Skip to comments.Did Pope Benedict Really Dismiss Evolution as ‘Science Fiction’?
Posted on 09/28/2013 12:01:33 PM PDT by Brian Kopp DPM
by Stacy Trasancos
Filed under Evolution
In a recent letter to Piergiorgio Odifreddi, Italian atheist and mathematician, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI used the term "science fiction." Odifreddi is the author of the 2011 book Dear Pope, I'm Writing to You, a critique of Benedict's theological writings. Benedict's letter is a response to that book, extracts of which were recently published in the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.
In Odifreddi's book he referred repeatedly to theology as "science fiction." Benedict pointed out that "science fiction" instead exists in science (English translation here):
"Science fiction exists, on the other hand, in the ambit of many sciences. That which you explain about theories concerning the beginning and the end of the world in Heisenberg, Schrödinger, etc., I would designate as science fiction in the good sense of that phrase: they are visions and anticipations, in order to reach a true knowledge, but they are also, precisely, only imaginations with which we seek to come close to reality. There indeed exists, science fiction in a grand style, for instance, within the theory of evolution. The selfish gene of Richard Dawkins is a classic example of science fiction."
The Pope Emeritus is using a very precise and technical definition of the term "science fiction," and using it in a positive way. The word "fiction" refers to something imaginatively invented, and such imagination is sometimes useful in science.
That sounds rather shocking, but it is easily explained. There is an oft-missed distinction between what is imaginable and what is conceivable, and it has to do with the difference in the senses and the intellect.
Imagination is based on sensory experience. We can only imagine what we might see, smell, taste, touch, or hear. We can make mental pictures of material things, which is why we can imagine a purple dragon spitting glitter even if we've never been assaulted by one.
Conceptual reasoning beyond the material realm is done with our intellect. Mathematicians rely on the intellect; Christians use it to understand certain dogmas, such as that of the Holy Trinity. This is the very basis of the human act of understanding (to stand under) anything.
The reality of any abstract or spiritual statement must be examined by the intellect, not the imagination. If an abstract statement is rejected, it is rejected on the basis of a contradiction in terms. This is why we say that infinitely parallel lines or three Persons in One God are conceivable, and square circles and omnipotent gods limited by time and space are inconceivable. This is also why it is incorrect to say that theology is "science fiction" since theology is the work of the intellect and not the imagination.
Science, however, deals with material reality. The picture-making power of the mind can distract the intellect (just ask a college student cramming for finals), but it can also be helpful, such as Pope Benedict indicated in the phrase "science fiction."
Exact science is limited to the quantitative measurement of material objects in motion, but as we all know, science has led beyond realms visible to the human senses. Atoms in a beaker cannot be counted with the eye any more than the distance between stars can be measured with a ruler. Time-resolved femtosecond luminescence data are not collected by direct observation. Evolution over millions of years is not witnessed by anyone. Those things are beyond the human senses, but are still questions of material reality.
Sometimes an imaginatively inventedi.e. fictitiousmodel is helpful to grasp deeper understanding of material things unseen. The British physicist A. Brian Pippard recognized this model-building necessity in a lecture given to a general audience at Cambridge.
"I think history shows that the imagination needs these props. Few can build without scaffolding; in Maxwells equations and Einsteins relativity what we see is the final result of a long process, after the scaffolding has been removed. Even Einstein in his quantum theory developments was unashamedly guided by private models of an asyetunobserved atomism." ("The Invincible Ignorance of Science," Contemporary Physics, 1988)
The physical sciences are full of "science fiction" models that aid in the explanation of data. Atoms do not really look like mini-solar systems and molecules are not made of tiny sticks and balls. Space was once imagined to be a sea of aether whirlpools linked by idle wheels, a rejected model that served a purpose in its time, a "vision and anticipation, in order to reach a true knowledge."
So did Pope Benedict really dismiss evolution as science fiction? No, he called it science fiction in the sense that it is a mental model, which is not a dismissal, but an acknowledgement. Pope Benedict and the Church have been consistently positive toward evolutionary theory as an explanatory model. That offspring differ slightly from the parents and therefore respond to the environment in slightly different ways, is obvious. Natural selection, genetic mutation, and population changes are quantifiable scientific observances. Evolutionary theory is a valid explanatory model insofar as it seeks to explain what is within the boundaries of science, something the Church absolutely insists upon.
Science cannot measure spiritual or immaterial substances; therefore, science can say nothing of the existence of the soul, angels, or God. Those are strictly matters for the intellect. Any scientific theory that violates those boundaries is bad science, "science fiction" in the truly negative and absurd sense of the term.
Pope Benedict is well aware of these distinctions and limitations. Arguably the greatest theologian of our times, Pope Benedict has also never shied from praising what is praiseworthy in the opinions of others, even if, with characteristic graciousness, he shreds the erroneous philosophical view overall.
This is why Pope Benedict was not dismissing the work of Richard Dawkins either. In fact, in calling the theory of evolution an example of "science fiction in a grand style" he may have been offering some praise. In citing Dawkins' work on the "selfish gene" as a "classic example of science fiction" he seems to be complimenting an aspect of Dawkins' life work. That model may explain something about evolutionary stability within populations.
It may also explain something of cultural evolution among humans, as "memes" do. The Church teaches that humans have the spiritual powers of intellect and free will, so it follows that human cultures would evolve throughout history. While that is not an exact science nor is it an idea that could ever disprove the existence of the soul or of God, as those with poorly controlled imaginations may claim, it is nonetheless a valid topic for reasoned discourse.
Taking all of this together with an ecumenical frame of mind, it is certainly worth a smile to realize what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has actually done by calling evolution and Dawkins' work science fiction. Maybe even a chuckle.
The earth is flat!!
Elephants all the way down.
Seriously, though, the General Theory of Evolution is science fiction. After all those years, scientists have still been unable to really prove it.
Yes, there is genetic modification, and intraspecies evolution. But general evolution out of nothing simply doesn’t compute. The Church is open to the idea, since it does not take the creation date literally. (What do “days” mean in Genesis, for instance, before the creation of light, or of the sun and the moon? Presumably unspecified lengths of time.)
As a Catholic, I have no religious problem with evolutionary theory. But as someone with an interest in science, I have never thought it really made sense, ever since I was introduced to it in school.
“So did Pope Benedict really dismiss evolution as science fiction? No, he called it science fiction in the sense that it is a mental model, which is not a dismissal, but an acknowledgement. Pope Benedict and the Church have been consistently positive toward evolutionary theory as an explanatory model. That offspring differ slightly from the parents and therefore respond to the environment in slightly different ways, is obvious. Natural selection, genetic mutation, and population changes are quantifiable scientific observances. Evolutionary theory is a valid explanatory model insofar as it seeks to explain what is within the boundaries of science, something the Church absolutely insists upon.”
And here I was rooting for Benedict for a moment, thinking he really referred to the theory of evolution as “science fiction” (in other words, as a fable). Instead, he was actually praising it?
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The picture of the adoring, shallow, brainwashed low-information idiots tells why 0 got so many votes.
Benedict XVI Denies Covering Up Child Abuse, Calls Richard Dawkins Book ‘Science Fiction’
Ex-Pope Benedict says The Selfish Gene is science fiction. He’s half right
I do not believe so, from the remarks quoted. I believe the author wants to believe Pope Benedict was praising the theory of evolution. To me, it read as if he was neither "dismissing" nor praising, but identifying evolution as something more hypothesized than proved.
The Theory of Evolution depends upon life spontaneously appearing on Earth. I watch in amusement as supporters of the theory steadfastly claim that it does not concern itself with “origins”. Many cling to the theory as a way to deny that God exists, let alone that God might make demands of them or that God would judge their lives according to their works. (see for example: Revelation 20:13). And their support is steadfast in light of biological features that violate the rules of the theory such as irreducible complexity, not to mention how utterly impossible the predicates for sustainable life really are apart from a guiding Creator.
Putting aside how sustainable life was initiated, it is one thing to propose that ongoing mutation and random selection causes slight changes in an isolated population over long periods of time, and that the very same process can turn one species of animal into something totally different.
The homosexual mafia has taken queues from evolutionists. In a growing number of areas, a person will be totally ground into the dust and utterly shunned should they not give vigorous and positive affirmation of the validity of the current theory. This demand alone shows how false it is.
> The Theory of Evolution depends upon life spontaneously appearing on Earth.
No, it doesn’t.
ANd IF we evolved from apes, why are there STILL apes???
A Catholic Priest came up with the Big Bang Theory. He had problem with the theory and his religion. God caused the Big Bang like he causes everything else.
A Catholic Priest came up with the Big Bang Theory. He had NO problem with the theory and his religion. God caused the Big Bang like he causes everything else.
Dogs evolved from wolves over many centuries through artificial selection. Yet there are still wolves.
Yes, that’s true, and the question is not really that sensible in light of the theory. I’d just like to point out that dogs are not a good example of speciation, since they are very much mere domesticated wolves, completely genetically compatible with the wild breeds they are descended from.
I love that expression: “It’s only a theory!”
Compare chimpanzee and Abe Vigoda’s DNA: Identical.
The THEORY of Evolution is just THAT....a THEORY....passed on as "fact"
Do people really not understand what a theory is? Why is it offered up as if it were the opposite of "fact"? Scientific theories are not mere speculation thrown out there on a whim, but are explanations based on large bodies of evidence. Just think of all the theories out there which nobody treats with such hubris as they do evolution, like gravity, plate tectonics, heliocentrism, or that matter is composed of atoms. These are all theories too, after all. Sometimes I wonder what people really think science is all about.
Neanderthals apparently survived too.
Some of us are proud of our inner Neandrathal. <^..^>
“Do people really not understand what a theory is?”
Of course they don’t. Lay people are more familiar with the other common usage of “theory”, like when the guys on CSI come up with a “theory” of how a crime was committed. In common parlance, the word does carry the notion of an “educated guess”.
The scientific definition isn’t actually that far off, except that it is an educated guess which seems to conform to the observed phenomenon, and so has reached a level of common acceptance. Of course, some evolutionists or evolution apologists like to conflate “theory” with “settled science”, ala Al Gore. Just because something is a theory doesn’t mean it can’t be shown to be flawed, incomplete, or simply a coincidentally expedient representation of reality that doesn’t truly reflect the actual mechanisms being described.
“No, it doesnt.”
Of course it does! The entire “theory” is predicated on the idea that there is no God, and in making assumptions based on facts (which they twist and turn to fit their assumption) to provide a totally naturalistic explanation for all life on Earth. If you concede that the origin of all cells on Earth is outside the scope of what evolution can explain, it’s to put God back in the picture, which defeats the primary assumption.
“The earth is not flat. The Universe is flat.
It is he who sits above the circle of earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
Isaiah 40:22 written around 2700 years ago
There’s lots of different scriptures about stretching the heavens out but I picked this one because it also tells us the earth was round. Bible believers are called flat-earthers but apparently they knew the facts long before others did.
SHOW US THE EVOLUTION!! ONE FACT.
...or, at least, it should! Science-falsely-so-called is more apt to deal with labyrinthine arguments that exist within givens and assumptions that are not necessarily true. Anthropogenic climate change (nee global warming), materialistic evolution and psychoanalysis are but examples.
From within these disciplines (which seem more akin to superstition than science), it is possible to commit random acts of logic, provided the underlying assumptions are true; but they aren't.
So, within the labyrinths, the esoteric reasonings and pronouncements and proposals these disciplines generate, the devotees are prone to look at those of us who don't buy into their assumptions as deniers and flat-earthers. It seems to make them feel very good about themselves as they harrumph around their self-absorbed, self-satisfied, self-deluded circles.
Chuckle. Me too.
However, of course he was not "praising it"; the article is a liberal Catholic spin.
Aw, c’mon . . . no pope is going to deny evolution! (Good to know what side you’re on Brian, having to clear the Pope’s name so no one will think he’s a creationist “heretic.” And you’re “conservative,” huh?)
Say, aren't you a Lincoln-hating neo-Confederate Dixiecrat?
And you believe in evolution too, huh? Good to know!
Of course not. But I bet if some scientist came up with a purely naturalistic explanation for the "virgin birth" you'd have a problem with it.
Nor do I.
No it's not! Why are you making stuff up? Do you really think that helps your case?
I’m an intelligent design advocate. I like Michael Behe’s approach. And I reject anyone out of hand that tries to apply a strict creationist litmus test to be considered a conservative. That’s just stupid. Being a strict creationist does not make one a conservative. It simply makes one a fundamentalist. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing but its not the same thing as being a conservative.
Oh, and I had you in mind when I posted this thread. I forgot to ping you :0)
Discuss the issues all you want, but do not make it personal.
I believe in creation and I believe God created you and me and every damn thing else. Have a nice afternoon.
Sorry. I didn’t notice I was in the Religion forum. I usually stay away from this topic in this forum because I like to argue facts and don’t worry much about beliefs. Let’s just leave it at “No it’s not!”
“No it’s not! Why are you making stuff up? Do you really think that helps your case?”
Are you a troll, or what?
SHOW US THE EVOLUTION!! ONE FACT.
Sorry, but I don't really follow what you mean? Did you think I was explicitly defending evolution? That certainly wasn't my intention. Rather, I just disagree with the entire approach which many people take, and which was implied within your post, that theories are somehow the opposite of fact. They certainly may have errors in them or not entirely reflect reality, but they aren't exactly just imaginary musings or made up suppositions either.
No, I'm not a troll. I'm merely pointing out that parts of your posts are not factually accurate. As I promised the mod, I will refrain from speculating as to your motives.
“No, I’m not a troll. I’m merely pointing out that parts of your posts are not factually”
You didn’t actually point anything out. You just made an obnoxious post. So, do you mean that evolutionists take into account the existence of God, or of a designer, when they are working out the possible mechanisms of cell-diversity on Earth? Or, do they only approach the study of these things from the stand point that only naturalistic explanations are acceptable?
I made simple contradiction because you didn't offer any support for your original assertion. I'm not sure why "The entire 'theory' is predicated on the idea that there is no God" is any less of a troll than "no it's not." But that's not important. Let's look at the assertions I contradicted:
The Theory of Evolution depends upon life spontaneously appearing on Earth.
To crib from someone else who used to post around these parts: there are several ideas about how the life might have arisen on Earth, including direct creation, "seeding" from comets, "seeding" from Mars, "seeding" by aliens, unguided chemical reactions, and chemical reactions guided by a Designer. The theory of evolution doesn't care which one is accurate. Evolution starts when there are organisms capable of reproducing--not before. The relative weaknesses of the hypotheses about the origin of life do not weaken the theory of evolution, any more than uncertainty about the causes of the Big Bang weaken theories of star formation.
The entire theory is predicated on the idea that there is no God...
To which I said "No it's not"...
So, do you mean that evolutionists take into account the existence of God, or of a designer, when they are working out the possible mechanisms of cell-diversity on Earth? Or, do they only approach the study of these things from the stand point that only naturalistic explanations are acceptable?
Scientists look for naturalistic explanations of everything they investigate, from the causes of disease to the reasons for earthquakes to celestial mechanics to the diversity of life forms (and they've had remarkable success finding them). I'm not sure what you mean by "take into account the existence of God"--do you mean assume that the explanation for those things must involve direct action by God? No, they don't do that. But that doesn't mean that, individually or collectively, they rule out God's existence..
“You didnt actually point anything out.”
Bzzzt, wrong, he did.
“You just made an obnoxious post.”
You are an expert in that space.
And a clear retread. What WAS your prior FReeper name?
Are you a troll, or what?
“I made simple contradiction because you didn’t offer any support for your original assertion.”
Why should I bother to support something that is self-evident? No matter how much you twist or turn, the fact remains that “science,” falsely so called, is predicated on a denial of the existence of God. They operate only on what they claim can be observed, though, certainly, they promote all sorts of things which have never been observed. When you make the claim that the evolutionists “don’t care” about the origins of cell life, you do spread a falsehood, since, obviously, there is no hypothesis for origins amongst actual evolutionary scientists that consist of the supernatural.
As you said, they’re more willing to believe in aliens, comets, or whatnot, to explain it, rather than to confess the supernatural. They must appeal to these ridiculous things because these wretches are at least somewhat aware with how complex even the “simplest” cell is.
“To crib from someone else who used to post around these parts: there are several ideas about how the life might have arisen on Earth, including direct creation, “
What Evolutionary scientist is proposing direct creation? What scientific journal was it published it? Can you tell me?
Don’t mess with me with these absurd comments of yours. I don’t care if you, in your own particular theology (or lack thereof) imagine that God created life on Earth, but then let evolution take over. You’re not a scientist. You’re not writing research papers. You’re not in the universities teaching. You’re not putting forward papers detailing how God would have created the first living cell. Instead, evolutionary scientists are putting forward papers on how life could have started on its own through random processes, and it is THIS explanation which has the backing of academia.
You seriously need to consider changing your screen name.
“You seriously need to consider changing your screen name.”
Again - you seem to have experience with that. What are some of your prior screen names here?
Were you angry because I thought I gave away your title to someone else? Don’t worry Narses, there’s no one whose posts aren’t more insipid than yours. You’re completely safe.
With twice as much effort you might get to witty. Insipid is out of your league.