Sunday, September 03, 2006

 

The Peter Principle


Since I seem to be a bit stuck on the subject (including returning to the thread at talk.origins) of late, I might as well go in for the pound. Here is an explanation of the interface of theology and science that I think is substantially right but, perhaps, a little hard to decipher.
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In an article, "Pope discusses creation and evolution" on the website of The Universe Catholic Newspaper, Fr. Rafael Pascual, the dean of philosophy at the Regina Apostolorum university in Rome, is quoted at some length. Fr. Pascual begins by stating that Intelligent Design is a matter of philosophy, not science but that "neither is the negation of finality, or recourse to pure chance and to necessity, scientific." Roughly translated from the theologianese, science itself cannot answer the question of whether or not there is some final (ultimate) supernatural cause to the workings of the world or any part of it. Nor can it determine if chance and natural law are sufficient to describe the cosmos as it exists.
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Unsurprisingly, Fr. Pascual thinks that evolution should be taught
... but as scientific theory, with the arguments in favor but also recognising the limits and still unresolved problems, and not as an ideology, as a kind of absolute, definitive and indisputable dogma.
Although this might sound at first blush a little like the ID "teach the controversy" ploy, based on some past personal experience with the idiom of Catholic theology, I believe that all the Fr. Pascual is saying is that the limitations of methodological naturalism should also be taught, which is a legitimate subject of the philosophy of science, which itself is a legitimate subject for public education. Fr. Pascual continues:
Whereas creationism and evolutionism are incompatible in themselves, this is not so of creation and evolution, which are, instead, on two different levels, and are compatible.
That "evolutionism" is undefined but, based on context, pretty clearly refers to a view beyond that which is supported by methodological naturalism and which seeks to answer questions in the theological or philosophical sphere, where science has no special warrant. In its proper methodological role, science does not and cannot contradict theology because the Church recognizes that "truth cannot contradict truth." Recognizing the validity of science's truth claims in its proper sphere, Catholic theology will concede to science the truth it delivers within that sphere.
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Fr. Pasqual accepts this (though while using the unfortunate term "Darwinism") when he says:
... we must distinguish between theory - or theories - of evolution and Darwinism, and then, within Darwinism itself, between the elements of a scientific character and those of a philosophical or ideological nature.
Basically, 'carefully define what you are doing and make it clear which you are doing at any one time.' That is good advice no matter what the subject.

The article also quotes from another theologian of some little note before his job description was rewritten:
We cannot say: creation or evolution. The exact formula is creation and evolution, because both respond to two different questions.
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The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God does not tell us how man originated. It tells us what he is.
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It talks about his most profound origin, it illustrates the plan that is behind him. Vice versa, the theory of evolution attempts to specify and describe biological processes.
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It does not succeed in explaining, however, the origin of the 'project' man, his interior derivation and his essence. Therefore, we are before two questions that integrate one another but do not exclude each other.
That was by a fellow by the name of Ratzinger. I can't say what happened to him since . . .
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Comments:

The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God does not tell us how man originated. It tells us what he is.
It talks about his most profound origin, it illustrates the plan that is behind him. Vice versa, the theory of evolution attempts to specify and describe biological processes.
It does not succeed in explaining, however, the origin of the 'project' man, his interior derivation and his essence. Therefore, we are before two questions that integrate one another but do not exclude each other.


I am sure that someone with a good classical eduction in philosophy would not be tripped up by the fallacies of composition and division, but the wording here is apt to be misinterpreted by less sophisticated readers.

These fallacies rely on a failure to distinguish between a group and its members. Such as saying that the Cincinnati Reds are the oldest in baseball
(as a team), and inferring from that that a particular
player is therefore the oldest. Or saying that "man is a creature of God" (as an individual) and inferring that mankind is a creature of God. (Mankind might very well be an abstraction which is a creature of my mind, not something objectively real.)
 
The "he," "him" and "his" in Ratzinger's formulation seem to me to be clearly collective. I'm not sure that the Church has ever considered man as an individual, rather than an abstract. And I wouldn't expect Ratzinger, of all people, to start anytime soon.
 
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