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The Double Bollix

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And thanks to Robert for telling me how to spell it.

Okay, let’s start here:  I had a sister in law, dead now, who was profoundly Catholic, and she sent me books.  I’ve read most of them over the years, but I had another one sitting on my coffee table for about a year and a half that I hadn’t looked into yet. 

It was the Shadia Drury article I talked about yesterday that made me decide I ought to read this book, as a kind of equal and opposite counterweight to the silliness Drury puts out. 

(Oh, and by the way–I’m not the only one who thinks she’s an idiot.  The Wikipedia page was very interesting on that score.)

Anyway, the book I picked up to read was called Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, and it was written by Peter Kreeft and Robert Tacelli.

And all I can say is, what Shadia Drury is to the Middle Ages, these two are to evolution. 

But the three of them could be blood brothers (and sisters?) when it comes to elementary logic.

Before I go on, however, I’d like to point out that I generally enjoy Peter Kreeft’s work.  He’s clear.  He’s unpretentious.  He usually knows what he’s talking about. 

I’m always looking for books I can give to the other side of the debate–books on evolution and secularism I can give to my very Catholic friends, books on Catholicism I can give to my secular friends.

I have the deep and abiding conviction that we’d all be better off if the people on both sides actually knew what they were talking about when they criticized the other.  I get fairly crazy about the endless straw man arguments that dominant this entire debate.

After a couple of days with texts like these, however, I begin to wonder if I’m the only one.

So, on to evolution.

Most of what I’m going to be complaining about is the usual–there are no transitional fossils!  it’s only a theory! the jury is out!  species appear suddenly!

At this point, I figure that what I’m looking at is what Robert and Cathy were talking about–people who just decide to be ignorant because it accords with what they want to believe.

Kreeft and Tacelli refer to the works of Philip Johnson, and that is, indeed how you end up spouting this nonsense.

It bugs me for two reasons.

First is that I cannot give a book that gets evolution factually wrong to any of my secular or atheist friends, nor can I recommend it generally to secular people trying to actually know what they’re doing when they talk about Christianity.   Once they get to all that stuff above, they will assume that the writer is either too ignorant to take seriously or deliberately lying and therefore untrustworthy on every level.

Second is that this is a Catholic book by Catholic writers, and Catholics do not need to be stupid about evolution.   There is nothing in the Catholic understanding of Christianity that requires it, or prevents a Catholic from accepting evolution as a fact. 

And it is a fact.

Here’s something else I’d like to see:  something that clearly spells out the fact of evolution (the fossil record that shows forms changing over time, the experimental work that does the same) and the theory of evolution (things like natural selection to explain the changes over time).

Yes, there are transitional forms.  Tens of thousands of them.  When biologists talk about species appearing “suddenly,” they mean after a hundred thousand years or so.  No, the jury is not out, and evolution is not “a theory in crisis.”  The entire field of modern biology is based on evolution, and the consensus for the fact of evolution is stronger than the consensus for gravity.   And evolution is not “just a theory,” it IS a theory.  Theory in science is a fully articulated and factually supported explanation for a phenomenon or set a phenomena.  It is not a guess.  A guess, in science, is called an “hypothesis.”

Yes, okay.  All the usual stuff.  All the greatest hits. 

But the thing that really got me, the thing that is on the same level as Drury’s claim that Christianity invented Purgatory to deal with small sins (while Hell deals with big ones)–that was this, from page 232:

“The scientific problems include…the total absence of any empirical evidence for the inheritance of environmentally acquired characteristics, except within a species (e.g. Darwin’s finches).”


Of course there isn’t “any empirical evidence for the inheritance of environmentally acquired traits.” 

It doesn’t happen. 

That’s an exploded theory called Lamarckism. 

It was never part of Darwin’s theory, nor was it ever part of evolutionary theory. 

I think that what has happened here is a profound misunderstanding of the mechanism of evolution, coupled by an inability to see the obvious–small traits making small changes will, over time, make big ones.

The mention of Darwin’s finches makes me think that what Kreeft and Tacelli actually meant was not “environmentally acquired traits” but “traits selected for (genetically) in response to environment.”

But since that’s not what they said, I can’t know.

Part of me wonders if what is going on here is an attempt to fudge the issue–the fact that Catholics do not believe anything an acceptance of evolution would disprove–in an attempt to maintain the recent alliance of Catholics and evangelicals on a number of issues. 

Unfortunately, the problems don’t begin or end with the silliness about evolution.

There’s the wholesale resort to logical fallacies, especially the ad populam fallacy–which Kreeft, who teaches Philosophy at Boston College, ought to know better than to do. 

Ack.  As I said, I’ve recommended several of Kreeft’s books in the past, because they clearly explain one aspect or another of Catholic doctrine that people on the secular side.

This one, though, is such an enormous, unbelievable mess, a ten year old could figure out what was wrong with it.

Written by janeh

May 8th, 2011 at 9:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses to 'The Double Bollix'

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  1. I never understood this one. I mean, why should there be a Catholic–or a Christian–position on evolution? Why not on gravity, or continental drift? The most ardent believer in miracles knows that natural law prevails the vast majority of the time. That, after a number of false starts, secularists can now describe the creation of mankind without reference to a Creator is no more inherently threatening to Christianity than that one may account for the fall of Jerusalem without reference to the sins of the Israelites.

    As for the literalists, I should think we had enough examples of observer bias in the Bible–not to mention mistranslations, copyists’ errors and, more recently, typos–to be very careful about holding to a doubtful interpretation in the face of the physical evidence. The things required of a Christian are largely quite clear, and have nothing to do with whether a Genesis “day” was 24 hours or a million years.

    On the specific matter of “environmentally acquired traits” I think if there is an interpretation of a statement which assumes the author knows what he’s talking about and one which assumes otherwise, it’s courteous to give the author the benefit of the doubt. I think it’s how we’d all like our own written statements to be treated.

    Still, always a pity when a talented writer places his name on an inferior work. If Kreeft elsewhere has shown himself to be well-informed and rational, presumably this Tacelli is to blame for the actual writing, but it’s like co-signing a loan. You can’t put your name on a work and escape responsibility.

    (Now if someone had only explained this to Andre Norton and marion Zimmer Bradley.)


    8 May 11 at 12:31 pm

  2. “Here’s something else I’d like to see: something that clearly spells out the fact of evolution (the fossil record that shows forms changing over time, the experimental work that does the same) and the theory of evolution (things like natural selection to explain the changes over time).”

    Try “What Evolution Is” by Ernst Mayr


    8 May 11 at 12:35 pm

  3. “The things required of a Christian are largely quite clear, and have nothing to do with whether a Genesis “day” was 24 hours or a million years.”

    Perhaps not, but try explaining that to “Evangelicals” for whom every word of the Bible MUST be literally true or the entire Bible is “false” and there is no such thing as morality and we’re all free to kill each other.

    And yes, that’s the way they think.


    8 May 11 at 12:41 pm

  4. “There is nothing in the Catholic understanding of Christianity that requires it, or prevents a Catholic from accepting evolution as a fact.”

    Nor was there any such thing 60 years ago when we were taught unequivocally in our Catholic high school that the theory of evolution (at such a stage as it then was) was entirely compatible with Catholic doctrine.


    8 May 11 at 9:16 pm

  5. Got me, Michael. The only religious fanatics I see these days with inerrant sacred texts are waving copies of THE POPULATION BOMB or SILENT SPRING. Maybe a few old-timers with CAPITAL.


    9 May 11 at 5:09 am

  6. Robert, I’m inclined to include Militant Atheists among the religious fanatics.


    9 May 11 at 7:41 pm

  7. Really, Robert? I see the Bible a lot, and also Atlas Shrugged.



    9 May 11 at 8:23 pm

  8. I see all of the above and can’t see a single thing wrong with that.



    9 May 11 at 10:38 pm

  9. I had a college classmate who really thought Soviet foreign policy could be understood by reading Revelations. But that was 40 years ago. Last I heard he was a missionary in Haiti. I also had a Macroeconomics professor so staunch a Keynsian believed you could have full employment by, if necessary, dropping dollar bills out of the back of airplanes. HE, I think, must be a national-level economic advisor. Different times, different sacred texts.
    The ones used by government officials–the ones with enforcement power–are nominally secular: that jumble of envisonmentalism, Marxism, psyschology and ethnic and minority studies that hasn’t quite jelled into a single text–and which will never cal itself a religion.
    Oh, yes: The free marketeers have read Ayn Rand, but their sacred text is THE ROAD TO SERFDOM.


    10 May 11 at 5:20 am

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