for things I shouldn’t ask for, or that I have no business questioning science. And still my questions remain unanswered. Why it is so hard to simply say that we are talking about a theory, not a dogma or settled science. Why not more “humbly” (if I may use the word) say that this is currently the most widespread thinking of scientists but then admit that there are other theories or at least that there are some questions raised about the current theory. Why the demands that we just come on board with no questions? What’s that about?

      As for the quote from Augustine I am not sure of your point. I am not making pronouncements. I am asking questions, but even more, to get back to my ORIGINAL point (which is not to argue Evolutionary theories) I am proposing an answer as to why many Americans have become dismayed or distant from science. The authors of the Book seemed to chalk it up to “illiteracy” which I think misses the point. I will not totally dismiss this point but I think a lot too has to be laid at that the feet of advocacy science, the politicization of scientific theory (eg global warming), and the extremely bad treatment that many get at the hands of some scientists who suggest that any who disagree with designate orthodoxy are stupid, dumb, a shill, illiterate etc. Further there is a lot of contradictory information out there. Some where in all this the scientific method has been harmed and I think this has a lot to do with why many have tuned out the “latest scientific findings” Hence it may be more than that we are all a bunch of illiterate masses who just don’t get it.

      Incidentally I am not sure where you got the Augustine quote. I do not deny that it is he you quote but, having read a lot of Augustine it doesn’t stylistically sound like Augustine. Perhaps a citation would help, I am just curious.

  15. Bender says:

    Yes, I know what a “theory” is, but the issue is not theories or “just theories,” the issue is the dogmatic declaration of non-scientific self-proclaimed “scientists” who declare such and such to be “settled science,” i.e., “shut up already, no more questions allowed, move along, nothing to see here.” The issue is the closed mindedness of so-called scientists who are nothing more than hubris filled tyrants to seek to impose their own ideological view on the world, evidence and facts be damned.

    And I know what “evolution” is limited to. But this post is not about evolution, per se, it is about science at large, which includes the much larger question of the origins of mankind and the origins of the universe. And part of the problem outlined above is the tactic of arbitrarily limiting the subject of the discussion, or of moving the goalposts when the position on one subject starts to become untenable.

    Let this much be clear — the Church is eager to have a dialogue with “science.” To be even clearer, many of the fathers of modern-day scientists were religious people, if not Catholic priests. The Church is abundantly scientifically literate, if only because it is those in the Church who largely wrote the science book. Being a religion of reason, being the religion of the Logos, Catholicism seeks to engage that reason with the rest of the world. But it is the counterfeit “scientists,” the fraudulent, unreasonable ideologues who run away from any dialogue with the Church, whose typical response is, “you’re wrong, it’s settled, shut up.”

    • Bender says:

      many of the fathers of modern-day scientists were religious people . . .

      Correction — that should be “many of the fathers of modern-day science were religious people . . .” (I claim no knowledge of the biological parenthood of individual scientists.)

      and while we are at it —
      hubris filled tyrants to seek to impose their own ideological view on the world

      Correction — “hubris filled tyrants who seek to impose their own ideological view on the world”

  16. Bender says:

    Where did the soul enter? Science can never answer that.

    Tom — using your example here, it seems to me that there are two possible responses by science to the question of the soul —
    (1) We cannot measure it, we cannot test for it, we cannot answer the question, therefore, the soul does not exist.
    (2) We cannot measure it, we cannot test for it, we cannot answer the question, therefore, it is still an open question and maybe the soul exists, maybe it does not.

    An authentic scientist who is truly dedicated to science would never give the first answer. A true scientist is open to the transcendent, to things beyond his own limited imagination. The first answer is not science, it is close-minded ideology that is not supported by the evidence, such as it is. Nevertheless, too many counterfeit “scientists” today are of that first mindset. THAT is the problem.

    • Guy says:

      I would estimate that 95% of scientists in the world would give you answer number 2. How many creation scientists and ID proponents would give answer number 2?

      • Bender says:

        There is, of course, a third response —

        (3) Science is not the be all and end all when it comes to acquiring knowledge. There are limits to what science can discover, given the self-imposed limitations of the scientific method of testing, verification, etc. And to get an answer to this and similar questions, we must go beyond such self-limited science. Going beyond “science” does NOT mean going beyond reason, but it does mean that, when it comes to things like God, “thou shall not put the Lord thy God to the test.” Rather, we must open our search for truth into areas like witness and revelation, which when joined with reason, allows us to see beyond the limitations of the microscope and telescope.

  17. Bender says:

    As for manmade “global warming” (or “global weirding” as Tom Friedman calls it) or man-caused “climate change” —
    the Holy Father rightly teaches that we are stewards of Creation, etc., however, we are relative ants when it comes to the whole of Creation and our ability to fundamentally change it.

    The sun in a couple of days of sun spots, or a single volcanic eruption, can alter the earth’s climate more than we could in years of reverting to 17th century lifestyles. We could go totally dark for the next 10 years, without any cars or electricity at all, and the “carbon profits” we would accumulate over that period could be wiped out in a single solar event. Quite simply, man cannot destroy Creation; the impersonal universe is vastly more powerful than we are. We are not gods, and it is the height of hubris to believe that we are.

    And that is the other problem with counterfeit “science,” the refusal to look at the entire picture, the propensity to look at a narrow range of evidence and decreeing certain conclusions based on that limited view while declaring the matter to be closed to further inquiry.

  18. Tom says:

    Well Msgr As they say — since you asked: Both you and Guy are saying correct things but there does appear to be an accidental miscommunication because of the difference in terms for daily life and science. “Suddenly” is one of those phrases that for evolution and geology means a really long time compared to our lives. I am often amused at trying to understand a science writer’s use of the term “suddenly” in the geologic record, but the consensus appears to be somewhat less than 500,000 years. So sudden appearance and disapperance in the fossil record often means that there is no “tapering off” of the number of fossils and no obvious transitory species. And likewise there is no evidence of actual “sudden” changes (not here Wednesday and oops! a surprise on Thursday). The KT layer (Iridium from an asteroid) was mistakenly underestood as having given a clear marker of “sudden” species loss and then (oops) the some of the same fossils were found on the other side of the layer.

    Given Earth’s geological processes, it is amazing that we find any fossils of some species at any time level they actually occurred. So this was an issue of even finding a fossil in certain layers. So I don’t think there will ever be anything meeting your fossil record requirements nor would a good scientist claim there could be. I do think Guy (with no bad intent) misunderstood you when he said that you were going against papal guidance.

    I will ask exactly what are you a sceptic about? Quite honestly you say nothing to be construed as illogical about evolution. I mean (1) yes some of the individual scientists actually do dismiss God (Hawkins is my special friend on this) — but there is nothing in the theory that does so; just the person. And (2) your scepticism seems to be more of the mechanisms than the actuality of change. Perfectly legitimate since even scientists are completely sure — and never can be without actually observing such an event.

    So two closing comments. First, the cited web site simply and with reasonable quality argues for a common ancestor view of life. It specifically makes NO claim on mechanism(s). I read it after making my initial remarks here and found the comments on mechanisms so much like mine above I was inclined to like the author. (grin — and no the author is NOT me).

    Second, the contrary evidence is counter to certain mechanisms not counter to actual change. So I never have to reconcile evolution with my faith. Scripture is the accurate story of God’s interaction with the world and humanity for salvific reasons, science amounts to “this here universe has some strange things going on and can we figure out what, when, why, and how?” Scientific exploration sometimes lacks humility in failing to admit we may never discover the answers through rational thought. And scripture is divine revelation where some poor faithful person had to figure out how to put into words what humanity had no words to describe because they had never had to talk about it before. I suspect that (like the misunderstood issues with Galileo) the hostility often comes from hearing the individual scientist is not God. Shocker but there you go.

    • Thanks for this. To answer your question, my skepticism is really more about the attitude of many more than about the whole theory, it is about the dogmatizing of the theory. The whole point of my article wasn’t to debate evolution but to explain why I think a lot of Americans have tuned out science to some degree. The authors of the book want to chalk it up to “illiteracy” I chose to present the other side wherein I argue that the field Science itself has been hijacked by some and has thus transgressed it’s proper boundaries. Rather than focus on data and evidence, many scientists are into politics, advocacy, and social policy. I know that science cannot be wholly sealed off from these worlds but to the degree that the public perceives it is more about politics, power, money, funding, etc we will tend to discount what science says.

      A further problem I cite is the ugly treatment of any who dare to disagree with certain “sacred” scientific theories. Too often the critics are personally discredited with ad hominem arguments and the like.

      This is the true nature of my article. Evolution and global warming come into the article as examples of why I think there are boundary problems and attitude issues. I use these as illustrations. I am not personally all that troubled by evolution if it is true as long as we don’t argue it is blind. The fossil record does seem odd to me. The Cambrian explosion shows a rather sudden appearence of great biological diversity. I know that sudden doesn’t mean a week. I am only using sudden in the sense that I have seen it used in sceintific literature and that some actual scientists find this matter troubling for the theory of Evolution as currently stated. Further, most species have disappeared through extinction. Hence the increasing biodiversity that the theory would expect seems to be in reverse as we go from more diversity to less. Now I know what the next step is in the whole thing. Certain people will simply discredit scientists who raise such concerns or say that they are coming from a point of view. And so the whole cycle begins again. And thus we in the general public tune out or are just not all that convinced by the latest “pronouncments.” And my point is, we may not be illiterate, just weary and also skeptical of the dogmatic scientists who seem to prevail in the media and seem to have an agenda of some sort other than science.

  19. Guy says:

    To Msgr. Pope and Bender:

    “The issue is the closed mindedness of so-called CREATIONISTS who are nothing more than hubris filled tyrants to seek to impose their own ideological view on the world, evidence and facts be damned.”

    “But it is the counterfeit ‘CREATIONISTS,’ the fraudulent, unreasonable ideologues who run away from any dialogue with SCIENCE, whose typical response is, ‘you’re wrong, it’s settled, shut up.'”

    “…many in the discussion do seem to treat CREATION as though is were a proven fact beyond any doubt and anyone who does suggest an alteration, raise a doubt, ask a pointed question, or suggest any departure from the ‘dogma’ of CREATION is ‘uninformed, illiterate, a[N] ATHEIST or just plain stupid.'”

    “if CREATION is a theory … why all the venom … to those who transgress?”

    I slightly changed comments from both of you (in ALL CAPS above) and you will see there is just as much truth in the new sentences as in the originals.

    I would argue that there is massive venom from both sides of the discussion. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen scientists called “atheists,” be told they will “burn in hell,” or that they subscribe to “the religion of evolutionism” simply because they accept the evidence for evolution.

    Yes, there are shrill, all-or-nothing types on both sides. Evolution has people like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins but Creation and ID have people such as Ken Ham and William Dembski. However, they are not representative of most people on either side of the debate. There are far more reasonable types such as Frances Collins, Kenneth Miller and Hugh Ross. We have allowed the far fringes to define the debate for too long.

    • Agreed Guy, I am aware of some creationists who are as you descibe.

      For the record I am not a creationist.

      But I understand your frustration with the extremists in that camp as well.

      • Bender says:

        I’m not a creationist either.
        And creationism hasn’t been the issue here.
        Creationism isn’t “a Catholic thing.”
        It is a non-sequitur, a changing of the subject, a diversion from the discussion at hand.

  20. Bender says:

    For the record —

    Science is hardly the only area that has become overly policitized. The law long ago severed itself from the realm of right reason in order to grab onto politics and power. It is difficult to go through one short evening of TV entertainment without being bombarded with political advocacy. You cannot read a MSM newspaper without getting political propaganda. Academia has become a hotbed of ideological indoctrination.

    Everywhere you look, reason is attacked in favor of raw political power. But that is as it has always been ever since the serpent pushed power under the guise of gaining knowledge.

  21. Guy says:

    Bender:
    “There is, of course, a third response –

    (3) Science is not the be all and end all when it comes to acquiring knowledge. There are limits to what science can discover, given the self-imposed limitations of the scientific method of testing, verification, etc. And to get an answer to this and similar questions, we must go beyond such self-limited science. Going beyond “science” does NOT mean going beyond reason, but it does mean that, when it comes to things like God, “thou shall not put the Lord thy God to the test.” Rather, we must open our search for truth into areas like witness and revelation, which when joined with reason, allows us to see beyond the limitations of the microscope and telescope.”

    This seems to be nothing more than a verbose restatement of your answer #2. In other words “we can’t test it so science can’t answer.”

    I agree with you that questions regarding the nature of the soul, God, and the like are beyond the realm of science. However, once you move beyond testability, verifiability, and falsifiability you can’t call it science anymore. This is what ID proponents/Creationists want to do. They want to change the definition of science so their theories will be allowed. That is similar to someone who wants to play baseball but wants one ball for a walk and five strikes before they are out. That might be a fine game and they can play it if they want to but it isn’t baseball.

    • Bender says:

      No, (3) is not a restatement of (2).

      In other words “we can’t test it so science can’t answer.”

      But revelation and personal witness can. Number (3) rejects the premise that testing is the only method of attaining knowledge.

      You are creating a false dichotomy when you say that there are only two possibilities — agnostic “science” on the one hand and ID proponents/Creationists on the other. There is a third possibility. That is the answer given by the Church.

      • Guy says:

        “But revelation and personal witness can. Number (3) rejects the premise that testing is the only method of attaining knowledge.”

        Nowhere in my comments did I claim that testing is the only way to attain knowledge. I said that if it can’t be tested, verified, and falsified, it can’t be called SCIENCE.

        “You are creating a false dichotomy when you say that there are only two possibilities — agnostic “science” on the one hand and ID proponents/Creationists on the other. There is a third possibility. That is the answer given by the Church.”

        Nowhere did I state that these are the only two possibilities. Interesting that you choose to misrepresent my comments that way. Also, Creationists and most ID Proponents believe their answer is given by the Church as well.

        You actually proposed a dichotomy when you stated:
        … it seems to me that there are two possible responses by science to the question of the soul –
        (1) We cannot measure it, we cannot test for it, we cannot answer the question, therefore, the soul does not exist.
        (2) We cannot measure it, we cannot test for it, we cannot answer the question, therefore, it is still an open question and maybe the soul exists, maybe it does not.

        Yet when I ask you how many Creation Scientists or ID Proponents would give you answer #2 (which IMO is the best answer for an honest scientist), you suddenly found a third answer which allowed you to avoid my question.

  22. Simpson Grentle says:

    The Augustine quote is from De Genesi ad literam 1:19–20, Chapt. 19 [408].

  23. Bender says:

    Guy, I really am at a loss as to why you are blowing up into an enormous dispute what should be a fairly indisputable observation by the Monsignor — too many scientists have put politics before science in too many cases. And then he gave some examples.

    It is a simple point. It really is. There really should be no need to keep going at it.

    • Guy says:

      Because the whole point of the Msgr’s article was the attempt to refute the claims that many people are scientifically illiterate. The Msgr. and then you used examples which exposed your own scientific illiteracy. The statement that evolution is just a theory (which has been repeated in both your respones even though you claim to understand what a scientific theory is) is very telling. To be described as a theory is the pinnacle of scientific accomplishment.

      I used Evolution as an example because it is the largest area where the general population is grossly misinformed about what the science of evolution actually states and how some supposedly Christian organizations capitalize on that misunderstanding to promote a political agenda.

      I also notice that you never answered my questions.

      • Bender says:

        Your questions and your entire approach here, Guy, are non sequiturs and tangents trying to change the subject.

        I’m done playing your game.

  24. Simpson Grentle says:

    “I am not making pronouncements.”

    I’m sorry, the evidence on this page clearly shows that you are. Just to give one example:

    “The fossil record shows that species appear and disappear suddenly and do not just morph into each other.”

    Isn’t that a pronouncement? As I have already pointed out (but you did not respond) this is a half-truth. First, the use of the word “sudden” means, in geological time, hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Second, the fossil record has many examples of gradual change. I cited two.

    We have many examples of species that “morph” into each other, even in our current day. Read about “ring species”, for example.

    I am also puzzled by some of your other claims. For example, you write:

    And still my questions remain unanswered.

    Which questions, precisely? It seems to me that several people responding to you have pointed to web pages and other resources that answer your questions, but you have ignored these answers.

    My experience is quite different from yours. When people ask sincere questions, scientists are quick to answer them without name-calling or the other pejorative actions you claim. The number of popular science books available today is much, much larger than I was a child. The Internet provides a huge resource for learners. If someone is genuinely interested in learning the science, there is really no excuse.

    The problem comes when people with an agenda ask questions but are uninterested in the answers. The vast majority of the so-called “challenges” to evolution fall into this camp. I know this from 35 years of dealing with creationists. These folks are not interested in learning any science; they just want to cast doubt on evolution because it does not conform to their religious preconceptions. They actively spread misinformation and lies that can easily confuse someone who is not up on the science.

    But many in the discussion DO seem to treat Evolution as though is were a proven fact beyond any doubt and anyone who does suggest an alteration, raise a doubt, ask a pointed question, or suggest any departure from the “dogma” of evolution is “uninformed, illiterate, a religious findamentalist or just plain stupid.”

    I think this assertion confuses two different things: the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution. The fact of evolution is that life today is different from life in the past. This assertion, though not controversial today, was in fact quite controversial when it was first proposed. Even some scientists used religious reasoning to claim that (for example) it would be impossible for a species to go extinct, because God would not allow his Creation to be altered in this way. Today this part of evolution is considered a fact.

    The theory of evolution, on the other hand, is the mechanism behind biological change. It includes things like mutation, selection, recombination, genetic drift, founder effects, etc. All of these mechanisms have been observed and there is no real controversy among biologists that these mechanisms can produce genuine and significant evolutionary change. For selection, for example, you could read Endler’s Natural Selection in the Wild.

    Your claim that evolution is treated as a dogma also seems to be wildly off the mark. Many changes to Darwin’s original theory have been proposed in 150 years. For example, the theory of “evo-devo” –evolutionary development — has changed the way we think of evolution. Changes and challenges – when genuine – are handled the same way as any other branch of science. Do scientists argue vociferously for their point of view? Absolutely. But in science the evidence ultimately rules.

    When the rhetoric heats up, it is nearly always because of politics. Creationists are notorious for attempting to insert their bogus claims into textbooks. When creationists trot out some old and long-refuted objection to evolution as if it is something new or poses some genuine challenge to evolution, I don’t think you should be surprised when scientists react negatively. How would you like it if every week you had to people who wanted to insert the claim “when a new pope is elected he is taken to a `Room of Tears’ and checked to make sure he is a man because once a female pope named Joan was elected by mistake” into religion textbooks? Would you treat it as a serious objection or would you give it the contempt it deserves?

    • (sicut supra) The nature of your response goes a long way to make the point I was making in the article. Just let anyone transgress the sacred theory or even raise a question and watch how the (religiously) zealous responses let loose. I admit that this happens from the creationist side too. But my point is to show why many “illiterati” tune out alot of scientific claims and counter claims, that it might be something other than we are just plain stupid.

      But as for me! Back to theology wherein dogma and revealed certitude are often appropriate ( ) and I wish you well!

      • Simpson Grentle says:

        The nature of your response goes a long way to make the point I was making in the article. Just let anyone transgress the sacred theory or even raise a question and watch how the (religiously) zealous responses let loose.

        I don’t understand why. How does my response have anything to do with “sacred theory” when I pointed out a specific example of how the theory changes? How does my response have anything to do with being “religiously zealous”?

        I pointed out several misconceptions on your part, and I think I did it respectfully. I fail to understand why you don’t address the specific comments and instead resort to this kind of answer.

        • dear Simpson

          I think you are right. I am getting a lot of the repsonses confused in my brain, and this was probably reply more to assist24. As to the addressing of specific comments, I am guess I am not addressing them becuase the main point of this article is not to debate Evolution as a theory, but to answer way I think a lot of Americans may not be “illiterate” as the authors claimed but a bit skeptical and saavy about how SOME scientists have an agenda that goes beyond science and there is often an attitude that is condescending, again from some. I am not prepared at this time to debate every detail of evolutionary theory which could go on forever.

          So apologies for any mixups on the who’s who here.

          • assist24 says:

            You are right, this is not the place to discuss the massive evidence for evolutionary theory.

            Getting back to the main article – the simple truth is that most Americans ARE scientifically illiterate. That’s not meant to be pejorative, it’s just a statement of fact. Most have little to no training in scientific fields, and as a result get their science from 30 second TV sound bites or People magazine. There is no way for them to understand the actual technical details of complex scientific topics based on such little information. It is like trying to understand the Bible based on reading one line from a fortune cookie. The information is out there, it exists, but most people don’t know how to access it or don’t bother to try.

            Another problem is that much of today’s scientific knowledge is counter-intuitive. People are skeptical based not on any technical issues, but on their ignorance based personal incredulity. “Common sense” told us the sun orbits a stationary Earth at one time, but it looks now like that’s not the case. :)

            The answer of course is more education, particularly science education. But for most people the rewards of being informed aren’t worth the time they would need to invest.

  25. Simpson Grentle says:

    I read a good book many years ago called Darwins Black Box by a molecular biologist.

    Yes, Michael Behe is a molecular biologist. But I hope you are aware that his claims are strongly disputed in the biological community. Charitably, one could say that his is a minority viewpoint; less charitably, one could point out that his own department has disavowed his claims – a very unusual action and one that shows how out of step Behe is with the rest of biology.

    It’s fun to read the views of minority scientists, but it’s also worthwhile to read more mainstream accounts. One that might appeal to you is Finding Darwin’s God by the Catholic biologist Kenneth Miller. A nice feature of the book is that he takes many of Behe’s claims head-on and shows why they are wrong.

  26. assist24 says:

    Another thing that scientifically illiterate people like to do is argue from authority. If they can find one ‘expert’ who says something they agree with, they will flaunt that and ignore huge amounts of scientific evidence that rebut the claim. In science it’s not who makes the assertion but what evidence they can bring to back it up. Behe may be a molecular biologist, but he brought no evidence to back his claims to the party. Some of the mistakes he made in that book aren’t worthy of a high school freshman. That’s one of the reasons he’s pretty much a laughingstock in the actual scientific community. If you are interested we can go over the technical issues in gory detail. I’m willing to back up what I say -are you?

    Of course you don’t want to hear any of that because it goes against your own ignorance based personal beliefs. It’s much easier to just yell “I’m being repressed! I’m being EXPELLED!” instead of doing the actual scientific work to make your case.

    As a famous man once said; “Sure they laughed at Einstein, but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown”.

  27. Guy says:

    Bender:

    Wonderful parting shot leaving so many questions (that you originated) unaswered. You may claim not to be a creationist but you certainly have many of their behaviors down pat.

  28. Bender says:

    Bender:
    Wonderful parting shot

    No, this is my parting shot —

    It is rather ironic that the people who are ignorantly and erroneously accusing others of “scientific illiteracy,” have themselves been undeniably guilty of verbal illiteracy.

    They have proven themselves wholly incapable of reading what others have actually written, and have instead distorted and twisted what others wrote, and asserted that they wrote things that they did not write and meant things that no reasonable person can conclude they meant — even after they have been repeatedly informed of their error — all so that they could then dispute statements that no one has made, except them.

    All of this pointless exchange could have been avoided if some people had simply bothered to stick to what was actually written, rather than make up strawmen and going off on tangents and trying to divert from what was actually stated.

    • Guy says:

      “They have proven themselves wholly incapable of reading what others have actually written, and have instead distorted and twisted what others wrote, and asserted that they wrote things that they did not write and meant things that no reasonable person can conclude they meant — even after they have been repeatedly informed of their error — all so that they could then dispute statements that no one has made, except them.”

      Care to give even one example of where I have done this? I’m guessing not or you would have already.

  29. Simpson Grentle says:

    The book is well documented and Behe is a molecular biologist. But any scientist who ventures beyond the orthodoxy of evolutionary theory is excoriated as Behe was.

    I’ve already pointed out that Behe’s viewpoint is considerably in the minority. And I already asked if you have read Kenneth Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God, which shows why Behe is wrong. But you didn’t respond. Again, I’ll say, it is fun to read minority viewpoints, but it is also important to understand why these viewpoints are considered minority.

    It is, regrettably, a falsehood to claim “any scientist who ventures beyond the orthodoxy of evolutionary theory is excoriated as Behe was”. How have the founders of evo-devo been “excoriated”? How have the founders of the neutral theory, such as Kimura, been “excoriated”? How has Ohno, a major figure in developing the analysis of gene duplication, been “excoriated”? All of these figures have revised our understanding of evolution.

    Msgr. Pope, I really regret to say, you are demonstrating how apt the quote of Augustine is in your case. You are speaking as if you had knowledge of a field you know very little about.

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