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A Lunch BIT from The Really Hard Problem by Owen Flanagan

How is meaning possible in a material world? Owen Flanagan proposes a naturalistic (rather than supernaturalistic) way to live meaningfully, to live a life that really matters, to flourish, to achieve eudaimonia—to be a “happy spirit.” In the this excerpt from Science for Monks: Buddhism and Science: A BIT of The Really Hard Problem Owen Flanagan asks, “Catholicism and Evolution: Can a Roman Catholic Be a Darwinian?”

Caveat: Papal Infallibility

There is a lot of confusion on this matter. In strictu sensu, a papal pronouncement is only infallible when it (a) pertains to a matter of faith or dogma and (b) is pronounced according to the very formal rules governing speaking ex cathedra. I believe that the last time (a) and (b) happened was in the 1950s, when the Blessed Virgin’s direct bodily assumption into heaven was made a formally required, infallibly asserted piece of dogma. So some things like the Roman Catholic views on contraception have not been made infallibly, but perhaps they follow deductively from some doctrine that has infallible status. This issue of logical implication causes an interpretive complication about the matter of evolution. Although none of the statements that pertain to evolution were stated in the infallible ex cathedra mode, they do (I am pretty certain) logically follow from matters of faith and dogma that were so stated long ago with the imprimatur of infallibility.

My friend Michael Ruse has written an interesting book called Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? (2001). His answer is “Yes, but it is not all that easy “Here I turn the question around and ask more specifically “Can a Roman Catholic be a Darwinian?” (or, better perhaps, should a Roman Catholic be a Darwinian?”).48 The force of ‘should’ here is intended to put us in the vicinity of this more specific question: If you believe what Roman Catholicism says you must about God and the soul can you sensibly, coherently believe in evolution? I think the answer is No—if the Catholic accepts what the Church requires. Strict Catholic teaching will cause the “wanna-be” Catholic Darwinian to hold strange, possibly incoherent views on divine intervention, immaterial mental entities, as well as unstable or incoherent views on mental causation. I will “offer my reasons for thinking this after I give a reprise of the Church’s position on evolution. If I am right, it helps us to understand why (in America and perhaps elsewhere) the numbers who do not accept Darwinism are so high—in the 50 percent range. Besides those who do not understand what Darwinism in the question is, most religions are not really logically compatible with Darwinism.

I. In his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII made some conciliatory gestures toward those who wish to study the development of embodied life on Earth. However, it is important that the encyclical bears this subtitle: CONCERNING SOME FALSE OPINIONS THREATENING TO UNDERMINE THE FOUNDATIONS OF CATHOLIC DOCTRINE TO OUR VENERABLE BRETHREN, PATRIARCHS, PRIMATES, ARCHBISHOPS, BISHIOPS, AND OTHER LOCAL ORDINARIES ENJOYING PEACE AND COMMUNION WITH THE HOLY SEE

The contents pertaining to evolution can be summed up as follows:

1). “The Church does not forbid that … research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter.” (emphasis added)

2). Catholics are free to form their own opinions on the evolution of the body, but they should do so cautiously; they should not confuse fact with conjecture, and they should respect the Church’s right to define matters touching on revelation and ethics.

3). Catholics must believe, however, that the human soul was created immediately by God. Since the soul is a spiritual substance it is not brought into being through transformation of matter, but directly by God, whence the special uniqueness of each person.

4). All men have descended from an individual, Adam, who has transmitted original sin to all mankind. Catholics may not, therefore, believe in “polygenism,” the scientific hypothesis that mankind descended from a group of original humans (that there were many Adams and Eves).

  • Posted at 10:28 am on Wed, 19 Feb 2014 in


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