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March 14, 2005

Don't Bless Us, We'll Bless You

More from TNR: Gregg Easterbrook has a nice, if awkwardly premature, obituary for Pope John Paul II. I’ve always liked JP2, and the article contains some interesting facts about his life, including this:

Born in 1920, Wojtyla was a university student when the Nazis invaded Poland; he joined an underground movement that kept learning alive during the Nazi darkness by holding university classes in secret and sometimes performed as an actor in plays staged in secret.

I did not know that. It certainly explains his modern-seeming attitudes towards acknowledging Holocaust victims, advocating against the USSR, etc. But there was one aspect of the Pope’s modernizing influence that just leapt out at me:

John Paul II moved the Church toward rationalism and reconciliation with science; he was the first pope to say that he believed Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Huh. Is it me, or did this sort of coincide with religious conservatives’ attempts to inject creationism into public schools? Obviously, a lot of those people aren’t Catholic, but still, this strikes me as troubling. It’s nice for the Pope to acknowledge science, but attempting to find a place for science in religion ultimately means finding a place for religion in science. The Pope, essentially, tried to convince millions of his followers to increasingly subject their faith to empirical verification. This degrades both faith and empiricism.

Mixing faith and science is a dangerous business. Sure, modernizing the church’s stance may give devout Catholics a little more purchase in cocktail party conversations with secular friends. But where does it stop? Who draws the line at which empiricism obviates any meaningful idea of faith? The Pope seems poised to die without providing a clear answer to this question; it’s unclear that he still wields enough power to direct world opinion on this anyway. And surely, modification of our textbooks isn’t what he had in mind. But still, it’s hard not to wonder if the nuts on the PTA in Kansas and Georgia aren’t the direct descendants of the Pope’s efforts to give religion a little science.

Clarification: A number of commenters have pointed out that the Pope never came close to advocating the kind of creationism-as-science that's currently invading our classrooms. But my broader point was this: The Pope seemed to couch his acknowledgement of evolution in the idea that the Catholic faith needed to "modernize," without establishing a bookend on the other side to denote where "modernization" needed to end. This lack of an outer boundary, I'm concerned, is the same phenomenon that allows people to think our science classes need more stuff about two naked kids and an apple.

Preemptive Clarification: I know that intelligent design theory isn't "two naked kids and an apple."

- Daniel A. Munz

March 14, 2005 in Religion | Permalink

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Commenter Boethius asks: "Science classes might not need the story about "the two naked kids with the apple" but how about literature classes?" This is actually something I've wondered about for a while. Suppose for a moment that some monolithic... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 14, 2005 8:37:12 PM

Comments

Hmm, I don't know- most of the creationist nuts are protestant fundamentalists, they could give a finch's ass about the Pope's views. (Remember how Bob Jones described Catholicism as a cult?)

Posted by: SP | Mar 14, 2005 4:09:41 PM

I always took the Pope's position to be that evolution is the how and God is the who. That is, God used evolution to create the human species.

Posted by: Greg | Mar 14, 2005 4:23:38 PM

The pope's embrace of empirical science is much more nuanced than "I beleive in Darwin's evolution." You'd need to read the official papal bulls in order to grasp what exactly JP2 has in mind. There are many scientists, and many theologians for that matter, who think that science and religion can co-exist. And I think John Paul II is of that mind, that science, as are all the wonders of nature, is a gift from God. The human study of science and exploration of the natural world are part of the wonder of creation (creation meaning God's influence on how the world came to be, NOT a strict biblical interpretation). This is not all that troubling or revolutionary considering the fact that JP2 has been on the forefront of the church's reconcilliation for past sins: the persecution of Gallileo (and centuries of the rejection of modern science as a way to understand and describe the world), the church's silence during the Holocaust, the persecution of Jews, the crusades, etc. (with the notable exception of the bureaucractic and insitutionalized reaction to sexual abuse by clergy).

Posted by: Johnny | Mar 14, 2005 4:25:52 PM

Science classes might not need the story about "the two naked kids with the apple" but how about literature classes?

You'll find that story in John Milton's Paradise Lost - better than Shakespeare IMO.

Posted by: Boethius | Mar 14, 2005 6:10:09 PM

Big deal that he spologised for Gallileo, Crusades, Holocaust, witch burning etc.

Those things happened in the past.

The sexual abuse is happening now. Probably right this minute somewhere in the world.

Of course dealing withe the sexual abuse might involve scandal, jail terms, compensation etc.


Posted by: Boethius | Mar 14, 2005 6:13:27 PM

opus dei?

the idea, still around, of papal infallibility?

the limits to lay members and women in participating in church business?

the authoritarianism? (poland when he was growing up was no democracy.)

no thanx.

he probably is a good man, but his institution has outlived its usefullness.

i have no more use for the catholic church, as an organization, than i do for my stools after my bowels move them.

Posted by: harry near indy | Mar 14, 2005 9:16:38 PM

Who draws the line at which empiricism obviates any meaningful idea of faith?

Empiricism already does obviate any "meaningful" idea of faith. As Mr. Twain put it, "Faith is believin' what you know ain't so."

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 5:18:30 AM

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