Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Brother Al endorses atheist position

Charles Darwin, 1854

No, Brother Al hasn't declared himself an atheist. But he does agree with the "village atheist" notion that you can't believe in God and also acknowledge biological evolution (Evolution and Christianity Impossible to Reconcile, Says Evangelical Theologian by Katherine T. Phan Christian Post 02/15/09):

"If you understand Christianity or even Theism – the belief of a sovereign creator God – and evolutionary theory in its dominant form, I find it impossible to reconcile the two," Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his radio program Thursday, the 200th birthday anniversary of Charles Darwin.

While the Bible doesn't explain all the mechanisms God used to create the world, it gives believers many non-negotiables about what that creation is, who is behind it, and for what purpose it was created, said Mohler on "The Albert Mohler Program". ...

Whereas the Biblical account of creation accepts the role of a Creator, the theory of evolution "suggests that natural selection is indeed the mechanism and that it is entirely natural and in no case supernatural," said the theologian.

"There is no way for God to intervene in the process and for it to remain natural," he asserted.
This is evidently the broadcast: Charles Darwin and the Modern Mind 02/12/09. In a blog post of the same title and date, Brother Al links to various of his polemics against natural selection ("Darwinian" evolution). He returns to the subject against in a blog post of 02/16/09, Christianity and Evolution -- Seeing the Problem.

Brother Al doesn't really grapple with the fact that there actually are many people who do believe in God and adhere to the Christian religion and don't have a problem recognizing the evidence of evolution by natural selection. Although he does take note of arguments by the late Stephen Jay Gould and a Pastor Harry Brinton that the two are different categories, "non-overlapping magisteria" in Gould's formulation.

Evolution was never the agonizing problem for Catholic theology that it still is for fundamentalist Protestants. In fact, the Vatican is currently holding a five-day conference on Darwin to discuss his theories and to emphasize their compatibility with Christian teaching (Vatican hosts Darwin conference by David Willey BBC News 03/03/09).

As Willey's article points out, there have been traditionalist Catholics who took a different position. He cites one example I find particularly regrettable:

But the Catholic Church never condemned Darwin, as it condemned and silenced Galileo. ...

Yet as recently as 2006 a leading Catholic Cardinal, Christoff Schoenborn, of Vienna, a former student and friend of Pope Benedict XVI caused controversy by saying that Darwin's theory of natural selection was incompatible with Christian belief.
Cardinal Schönborn, when he became the Archbishop of Vienna, was seen as a possibly more moderate candidate for the papacy. It's too bad to see him adopt such a reactionary, anti-science position. The Church did make it clear that Schönborn's position was not an official Church position.

In connection with the Vatican conference, San Francisco's former Archbishop and now Cardinal William Levada, currently head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Holy Office, aka, the Inquisition), stated explicitly that scientific evolution is compatible with Christianity.

Phan's Christian Post article describes the Catholic position as "theistic evolution". Brother Al doesn't accept it:

... he firmly rejected theistic evolution.

"God was not merely fashioning the creation of what was already pre-existent, nor was He merely working with a process in order to guide it in some generalized way, nor was He waiting to see how it would turn out," said Mohler.

"As Genesis indicates, He created the world in order that the world might be the theater of His glory for the demonstration of the Gospel of Christ and He created human beings as the only beings made in His image, as His covenant partner," the Protestant theologian explained.
Yet Brother Al himself finds it hard not to display an obvious problem with this Bible-as-science-textbook approach:

Although Mohler said he rejected evolution as a way to explain the origin of all things, he acknowledged that there are changes in animals that take place over time.

"No Conservative Christian should deny there is a process of change that is evident within the animal kingdom. And there is even a process of natural selection that appears at least to be natural," he said, adding all one has to do is look at a herd of cattle to find evidence of adaptation and a competition of genes.
Natural selection is the process of evolution. And if "natural selection ... appears at least to be natural", how can Brother Al say he doesn't accept evolution and that it's incompatible with the Christian faith? He even says that no conservative Christian should deny natural selection.

This is the kind of mind-numbing sophistry to which fundamentalist anti-evolution thinking leads. Catholics save a lot of headaches by sticking to the formula that I'm told goes back to St. Augustine, that the Bible is meant to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. Or, in other words, it ain't a science textbook!

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