Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Book Review: Zombies More Popular Than God?

In 2015, author Thomas McFadden gave us the excellent book Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism, a timely work which addressed the problem of theistic evolution within Catholic thought. McFadden’s debut work was broad and well-researched, covering a wide spectrum of subjects. At the heart of the book, however, was the idea that, while theistic creation "works" for some Catholics, it certainly does not "work" for everybody. Because many mainstream Catholics have adopted the position that there's "no contradiction" between evolution and Catholic theology, it has become accepted to assume there are no real problems with theistic evolution. Consequently, there is little real discussion about the science behind evolution, and Catholics who do not find an easy harmony between Scripture and evolution are left with little to go on. Readers interested in my complete review of Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism can find it here.

Mr. McFadden has now put together a splendid follow up to his first book in his new work, Zombies More Popular Than God?: The Evolution of Unbelief. The title caught my attention with its novelty, but don’t be fooled—though the book begins with some observations on the current cultural faddishness surrounding zombie-lore, the real subject of the book is the “scientific zombies” of the secular humanist scientific establishment. A “scientific zombie” is a discredited scientific theory that is nevertheless still getting traction in scientific textbooks and pop science publications. Just as a zombie is a corpse that is animated despite being dead, scientific zombies are intellectually dead ideas that nevertheless continue to be promulgated. An example would be the idea that embryos of all vertebrates look similar at a certain stage of development, or that the dinosaur Archaeopteryx was a transitional creature between a lizard and a bird, both of which have been scientifically discredited but continue to appear in science textbooks used in public schools.

Zombies More Popular Than God? does an excellent job cataloguing these scientific zombies. This is an especially pressing need, as McFadden demonstrates that perceived conflict between science and religion is the top reason why young people lose faith, according to polling. The Catholic Church’s response to this crisis of faith has been pathetic; in response to an overwhelming onslaught from evolutionists promoting unguided Darwinism as the mechanism for the development of species, the response of Catholic thinkers has been to shrug and say, “Even if that happened, God did it.” This explanation not only fundamentally ignores the essential incompatibility of Darwinism with divine revelation, but fails to tackle the actual scientific claims of Darwinism, which effectually cedes the ground of argument to secular humanism, granting the privilege of dictating the extent of divine revelation to junk science.

Throughout both of McFadden’s books is the recurring them that simply saying “God did it” is utterly destructive to faith. While some Catholics may be satisfied by this explanation, many are not (as poll numbers consistently show); and even those who are content with theistic evolution inevitably fall prey to the dual dangers of creeping mythologization of creation theology and a slavish subservience to the latest pop scientific theory.

What is the solution? Not shrugging our shoulders and saying “Well, even if evolution happened, God did it”, but really educating ourselves and our children about natural science so that these “scientific zombies” can be exposed for what they are. The scientific data supports an intelligent, guided design behind life on this earth and Catholics need to understand this; similarly, data does not support the Darwinian idea of survival of the fittest through random mutation as the mechanism for explaining why things are the way they are. Catholics need to engage secular humanist junk science on the plane of science and continue to offer compelling alternatives to the Darwinist narrative—alternatives that offer not only more palatable theological implications, but which are simply better science.

There’s a lot of great information in Zombies More Popular Than God? It is not a scholarly work itself, but does an admirable job of identifying the major fault lines in current evolutionary theory and directing the reader to other scientific-scholarly writings on the subject. I found myself taking copious notes and getting lots of suggestions for further study. It’s a handy reference that anyone interested in the problems of theistic evolution needs to read attentively. With two books now under his belt, Thomas McFadden is making valuable contributions to the discussion of evolution within Catholicism and I hope he continues his work.

Zombies More Popular Than God?, as well as McFadden's original book, can be found online at his website www.scienceandcatholicism.org for a donation of $15.00.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Cardinal Pell and a Painful Reminder

This big news this past week was the conviction of Cardinal Pell in Australia on sex abuse charges. This trial was noted for its irregularity, at least from an American perspective. The gag orders, secret evidence, and general inaccessibility of the facts of the case to the media have given this trial the character of a kangaroo court. In the United States, Pell's trial certainly would not have met the threshold for anything considered just and objective.

Still, I am surprised the degree to which many Catholics are leaping on this and rushing to exonerate Pell. Some are even publishing ridiculous statements calling him a martyr and postng "I stand with Cardinal Pell" pictures on social media. There is almost something like a knee-jerk reaction to vindicate Pell's innocence. I suspect this is because (unlike the figures of McCarrick or Wuerl) many orthodox Catholics seemed to like Cardinal Pell. His conviction was thus easy to read as an attempt of the vindictive, aggressively secularist government of Australia to rid itself of a gadfly of orthodoxy.

Certainly his trial was all screwy, but I have no idea whether he is guilty or innocent based on that. And the fact that Australian trial procedure is different than that in the U.S. is no indication either. But here's what troubles me most about the reaction to the Pell conviction—it seems to me that traditionally minded Catholics are rushing to defend Pell mainly because of his orthodox credentials; in other words, because someone on "our" side simply can't be guilty of the same things we see from progressives like McCarrick. 

For one thing, I want to remind everyone that Cardinal Pell isn't some bastion of orthodoxy. I was never very impressed with him. Honestly, he struck me as the Cardinal Dolan of Australia, a guy who seldom spoke heresy but also wasn't interested in making any strong and principled stand for the faith either. I vividly remember him several years ago insisting there was no literal Adam and Eve in a pathetic attempt to look cool and sophisticated for Richard Dawkins; Dawkins turned on him and (rightfully) said if there was no Adam and Eve then there couldn't be original sin and the entire claim of Christianity was groundless. Pell had no response. He just never impressed me as a great bishop or defender of orthodoxy.

But—and I think this is more important—we have to realize that the scourge of homosexuality in the clergy cuts across lines of orthodoxy. It is not true that the homosexual and progressive groups are identical. As the filth in the Church continues to be exposed, we need to realize that many of "our" people are going to be exposed as well. The Vigano testimony makes this clear—it's not just a liberal problem. The only difference between liberals and conservatives in this regard is that liberals want the open acceptance of homosexuality within the Church while conservatives do not, but that is a different question than whether particular clerics are or are not themselves homosexuals.

Frederic Martel's book In the Closet of the Vatican says four out of every five clerics in the Vatican are gay. But the book is being dismissed by some because many of the allegedly gay prelates named in the book are conservatives. Martel claims, for example, that Cardinal Burke is homosexual, a thought that is untenable to many Catholics. 

I make no claims about the veracity of Martel's book, just like I can't opine on the facts of the Pell trial. A lot of his book seems to be based on hearsay. But what I can say is that we cannot be inherently opposed to the idea that otherwise conservative, orthodox prelates might also be homosexuals. A person might be a homosexual and even have acted on it in the past while still being a conservative who teaches homosexuality is wrong, just like I know unchastity is wrong and can speak against it even if I have no always been chaste in my own life. I would have no problem believing Cardinal Burke was homosexual. But whether I thought so or not, it would depend on the specific evidence, not on a knee-jerk reaction about "so-and-so simply can't be gay because they have made principled stands against homosexuality" or "I bet so-and-so is gay because he's liberal."

So, I'm not saying Pell is guilty or Burke is gay or anything else. But I am saying, get it out of your head that the homosexual problem is only a progressive problem. I'm sure there are parallels, but the lines are not contiguous. If we can't get it through our heads that the purge we desire is going to expose "our people" too, then we're not really ready for the cleansing that is coming.