Monday, August 22, 2005

Response to: Fr Oakes is wrong, we don't come from monkeys

Overnight, Bill Stenson wrote a comment to yesterday's entry on my blog. The issues he raises are so important, that I didn't want his comment, nor my response, to be lost in the comments section (a much-lesser read part of this site thanks to the fact that I don't yet know how to configure this page properly – but I'm learning HTML now, so give me some time).

Here is what Bill, a self-identified Catholic, wrote:

...This pseudo intellectualism that Fr Oakes engages in is partly due, as one of his critics describes, to his over "anxiety" to defend the Pope's 1996 qualified position on evolution. Fr Oakes gives the distinct impression that all opinions of the Pope are somehow ex-cathedra which must be defended to the last... We are free to reject this Papal opinion on evolution in the same way that we are free to reject his opinion that the EU is a good idea as these are nothing other than the Pope's political opinions which do not pertain to Papal pronouncements on faith and morals or the essentials of the Christian...

As regards the "order" argument that you comment on I see that Fr Oakes himself ascribes this only to point 5 of St Thomas's proof of the existence of God when he was talking about "things lacking awareness". Of course there is an order in the universe governed by "someone with awareness".

He was not talking about human beings that are created in the image and likeness of God but to "things" and objects. There is no proof anywhere that human beings evolved from a "thing" or an object or even an ape or a monkey and Fr Oakes himself seems to avoid discussing this in his discourse.

I would think the unique finger print of everyone that has ever been or will ever be, the unique genetic code, etc., is proof positive of intelligent design. We also have knowledge of right and wrong instilled in each one of us and that is the indellible mark of God in our conscience which shows itself from a very early age.

And now, my response:

I found Fr. Oakes to be anything but pseudo intellectual, and I don’t see what his motivations have to do with anything, even if he was only trying to defend the Pope (though the evidence that such was his primary motivation is scant).

No one wants to respond to Oakes’ "Intelligent Design leads to 'God of the Gaps' ...an incredible shrinking god" argument. I didn't take debate class, so I don't know what if, anything, is the form of logical error when one skips the counter-argument entirely and goes instead to their interlocutors' motivation?

Yet your concerns are valid. Let me try to answer your questions.

As for the distinction of "awareness", you seem to be suggesting that Aquinas' 5th point doesn't apply to humans. Do you go so far as to assert that humans engineer their own children? That anyone designed each of their distinctive characteristics? If so, what is the evidence for this? ...or was this an “ordered process”, completely compatible with Thomist thinking?

Let me go at this another way: Do you believe that _each_ biological human being is specifically created by God, and that this is the reason for unique finger prints, etc.? This would suggest that God involves Himself in every instance and element of biological development, rather than fashioning the genetic laws under which these processes occur. If so, does He provide birth defects?

You seem to be missing the actual distinction between "design" and "order" - perhaps even between plans and construction. The order, aka natural law, has, in my opinion, a lawgiver. This is an entirely logical premise, a reason to believe we are teleological beings. Science cannot demonstrate otherwise. As I stated in my last blog post, science is not the tool I would recommend for addressing this question.

Let me clarify: When I say, "teleological," I don't mean that in the old Paleyan sense, or in the way Intelligent Designers do as they place a giant mousetrap on the stage at one of their speaking events, and then they leap, via analogy, to the concept that somehow reproductive biology works like building that mousetrap (it doesn't). I see why this argument is appealing, but further instruction in how science works demonstrates that Paleyan design is a duck that won't hunt. So I mean teleological in the sense of the fine-tuning of the universe – The Anthropic Principle, if you will.

I would go even further than you offered Bill: There is, in my opinion, a God-shaped hole in mankind. Each of us seeks meaning beyond our day-to-day existence and our eventual death. It is to theology that man generally (and should) turns to find a way to fill this hole. Those that don't turn to theology make other choices to fill that space: many choose pleasure, others choose material possessions, and the morally darkest of us choose power (over others). The Bible, in particular, explains the futility and danger of these paths, and points us to another narrow lane.

In so doing, this book shares with us the story of the first man to "walk with God," the first human who was made conscious by God. The Genesis account reminds man that the Creator had drawn man from the Earth and had bestowed a special gift on the man. Now, this man had responsibility.

Thus, I think that Adam was "created" by God, in that he was animated by God with imagination and intellect. I think man was made in the image of God in that he was intended to be like the Logos (John 1... and before The Fall was "like Christ") – something each of our respective religious traditions tries to teach us. Creativity and sanctification are both outgrowths of this "god-likeness."

Instead of mousetrap and watch analogies to explain our biology, why not an Adam who was in the Garden of Eden as we can enter the Kingdom of God. As each of walks away from God, we lose life itself. We're barred from entrance into the God's Garden/Kingdom, if not for Christ. And our faith gives each of us meaning, and I believe, a future.

I keep coming back to one principle, over and over – and no one wants to respond to it.

God is NOT schizophrenic. If He is the Author of Nature (Rom. 1:18-20), and I believe He is, and the Author of (our special) Revelation (i.e., the Bible), then these two will be in agreement.

Both are being used to speak to us. Holding a literalist view of the Genesis account in the face of what has become overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary is to ignore the first great work God authored – to my mind a sin. Treating science like the enemy is a stumbling block for our children, a form of anti-intellectualism, so many of whom will "outgrow" their faith when they find that it's just not relevant to daily life.

I, for one, refuse to confine God to the upper story of my existence – to make a schizophrenic divide in my own life between the public Jim and the private Jim, between facts and values. Character is destiny. Destiny is reality. Who I am becoming, because of my relationship with Christ, helps shape what I will be, or to put tongue in cheek, how I will evolve.

If you assume it was the intention of the Creator to make man and have a relationship with him... If you believe that it was God’s plan to give us the gifts of imagination and intellect, to make us almost god-like, both in the realms of creativity and the ability to make better moral choices... If the evidence convinces you that it was the Divine Lawgiver’s intent to have a well-ordered universe that was predictable, so that we could make plans and participate in improving the lot of humanity... If you confess that it was the Divine Author’s script that enabled us to discover both morality and the Lawgiver Himself (again, Rom. 1:18-20), while somehow respecting man’s contingent (often called, "free") will, then evolution is entirely plausible on a theological/philosophical basis.

And the monkey objection is a side-show.

Did Pope John Paul II in his essay on evolution perhaps hit on the key
distinction from a religious point of view, that while our bodies may
have been created by the operation of natural, God created, laws, and
therefore were not specifically created biologically, our immortal souls
are specifically created by God (in his image?). Personally speaking, if
the Christian world-view is true, then I think the Pope was on to
something here that perhaps this Catholic should give closer
Perry, you're falling into what Jim has called the "God of the Gaps". If the Genesis account of creation is displaced by evolution, what makes you think there's a soul or a God who created it. If you care to study neurology and artificial intelligence, you'll find that there's no gap that the idea of a soul fulfills. Some simple animals like earthworms have only a few hundred neurons, and their reactions can be completely predicted by a computer, and yet they seem to respond "intelligently" enough to stimuli by the naked eye. Increasing the number of neurons and therefore the complexity a million-fold, it's easy to understand how human behavior can seem chaotic and undetermined. However, everyone is well aware that there is "human nature", or patterns of human behavior which emerge from the randomness nonetheless. This only underscores the fact that there's as-of-yet undiscovered laws governing all human action based on the sensory input and memory. Given a powerful enough computer, even a human brain could be modelled and predicted. The affects of many brain injuries help to bear this out. If you have faith otherwise, it is purely for your own emotional reasons, not because it can be reliably known. And a God only filling in for lack of knowledge is a "God of the Gaps", who will likely be displaced soon enough.
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