Recently in Faith and Reason Category

Schall on Rowland on Ratzinger


James Schall, Jesuit professor at Georgetown and mightily prolific author (most recently of The Regensburg Lecture, has a brief review of Tracey Rowland's new book, Ratzinger's Faith, at First Principles, the excellent web journal of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

On almost every page of this book we find issues of the highest import. I will indicate a few in these comments. In his Regensburg Lecture (text in Appendix of this book), Benedict traced the history of western thought. It went back through the Old Testament. It pursued the affirmation: Deus Logos Est. The Apostles were in fact first directed toward Greece, the land of the philosophers, not to the lands of mystery. This turn, if we are to understand our universe, was providential, not accidental. But, as Rowland points out, granted this emphasis on reason, Benedict’s first encyclical is not Deus Logos Est, but Deus Caritas Est. This concentration on love, on agape (caritas), phila, and eros, was not intended to deny the Word, the Logos, but rather to emphasize the relation of “reason and love.” We do not love the act of loving, but what is, what is true.

Behind this emphasis on love, no doubt, is Benedict’s long-standing interest in Augustine, who reminded us that “two loves built two cities.” We have to be sure that what we love is loveable. This interest, as Rowland insists, is not to be seen as being anti-Thomistic. St. Thomas, after all, was one of the greatest readers of Augustine, ever. Rowland explains that Augustine’s famous maxim, that “faith seeks understanding,” establishes the interest of faith itself in philosophy and points us toward the “necessary prerequisite for the pursuit of understanding.” The pope wrote that “just as creation comes from reason and is reasonable, faith is, so to speak, the fulfillment of creation and thus the door to understanding.” In this context, Roland shows that Ratzinger not only wrote on Thomas from the beginning of his own studies, but has needed him to complete his own (Benedict’s) overall approach. That approach, as Rowland shows us, is harmonious with, and not antagonistic to, Augustine. In fact, Augustine may be the more useful in a post-modern, Nietzschean world.


The final thing I would like to indicate about this excellent and readable book is that it finally addresses the central place of beauty in our lives. In many ways the real battles of our time occur over the liturgy and not over politics. “The emphasis given by Benedict to ‘an intellectual affirmation by which one understands the beauty and the organic structure of the faith’ means that the primary task of the church in this era is one of catechesis and healing rather than accommodation and assimilation.” It is the culture itself, as Rowland delineates in the second chapter of the book, that has embodied principles that lead to its death. We have already accommodated and assimilated; what is now needed is to heal and to purify.

Rowland remarks that “Ratzinger describes history as a whole as the struggle between love and the inability to love, between love and the refusal to love.” This too is something that begins in beauty, for it begins, as Plato taught us and as Augustine reaffirmed, in our very souls where we all must begin to see the reality and beauty of what is. Ratzinger’s Faith is the real introduction to what is most needed in our times. It understands both that Deus Logos Est and that Deus Caritas Est.

Bookmark and Share

And - shockingly! - approves.

Bookmark and Share

The Great Debate


Atheist Mother Theresa-hater Christopher Hitchens debates Christian theologian Doug Wilson at the Christianity Today Website:

part 1

part 2

I actually think Hitch won the first round (form-wise, not content-wise of course), Wilson's response is pretty sloppy except for this section:

What you are doing is saying that Christianity must be judged not only on the basis of those who believe the gospel in truth and live accordingly but also on the basis of those baptized Christians who cannot listen to the Sermon on the Mount without a horse laugh and a life to match. You are saying that those who excel in the course and those who flunk out of it are all the same. This seems to me to be a curious way of proceeding.

You conclude by objecting to the sovereignty of God, saying that the idea makes the whole world into a ghastly totalitarian state, where believers say that God (and who does He think He is?) runs everything. I would urge you to set aside for a moment the theology of the thing and try to summon up some gratitude for those who built our institutions of liberty. Many of them were actually inspired by the idea that since God is exhaustively sovereign, and because man is a sinner, it follows that all earthly power must be limited and bounded. The idea of checks and balances came from a worldview that you dismiss as inherently totalitarian. Why did those societies where this kind of theology predominated produce, as a direct result, our institutions of civil liberty?

Wilson takes the second round, though.

Bookmark and Share


Hitchens admires Socrates' claim to be certain only of his own ignorance. The reader wishes that Hitchens would exchange admiration for emulation.

Is there anything left to be said about any of the evangelical atheists?

Bookmark and Share

Ouch II



"Andrew Sullivan, the vicar of doubt, is debating Sam Harris, ueber-atheist, in a blogalogue. For me, this is like watching the Raiders play the Cowboys: the only thing to do is simply root for injuries and mistakes."

Bookmark and Share

Benedict, Evolution, Design


At the beginning of September, Pope Benedict XVI will hold a meeting of his former grad students, as he has done every year for about three decades now. Each year, the meetings focus on a single topic, which is analyzed and debated at a high-octane theological and intellectual level. This year's topic will be "Creation and Evolution."

John Allen provides analysis focusing on the speakers lined up for the meeting and what they will likely say. He also has a quickie interview with Fr. Stephan Horn, a Salvatorian priest whom Allen describes as the "informal chair" of the group.

Sandro Magister is also on the case. Last week he gave a recap of last year's meeting, and this week he provides a pre-game analysis by running an excellent article from the Vatican newspaper: “L’Osservatore Romano” on design and evolution:

From this comes the importance of the current debate on God’s plan for creation. It is known that supporters of intelligent design (ID) do not deny evolution, but they do claim that certain complex structures could not have appeared as a result of random events. For them, such complexity requires God’s special intervention during evolution and therefore it falls within the purview of intelligent design. Apart from the fact that mutations to biological structures cannot by themselves explain everything since environmental changes must also occur, by introducing external or corrective factors with respect to natural phenomena, a greater cause is included to explain what we do not know yet but might know. In doing so though, what we are engaged in can no longer be called science but is something that goes beyond it. Despite shortcomings in Darwin’s model, it is a methodological fallacy to look for another model outside the realm of science while pretending to do science.

All things considered, the decision by the Pennsylvania judge therefore appears to be the right one. Intelligent design does not belong in science class and it is wrong to teach it alongside Darwin as if it were a scientific theory. All that it does is blur the boundary between what is scientific and what is philosophic and religious, thus sowing confusion in people’s minds. What is more, a religious point of view is not even necessary to admit that the universe is based on an overall design. It is far better to acknowledge that from a scientific point of view the issue is still open. Putting aside the divine economy which operates through secondary causes (and almost shies away from its role as creator), it is not clear why some of nature’s catastrophic events or some of its meaningless evolutionary structures or lineages, or dangerous genetic mutations, were not avoided in the intelligent design.

Unfortunately, one must in the end also acknowledge that Darwinist scientists have a tendency to view evolution dogmatically, going from theory to ideology, upholding a way of thinking that explains all living phenomena, including human behavior, in terms of natural selection at the expense of other perspectives. It is almost as if evolution ought to make creation redundant so that everything was self-made and reducible to random probabilities.

In terms of creation, the Bible stresses design and life’s radical reliance on God, but it does not say how all this came about. Empirical observation sees the universe’s harmony, which is based on the laws of nature and the properties of matter, but necessarily must refer to a greater cause, not through scientific proof but on the basis of rational arguments. Denying this amounts to taking an ideological, not a scientific stance. Whatever the causes, be they random or inherent in nature, science with its methods can neither prove nor disprove that a greater design was involved. “Even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan for creation,” says ‘Communion and Stewardship’. What to us may seem random must have been present in God’s will and mind. God’s plan for creation can unfold through secondary causes as natural phenomena take their course, with necessary reference to miraculous interventions pointing in one or other direction. Or as Teilhard de Chardin put it: “God does not make things, but he makes sure they are made.” Similarly, “God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes,” this according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (n. 308).

There's more, and it's all quite good.

Bookmark and Share

Cardinal Schönborn


Back in December I blogged the first two installments of a series of catechetical talks - given by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna - on the subject of creation and evolution. Three more of these talks have been translated into English: Talk 3, Talk 4, Talk 5.

There will be four more talks in the series. Numbers six and seven have already been given and can be found by German readers here. Actually, anybody can find them there, but only German readers can read them. Actually, anybody can read them there, but only German readers can understand them.

Uh, what? Oh yeah, I'll post the links to the English as they become available. Actually, I'll post them as I become aware that they are available. Actually, I'll post them as I become aware that they are available and remember to blog it.

I need an editor.

Bookmark and Share

Cardinal Schonborn on Evolution and Creation


Monika and any other German-speakers may want to check out the homepage of the Archdiocese of Vienna.

For English speakers, the page includes the first two installments (1, 2) of a series of catecheses by Cardinal Schonborn on evolution and creation. (Link via Amy Welborn.)

If you remember, Cardinal Schonborn was the one who kicked off the crapstorm of controversy on evolution and creation over the summer with his Op-Ed in the New York Times.

Excerpt from the second catechesis:

Now there is another misunderstanding that is constantly found in the ongoing discussion, and I have to deal with it right here at the beginning. I refer to what is called "creationism.” Nowadays the belief in a creator is automatically run together with "creationism.” But in fact to believe in a creator is not the same as trying to understand the six days of creation literally, as six chronological days, and as trying to prove scientifically, with whatever means available, that the earth is 6000 years old. These attempts of certain Christians at taking the Bible absolutely literally, as if it made chronological and scientific statements - I have met defenders of this position who honestly strive to find scientific arguments for it - is called "fundamentalism.” Or more exactly, within American Protestantism this view of the Christian faith originally called itself fundamentalism. Starting from the belief that the Bible is inspired by God, so that every word in it is immediately inspired by Him, the six days of creation are taken in a strict literal way. It is understandable that in the United States many people, using not only kinds of polemics but lawsuits as well, vehemently resist the teaching of creationism in the schools. But it is an entirely different matter when certain people would like to see the schools deal with the critical questions that have been raised with regard to Darwinism; they have a reasonable and legitimate concern.

The Catholic position on this is clear. St. Thomas says that "one should not try to defend the Christian faith with arguments that are so patently opposed to reason that the faith is made to look ridiculous.” It is simply nonsense to say that the world is only 6000 years old. To try to prove this scientifically is what St. Thomas calls provoking the irrisio infidelium, the scorn of the unbelievers. It is not right to use such false arguments and to expose the faith to the scorn of unbelievers. This should suffice on the subject of "creationism” and "fundamentalism” for the entire remainder of this catechesis; what we want to say about it should be so clear that we do not have to return to the subject.

And now to our main subject: what does the Christian faith say about "God the creator” and about creation? The classical Catholic teaching, as we find it explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or more compactly presented in the Compendium of the Catechism, contains four basic elements.

Check out the whole thing.

Bookmark and Share

More evolution


The evolutionist denial of a Creator God seems to go something like this:

An immaterial force active in the evolution of life on earth is not scientifically observable.

Therefore, such a force must not exist.

There is a hidden premise here, and that is:

Any immaterial force active in the evolution of life on earth would be scientifically observable.

The error is in that hidden premise. From the perspective of the Christian, it is ridiculous. It boils down to a scientist saying. "I can't see the invisible." To which a believer might reply, "Duh!"

The scientist must respect the bounds of his profession. He can only present facts about the material realities, no more. To take those facts and attempt to draw conclusions about beliefs that concern the immaterial is a misapplication. This is not to say that science and faith don't communicate. The knowledge of the scientist teaches the faithful more about the mechanisms of creation, sometimes challenging faith and in the end strengthening it. Similarly, the theologian can teach the scientist more about the meaning of creation, challenging the moral and ethical assumptions of the scientist.

The problem is that frequently the two don't listen to each other. The scientist can ignore the ethical warnings that come from faith, resulting the assaults on human dignity we see in the field of biotechnology. Similarly, the Christian can ignore the facts produced by empirical observation of the created world, resulting in an overly literal reading of Scriptural texts whose deepest, truest and most consequential meanings are spiritual and moral, not geological or biological.

Bookmark and Share

The problem with Darwinists

| | Comments (2)

Right here.

Eminent biologist E.O. Wilson argues that evolution has completely shot down the notion of a Creator God. Not just, mind you, that evolution is true, but that the fruits of certain lines of scientific inquiry prove that there could not possibly be a plan to the evolution of life on this planet.

Many Christians believe the world evolved on the material level in the way Wilson describes. They also believe that this evolution was initiated and guided by a loving and infinitely good immaterial God who created the world, and who exists outside of time and works in ways nobody - scientist nor theologian - can precisely describe from this side of eternity. They further believe that just as theology can neither prove nor disprove the mechanisms of the laws of natural selection or random variation, science can neither prove nor disprove the truth of God's purpose in His creation or about man as center and steward of this creation. They do however, believe that anybody can look at the beauty and goodness of the world and reasonably conclude that there is a Creator.

To suggest what Wilson does - that science has conquered God - is to misunderstand God. There is no scientific discovery - short of an archaeological finding of the bones of Jesus - that can alter the faith of these Christians.

Ultimately, Wilson does not and cannot ever prove his theory that evolution was unplanned, unguided and meaningless. There is no mechanism for peering empirically into the immaterial.

How then, can the Christian have faith in this God despite the apparent randomness of the evolution of life? The answer is that millions have experienced God in prayer. This experiential evidence is something that can never be seen, measured or tested. It simply exists, and those who have entered into this mystery possess a knowledge of God.

Those who have this knowledge gained through prayerful experience know that as creator of the laws that the scientists study, God cannot be contradicted by those laws, and so the knowledge gained by the natural sciences will ultimately always be reconcilable with the revelation of God we have publicly through Scripture, through the authoritative teachings of the Church throughout the centuries, and privately through prayer.

A biologist simply cannot contradict this knowledge, and any attempts to use the laws of nature to do so - as I said before - misunderstands God.

I am not a huge proponent of Intelligent Design, mostly because I agree with John Derbyshire that it's not science. On the other hand, it's an understandable reaction to scientists like Wilson claiming that evolution defeats revealed faith. A believing Christian can easily see that this is not true, and evolution then becomes an enemy in a sense.

I don't claim to speak for all Christians, I know there are young-earth Christians out there, just as there are still geo-centrists. I believe they err in reading Scripture literally. In the end, the believer must understand that God is the author of scientific laws, and so they can never contradict Him.

For their part, scientists who are non-believers must respect the faith of Christians and understand that the existence of the Christian God is not something which can be empirically proven.

Bookmark and Share

God in the Public Square?


Some people don't even want Him in the private square.

Only among the incredibly cynical and/or small-minded would the following quote be controversial.

"You are not an accident. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did."

Bookmark and Share


Mama-Lu's Etsy Shop

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Faith and Reason category.

Ecumenism is the previous category.

Global Church is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.