say many years ago that America is a nation founded on a creed,
and having the soul of a church? Still, patriotism is
not the name I give to that creed."
I kind of dropped the ball on that evolution discussion last week due to other demands on my time, but I did want to add kind of a summary of my take.
The various philosophical-theological responses to my basic "issue" (isn’t it funny how that word has turned into a synonym for "problem"?) are certainly reasonable and reassuring insofar as they provide a rational account of the orthodox position. The problem with them is precisely that they are philosophical and theological. In scripture we have a very plain straightforward narrative (setting aside speculation about the details of Eden and the various logical conundrums one can wander into about that). The standard evolutionary account is also a fairly straightforward account, at least superficially.
If we concede that evolution gets the basic physical facts right–billions of years of development of a natural world no less violent than the one we know, a direct line of descent from single-cell creatures to human beings–we have an obvious conflict with Genesis which we have to explain, and it tends to come across as explaining away, and not 100% convincing
It’s difficult, for instance, to fit the Garden into the evolutionary picture. It has to become a sort of state of mind on the part of the first couple. Similarly, it’s difficult to fit the very existence of a specific first couple into that picture: we can only see a species of ape of which one male and female are suddenly imbued with rational souls. (It’s my understanding that the evolution of the soul is not an orthodox view, and at any rate it doesn’t make a lot of sense.)
Sure, we can say that Genesis is a poetic and symbolic description, not meant to be taken literally. But it seems to be taken literally elsewhere in Scripture. At least superficially this tactic opens the door to reducing other important scriptural events to symbols, and down that road lies full-blown Modernism, which to me is in essence the reduction of the truths of religion to psychological and literary significance.
Again, like I said in the original piece, I can live with all this, although not happily. It just makes communicating the basic world-view of the faith to someone else–for instance, one’s children–way more difficult than it would have been pre-Darwin.
…not to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the new Oakland cathedral. I mean, it’s true enough that it isn’t in God’s law that the medieval design must be our pattern for church architecture forever. But my instincts keep saying that this is not the right direction.
I have less interest in the visual arts than in the others and not much visual sense, especially as regard architecture. So I don’t necessarily take this as being true for most people, but for me this design has in common with the Los Angeles cathedral a sort of visual muddle, a moebius-like confusion as to how the surfaces fit together. The LA is worse in that respect. This is a harsh thing to say, but my first reaction to it was to think of the Objective Room in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.
Indeed, having located a picture of the LA cathedral to refresh my memory, I find this statement on the cathedral web site: "…a dynamic, contemporary Cathedral with virtually no right angles. This geometry contributes to the Cathedral’s feeling of mystery and its aura of majesty".
Well "mystery" and "majesty" are not the words I would use. "Confusion," rather. Or maybe "disorientation." If I remember correctly, right angles were avoided in the Objective Room.
A couple of days ago a discussion on Amy Wellborn’s blog wandered, very off-topic, into the question of evolution. (I’m not bothering to link because it was only a few comments, which I’m about to reproduce here, out of sixty or seventy on a totally unrelated subject). The usual observation was made that Catholics are ok with the basic scheme presented by the theory of evolution because we aren’t committed to any particular view of the physical facts as long as God is not excluded. Well, that’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s never been very satisfying to me, and I replied:
I respectfully submit that, contra [what someone else had said] the question of evolution does matter to the Catholic faith. Quite a lot. If you want to know what I mean, it’s here (the July 11 entry, if that link doesn’t land you on it).
The only response to that, from someone who just signed himself "Rick", was:
The death that enters the world with Adam is not biological death
per se but the loss of "integrity" – the preternatural gift by which
human passions and biological processes are fully subject to the
The biological processes of death and decay didn’t begin with our
first parents; but if they had remained sinless, they, and we, would
have been held aloft from them through the gift of integrity.
To which I replied:
Sorry, Rick. I have tinkered around, so to speak, with that view of death and about the best I can say about it is well, it could
be that way. It certainly doesn’t fit with scripture in a
straightforward way, and it’s not really any more satisfying than just
saying "we don’t know." Which, as I noted in the piece I linked to, I
can live with, but I don’t like it.
If anybody wants to read that piece of mine that I linked to above (it’s an old Sunday Night Journal entry about intelligent design called Great IDea) and has a better counter to the questions I raise, I’d certainly be glad to hear it. I really think the acceptance as fact of the standard evolutionary timeline has far more influence on the climate of our times than is generally recognized. Note: I am not suggesting that we’re free to decide the facts otherwise in defiance of the best scientific conclusions, but I think we are hiding our heads in the sand if we think we can reconcile Christian faith and the standard picture with a little philosophical smoke and mirrors.