Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dear Catholic Church: You got nuthin'.

Oh, dear God (pun so deliciously intended):

Pope Writes on Evolution, Limits of Scientific Reason

And if there's anyone who should be lecturing us on the limits of scientific reason, it's a man who firmly believes in invisible sky monsters. Oh, yes, this is going to be entertaining. Let's read on.

Apr. 11, 2007 (CWNews.com) - Pope Benedict XVI discusses the limits of the scientific method, and in particular of evolutionary theory, in a new German-language book issued on April 11.

Schoepfung und Evolution ("Creation and Evolution") represents the product of a seminar held last September at the summer papal residence in Castel Gandolfo. At that seminar, Pope Benedict and his former theology students discussed the theory of evolution in the context of the Catholic faith.

Because, I'm guessing, it would have been intellectually taxing to have discussed the theory of evolution in the context of, say, actual science. Does this mean we can discuss Catholic dogma in the context of, oh, critical thinking and logical consistency? I can hardly wait. But let us not tarry. So much crunchy, Catholic wingnuttery awaits.

In his own essay, Pope Benedict acknowledges the many advances that science has brought, but observed that scientific findings often prompt further questions which science cannot answer.

An example would have been nice but ... onward.

Reliance upon science can become a handicap, he argued, because "it tends to take away from us dimensions of reason that we still need."

Yes, that must be it -- becoming overly dependent on the scientific method tends to lead one dangerously away from rational analysis. No, really. But the best is yet to come.

The Pope went on to say that today's world needs to recover an appreciation for ultimate philosophical questions, which science cannot properly address. While the use of scientific reason is necessary and proper, he explained, that form of reason cannot address certain questions-- such as, for example, the origin of rationality itself.

Let us understand one basic and inarguable truism -- neither the Catholic Church, nor any other form of religion -- organized or otherwise -- has anything of any value to say on any subject in any context. Nothing. Nada. Squat. Zip. Sweet fuck all.

It's always amusing to watch Catholics calmly argue that, while science has, you know, its place and value, it can't address the more pressing, more philosophical or metaphysical issues of the day. Let's deal with that in two parts, shall we?

They're right about the first part. The Church has nothing of any value to say about science. It has been howlingly wrong about damned near everything related to science ever since its inception, so it's no surprise to understand that, when it comes to dealing with stuff like testability and reality and empirical evidence, the Church just flat out blows dead bears. But what about that second part?

The Church would have you believe that, where science (allegedly) falls down -- morals, ethics, stuff like that there -- the Church is ready to rush in and pick up the slack and handle all those tricky questions like: Where did we come from? Why are we here? And how does Tori Spelling keep getting work?

In fact, the Church's pronouncements on those topics are utterly and absolutely worthless. Having failed to understand and accommodate itself to even the most fundamental scientific principles, it seeks to lay claim to everything else for which it thinks it only has to wave its arms and issue sanctimonious proclamations.

Fuck off. Just fuck right off.

There is absolutely nothing about the Church that suggests it has any authority to speak on any subject and be taken seriously. One need only take a quick look back to see how they seem to be constantly apologizing for being out to lunch on so many things. You know, like Galileo. And the Crusades. And the Holocaust. And, oh yeah, there was that recent "Um, you know all that limbo stuff we've talked about for so long? Well, heh heh, funny story ...".

Perhaps no one addresses this egotistical territoriality (is that actually a word?) like Richard Dawkins in his book "The God Delusion" (p. 55, hardcover edition)

What are these questions in whose presence religion is an honoured guest and science must slink respectfully away?

Martin Rees, the distinguished Cambridge astronomer whom I have already mentioned, begins his book Our Cosmic Habitat by posing two candidate ultimate questions and giving a NOMA-like friendly answer. 'The pre-eminent mystery is why anything exists at all. What breathes life into the equations, and actualized them in a real cosmos? Such questions lie beyond science, however: they are the province of philosophers and theologians.' I would prefer to say that if they lie beyond science, they most certainly lie beyond the province of theologians as well ... I am tempted to go further and wonder in what possible sense theologians can be said to have a province. I am still amused when I recall the remark of a former Warden (head) of my Oxford college. A young theologian had applied for a junior research fellowship, and his doctoral thesis on Christian theology provoked the Warden to say, 'I have grave doubts as to whether it's a subject at all.'

What expertise can theologians bring to deep cosmological questions that scientists cannot? ...

It is a tedious cliche (and, unlike many cliches, it isn't even true) that science concerns itself with how questions, but only theology is equipped to answer why questions. What on Earth is a why question? Not every English sentence beginning with the word 'why' is a legitimate question. Why are unicorns hollow? Some questions simply do not deserve an answer. What is the colour of abstraction? What is the smell of hope? The fact that a question can be phrased in a grammatically correct English sentence doesn't make it meaningful, or entitle it to our serious attention. Nor, even if the question is a real one, does the fact that science cannot answer it imply that religion can.

Perhaps there are some genuinely profound and meaningful questions that are forever beyond the reach of science. Maybe quantum theory is already knocking on the door of the unfathomable. But if science cannot answer some ultimate question, what makes anybody think that religion can?

Exactly. Given religion's abysmal track record in things scientific, what kind of arrogance does it take for those same people to suggest that they'll do better with philosophy and metaphysics? While those of us doing science have been discovering things like the age of the universe and the secret of DNA and quantum mechanics, these are the same dingbats who are still pondering how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, or where unbaptized babies go when they die, or why bad things happen to good people, and whose best answer to all of that seems to be, "Well, God works in mysterious ways, you know."

And you're going to let these people answer the really tough questions? I'm surprised they can dress themselves in the morning without help.

, but I'll go out on a limb and bet that no one who takes offense to the above will actually try to address any of the issues. You know ... like the commenter who wrote:

There's nothing quite like an open mind, is there?

Wow, that's ever so clever and witty. So ... got anything meaningful to say? Or is that about the limit of your contribution? I mean, don't intellectually strain yourself on my account.


Ti-Guy said...

I'll pray for you, Cynic!


I think Papa Ratzi should shut up about science, since he rarely seems to indicate he understands the difference between it and technology.

Anonymous said...

Let us understand one basic and inarguable truism -- neither the Catholic Church, nor any other form of religion -- organized or otherwise -- has anything of any value to say on any subject in any context. Nothing. Nada. Squat. Zip. Sweet fuck all.

How about faith and spirituality?

I don't know if you know much about the RCs, but if you want a good laugh, look up transubstantiation. I had a good time with that one in Catholic high school. *grin*

Anonymous said...

"Let us understand one basic and inarguable truism -- neither the Catholic Church, nor any other form of religion -- organized or otherwise -- has anything of any value to say on any subject in any context. Nothing. Nada. Squat. Zip. Sweet fuck all."

There's nothing quite like an open mind, is there?

M@ said...

"dawkins", having an open mind means not just swallowing a church's bullshit because they're A Church.

Is it closed-minded of me to think that thinking up some lame political excuse for why god made Katrina or 9/11 happen is pure bullshit? I don't think so.

The real trick to being open-minded -- in fact, the only way to remain open-minded and still function in society -- is to limit what one believes by things that can be seen and deduced. Faith neatly sidesteps that bit.

You know, even the areas that the Catholic church thinks it's qualified to talk about -- like contraception and abortion, for example -- it's historically been anti-people (and -- surprise! -- anti-women). Though that anyone would listen to anything the RC church says about sexuality is unbelievable.

I guess you have to keep an open mind to believe any of that bullshit.

Anonymous said...

I believe dawkins is attempting the Moral One-upmanship gambit as described in The Woolly-Thinker's Guide to Rhetoric.
I do have one nit to pick with the quote he selected. CC, you forgot jack.

Anonymous said...

I have plenty to say that is meaningful, but you say your position is "inarguable", that there is "Nothing. Nada. Squat. Zip. Sweet fuck all." to discuss. Makes one wonder why you bothered to amend the original post with your clever repartee, challenging me to comment again. Perhaps my first comment cuts too close, eh?

Lindsay Stewart said...

well dawkins, you have been given the invitation to expound on your meaningful argument, have at it. as a co-writer at this blog, i serve at the pleasure of the cynic. however, i won't go so far as to make an absolute, i am sure that the church has something of value to say on some subject, bingo perhaps.

but when it comes to issues of science, i'll defer to those other folks, what are they called...oh, right, scientists.

Anonymous said...

Hey, at least Dawkins finally picked a name, even if it was deliberately incongruous to what he/she claims to have to say.

I have plenty of meaningful things to say that are even more meaningful than Dawkins's meaningful things, but I'm not going to say them either.

CC said...

Dear dawkins:

If you can't be bothered to even try to address what I wrote, you might as well go back to the childrens' table. The grown-ups are trying to talk here.

Alison said...

"Science has opened up large dimensions of reason ... and thus brought us new insights," the pope wrote. "But in the joy at the extent of its discoveries, it tends to take away from us dimensions of reason that we still need."

Dimensions of reason?
That's a tad slippery, isn't it?

Fortunately this question has already been answered by Lord John Whorfin in that seminal work, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension :
"May I pass along my congratulations for your great interdimensional breakthrough. I am sure, in the miserable annals of the Earth, you will be duly enshrined."

Anonymous said...


You are like a child who has discovered that he is too big and too smart to need God. Your adolescent hatred of religion (Christianity in particular; those Islamists BITE, you know) has been duly noted ... again and again and again. So, please stop the postings. We get it. You hate religion and religious people. UNDERSTOOD. Accordingly, anything you have to say about religion is tainted by this well-established hatred. It is clear you do not care one whit about the history of Christianity and the Church's (or this Pope's) position on reason and its absolute necessity in man's life and faith.

Cynic, it very is clear that YOU do not have "anything of any value to say on [this] subject in any context. Nothing. Nada. Squat. Zip. Sweet fuck all." Dare I say the same regarding the value of your thoughts on any subject, my sarcastic child?

CC said...

anonymous writes:

"You are like a child who has discovered that he is too big and too smart to need God."

This is what we in the intellectually logical community refer to as "begging the question".


Anonymous said...

No, that's calling 'em as I see 'em, kid.

Lindsay Stewart said...

anon, the church's history? you must mean things like the children's crusade, auto de fe, the inquisition and all that good stuff. as for the pope's position on reason, well he claims infallibility and presumes that the unproved, improbable existence of an invisible being who whispers truth in his ear somehow trumps science. he extols the virtue of faith, so long as it is the faith that he prescribes. in the absence of that faith, he consigns the vast majority of humanity to a lake of fire. the reason that decides, after many centuries, that a tenet of catholic faith is no longer valid and that there is no limbo. what once was true is no longer true. the pope's reason, that denies observable phenomena and prefers superstition. somehow i'm just not convinced by that version of reason.

Anonymous said...

From your link: "Begging the question" is a form of logical fallacy in which an argument is assumed to be true without evidence other than the argument itself."

From your post: "Let us understand one basic and inarguable truism -- neither the Catholic Church, nor any other form of religion -- organized or otherwise -- has anything of any value to say on any subject in any context. Nothing. Nada. Squat. Zip. Sweet fuck all."

Who, exactly, is "begging the question"?

Anonymous said...

Furthermore, Cynic, surely you are not being so presumptuous -- not to mention foolish -- as to assert that anything you write on your blog is "intellectual" or "logically" argued? Peppering your rants with “fuck” doesn’t make your points self evident, much less reasonably argued. Certainly not with regard to religion (right?), you who confuses "science" with "scientific method" or others here who assert without evidence that the Pope has confused science with technology (presumably by way of apology for his Catholic belief in order to establish his bona fides here). Certainly not you who has evinced no understanding or Church’s position on the necessity of reason, reason that you evidently lack.

Point to one "intellectually logical" argument that you've made in this post. One. Present one iota of evidence that you are a member of the “intellectual” community at all. The only evidence I see here is evidence that you are a card-carrying member of Crazy Clown Club of Canada … or a brilliant satirist of that group.

Anonymous said...

Ouch, Gram! Score one for the real intellectuals.

CC said...

anonymous continues to make a fool of himself:

"No, that's calling 'em as I see 'em, kid."

Here, let me translate that for you:

"I have no idea what you're talking about, but I'm going to ignore the fact that I'm being bitch-slapped from one end of the parking lot to the other, and try to disguise my appalling ignorance and lack of critical thinking skills with infantile snark in the hope that some people think I'm witty."

There ... doesn't that read so much better?

Anonymous said...

Shaved Ape,

You are not worthy. You do not understand what I am talking about. Like, Cynic, you cannot understand and you do not want to understand.

Bravo, though, for knowing about the Crusades. You really scored a point against the Pope there! Like the "Nazi" charge, does raising the topic of the Crusades mean any debate on Christianity is over?

Lindsay Stewart said...

while you bicker with what qualifies as intellect, you seem to expect that the pope's notion of reason somehow stands. your response to strongly worded posts is to call people names. where's your evidence of your deist beliefs?

Anonymous said...

"There ... doesn't that read so much better?" -- Cynic

No, because it's illiterate.

Fix your grammar and try again.

And try to realize that my saying you are similar to a child in not making an argument; it's stating my impression of you.

Go back to school, baby boy.

CC said...

As a brief reminder, let us all recall this increasingly-relevant excerpt from my original article:

"... I'll go out on a limb and bet that no one who takes offense to the above will actually try to address any of the issues."

So far, my money seems fairly safe, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

English, please, Ape.

Lindsay Stewart said...

anon, i said nothing about the pope's nazi connection. he was a child at the time. i don't consider that a valid condemnation of the adult man. it was you that positied a lack of knowledge of church history, i just gave some examples of that history. somehow you have decidded that i am not worthy. great. that's very well reasoned. as for understanding, you haven't made yourself clear. prove your position, the onus is on you to make yourself understood. so far you have disqualified a position based on naughty words and your own grand, self-righteous pomp. you haven't disproven anything else said here and you certainly haven't proven the value of what you claim as reason.

Anonymous said...

You didn't bring up an issue, CC. You mindlessly attacked the Church, but offered no argument supporting your hatred of it or its position on science.

Lindsay Stewart said...

anon, you can't parse the sentences and you respond with a sentence fragment. make your argument, convince the unconvinced or shove off.

CC said...

anonymous writes:

"You didn't bring up an issue, CC."

I most certainly did. I made the claim that the Church has absolutely nothing of any value to say on any subject, then I proceeded to provide the evidence for that claim.

And, at this point, unless you start addressing that claim, I'll be deleting any further comments.

Either address what I wrote, or fuck off. The choice is yours.

Anonymous said...


While I enjoy reading your posts from time to time, I think you are way off the mark as far as reason goes. First of all let's get one thing straight here, the Catholic Church fully accepts the process of scientific method as a mode of inquiry. This is written in the Catechism and many other places - look it up. Many of the great scientists were and are believers in God.

Secondly, you have to realize that not all questions that can be asked by human beings can be answered by the scientific method. Questions of morality (i.e. what is right and wrong) cannot be answered by using this method for instance. This is part of what the Pope is talking about.

Thirdly, do not confuse the scientific method, which is a great tool for learning about our universe, with the generic term 'science', which is used in an almost quasi-religious fashion today as a source of ultimate knowledge.

The scientific method is only one tool of many that we use to answer the questions of our existence.

Anonymous said...

And inventing a god and saying that HE made everything and provides meaning for your life is a valid response to the big questions, ... why exactly?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anonymous,

The church does oppose scientific method when it doesn't suit their needs. Historically, Galileo. Contemporary example, Hawking being told by the pope what is and is not suitable subjects for him to study. Also, Kansas.

But I believe CC's bigger point, which I think is probably correct, is that on these questions of morality that scientific method cannot address, why would I listen to the pope any more than Stephen Hawking?

This is because science IS logic IS the *only* source of ultimate knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I would also add to the discussion by iterating that the 'church' should focus on 'the plank in their eyes' with regards to church fragmentation. I mean it's all well and good that the pope is passing edicts 'for the world' as to what we can put in the 'realm of science' vs the 'realm of God', yet there are more and more congregations leaving 'established' denominations and forming their own. If God is all-encompassing, why so many splits in the church?
Oh wait, 'why?' is a question for science, not for religion--religion is just to obey.

Anonymous said...

"Historically, Galileo. Contemporary example, Hawking being told by the pope what is and is not suitable subjects for him to study. Also, Kansas."

The prevailing theory of cosmology in Galileo's day was geocentricism, not heliocentrism; scientists supported Aristotlean ideas about the universe. Galileo pushed beyond science into theology by arguing how the Church, or any believer, should interpret the Bible, a much more sensitive subject in those times, and thus ended up on trial for heresy.
Hawking's account of John Paul II's speech to the 1981 Vatican Conference is unsupported: it appears to be an anecdote he used to embellish his book, A Brief History of Time.
As for Kansas, I assume you are referring to the ID controversy. I am unaware of any papal pronouncements on that subject.

Ti-Guy said...

This Pope's just a place-holder. The old nazi/pedophile enabler will be dead in a few years. Then maybe the old virgins in dresses in the College of Cardinals will wisen up finally and pick someone who isn't a lunatic.

...there. I hope that pissed some self-righeous arrogant holy-roller the hell off.

Anonymous said...

I'll pray for you, Ti-guy.

Anonymous said...

Gram you stupid cracker!
Your counter argument that the church is supportive of science is to say that Galileo was persecuted for disagreeing with the church, but on an entirely different matter?
Supporting science *requires* letting people think what they want.

This is why scientists are also better are finding out moral truths.

And I agree Hawking is a damned liar!

Anonymous said...

I'd say that an organization that enables and covers up the raping of children has relinquished any right to say anything on matters of morality.


Anonymous said...

Can you give me an example where something is logical and scientists would agree that it is logical, but they still won't agree with it? It's a contradiction.

As for the moral truths, can you give me an argument for a set of moral beliefs you think are correct? Will your argument be logical or illogical?? Or will you give no argument at all and just try to force people to comply?

Ti-Guy said...

Let's take a situation where the same cover up happened at the even highest levels:

Look up Crimen Sollicitationis.

gram said...

Anonymous (whichever one called me "cracker"),

My point was that Galileo's trial was not about his "scientific method" but for putting his nose into theology, the Church's own bailiwick. I feel quite certain that no one in this forum would call theology a science.
Leaving aside one's feelings about intellectual "persecution" of any kind, it is incorrect to say that the Church, which sided with the opinion of the scientific majority of the day, put Galileo on trial for his science.

M@ said...

gram, what exactly is theological about whether the sun moves around the earth or the earth around the sun? Should we continue to defer to the church on that one?

This is exactly why you can't trust religion to decide where the dividing line is between theology and science. They start persecuting scientists and bombing abortion clinics before you know it.

The American Anthropologist said...

Hey gram,
It was I who called you a stupid cracker.
Here's why:

"Cardinal Bellarmine acting on directives from the Inquisition, delivered him an order not to "hold or defend" the idea that the Earth moves and the Sun stands still at the centre"

"heliocentrism was never formally or officially condemned by the Catholic Church, except insofar as it held (for instance, in the formal condemnation of Galileo) that 'The proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures'"

In conclusion, you are right, theology is hardly a science. And science is all about logic.

gram said...


There is nothing theological about heliocentrism in my opinion, but that is not why Galileo went on trial. He insisted on arguing that scripture was being improperly interpreted by the Church, which unfortunately for him had much temporal power at the time, and hence the charge of heresy.


I've read that same source material you quote (at least it sounds familiar) and, to me, the fact that heliocentrism was never endorsed or denied shows the Church to be siding with the predominant scientific opinion of the day, an opinion that still sided with Aristotle in antiquity. Remember, Galileo did not irrefutably prove heliocentrism for he could not account for the lack of parallax shift, something that technology could not detect at that time. Again, it was his strident insistence on his interpretation of scripture (correct, but ahead of its time) that led to his trial, as evidenced by the last part of the lines you quote. There were those in the Church who agreed that too literal an interpretation is wrong in some cases, but Galileo pushed too hard.

Zorpheous said...

Gram's recount of the history of Galileo vs the RC is correct. The church never said,... oops let me rephrase that, the chuch never believed Galileo was wrong, but at the time church had one teaching and Galileo was pushing another. The church decided at the time bitch slap Galileo and used the most convient method to silence him at the time.

Galileo vs the Church was more about change and "Power of the Church Authority" than it was about science. While the science was the trigger event for the confrontation it basically boiled down to Galileo being a mouse and poking a large angry cat in the eye.

Still in the end, the Church was wrong on all grounds, morality, ethics and science. Galileo was wrong on the grounds of pushing faster than the power structure was will to change. His science was off as well, but essential correct within a Newtonian frame work of reference.

The American Anthropologist said...

It is quite amusing to see you say the scientist was superior in interpreting scripture to the whole Catholic hierarchy! What good is the pope? Why would I believe the current hitler youth version is any better?

But I don't know how you are missing my point. It is very simple.
The church ordered Galileo not to believe that the earth moves! This is a scientific question.
They said believing the sun is in the centre (claim of scientific fact) is heretical and then punished him for heresy.
What part of that do you disagree with???

gram said...

"It is quite amusing to see you say the scientist was superior in interpreting scripture to the whole Catholic hierarchy!"

I didn't say that; re-read the last line of my previous comment.

I understand your point,and it is simple. I think your view is, in fact, too simple and I have explained my view of the historical record. What don't you understand about that?