Center for Ethics and Leadership

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Vatican Again Snubs Creationism

Creationists will not be among the invited speakers at conference organized by the Vatican's Gregorian Pontifical University and the University of Notre Dame to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. Good.

No, the real news here is not that the Vatican is catching up with science after the evolution and Galileo fiascoes. The real story behind both controversies has been the interpretation of scripture and its implications for the continuing intellectual viability of Catholicism. Through the early 20th century, official Catholic teaching was firmly -- uncompromisingly -- insistent that the literal interpretation of the Bible was true, even as it admitted of allegorical, typological, and spiritual interpretation. Great Catholic scholars, priests all, were silenced by their religious superiors on orders of the Vatican, and the ripples were felt as late as 1960 at The Catholic University of America.

In 1943, the door to critical interpretation opened with the publication of Pius XII's Divino afflante spiritu. Vatican II's Dei Verbum 20 years later flung it wide.

And not a moment too soon. Roman Catholic biblical scholarship had fallen decades behind Protestant scholarship (ironically the first advocates of critical scripture study were two French priests in the late 17th century). For the last few decades, however, some of the best biblical scholarship has been produced by Catholics.


  • I have no expertise in Catholic theology, so this posting voices questions rather than comments. Does the failure to invite Creationists to the conference suggest that the church is moving away from the "official teaching...insistence that the literal interpretation of the Bible was (is) true"?
    That a move away from this position might allow Catholic Biblical scholarship to 'catch up' to 'the Protestants' surprises me, because I am familiar with an awful lot of Protestant sects that are adamant, possible fanatical, about a literal interpretation of the Bible (although there is a lack of consistency in terms of what exactly some of those literal interpretations are). Lastly, were "intelligent design" advocates also excluded, or are the creationists really showing up at the conference under a different guise (sort of like the wolf in sheep’s clothing)?

    By Blogger kobe2, At September 26, 2008 1:33 PM  

  • The position slowly changed over the first half of the 20th century.

    The Protestant groups to which you refer arose in reaction to the great Jewish and Christian German scholarship of the 19th cnetury (and French & English). The opponents, from Princeton, established "five fundamentals" of Christian belief, one of which is the literal (i.e., historical) truth of scripture. Check back to my July 28 post, "Seminary Makes a Bad Decision." Serious Protestant scholarship is not fundamentalist and is in the overwheliming majority.

    The radical evolutionists also are not invited to the Vatican. There is probably no "intelligent design" Trojan Horse. Since an academically excelent American university, Notre Dame, is behind the conference, it will be interesting to see what comes out of it. And the Vatican's Pontifical Academies aren't too bad, either.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At September 29, 2008 6:40 AM  

  • Creationism as a topic of discussion in theological circles has been strongly defended by Protestant fundamentalists who believe that it is foundational to their entire belief system since evolution reared its ugly head in the early 1900's. Even today ministries such as Answers in Genesis continue the fight. They recently opened a $20 million museum near Cincinnati to present the story of creation as Biblical fact that has drawn millions of visitors. The five fundamentals are alive and well in Protestantism even if the Roman Church is waffling on the matter.

    By Blogger Jerry Thacker, At October 6, 2008 6:49 PM  

  • While I certainly agree that Bible exegesis certainly is key component of origins debate, I also believe there is an ignorance among the public that the proponents of evolution have had great skepticism and/or puzzlement regarding their position since its inception.

    I first cite the following from Darwin near the end of his life:

    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states the following regarding a candid admission of Charles Darwin:
    “ In 1885, the Duke of Argyll recounted a conversation he had had with Charles Darwin the year before Darwin's death:

    In the course of that conversation I said to Mr. Darwin, with reference to some of his own remarkable works on the Fertilisation of Orchids, and upon The Earthworms, and various other observations he made of the wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature—I said it was impossible to look at these without seeing that they were the effect and the expression of Mind. I shall never forget Mr. Darwin's answer. He looked at me very hard and said, “Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times,” and he shook his head vaguely, adding, “it seems to go away.”(Argyll 1885, 244]

    Here is what the staunch Harvard evolutionist and biologist Ernst Mayr stated: "It must be admitted, however, that it is a considerable strain on one’s credulity to assume that finely balanced systems such as certain sense organs (the eye of vertebrates, or the bird’s feather) could be improved by random mutations."

    Here is what a scientists reported in the peer reviewed science journal Cell:

    When discussing organic evolution the only point of agreement seems to be: "It happened." Thereafter, there is little consensus, which at first sight must seem rather odd. -(Simon Conway Morris, [palaeontologist, Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge University, UK], "Evolution: Bringing Molecules into the Fold," Cell, Vol. 100, pp.1-11, January 7, 2000, p.11)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At November 23, 2008 10:17 PM  

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