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Sunday, 2 November 2014

Sheldrake Again

Cousin Geoff sent me a link to an article in The Independent. The gist was that Pope Francis was more friendly to ‘science’ than his predecessor. No, I had not read it; but it comes as no surprise. Least surprising was the jejune quality of the reporting.

The Big Bang Theory in Cosmology was first propounded by Georges Le Maître - a Catholic priest. The theory is, in my view, fully compatible with Catholic theology, which is not literalist and never has been.

As for 'Evolution', it has a number of different meanings:

1) Change over time - or History, as some of us prefer to call it. Once there were no life forms; then there were. Once there were dinosaurs; then there weren't.

2) Limited common ancestry: Lions and tigers are apparently related to each other, more so than to butterflies and frogs.

3) Universal common ancestry: My cells contain DNA so do the cells in a banana. This fact contains the suggestion that I am related to bananas.

4) Selection: both artificial and natural. The former clearly has happened; look at the amazing variety of dogs. The latter is decidedly credible, particularly with respect to micro-evolution. Macro-evolution is more problematic.

5) A gradual unfolding of an inherent design. This idea treats species rather like individuals: an acorn becomes an oak tree; primitive life forms give rise to more sophisticated life forms. Darwin specifically rejected the idea, which was common before 1859.

6) The inheritance of acquired characteristics (Lamarckism). This is absolute heresy to neo-Darwinians. However, some research does seem to lend credence to the possibility. Sheldrake is friendly to the idea.

7) Random Mutation + Natural Selection, aka The Blind Watchmaker Thesis. This specifically denies that purpose plays any part in evolution; even though purpose appears to be manifest in every organ and every cell. What are your kidneys for?

An orthodox Catholic can accept any of these meanings of 'evolution' EXCEPT THE LAST without doing violence to the fundamental doctrines of the Church (Creation, Fall, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Redemption). I don't think The Holy Father is embracing The Blind Watchmaker Thesis.

Neo-Darwinism has nothing to say about The Origin of Life - it cannot, by definition. We are all in the dark.

Science and Christianity have never been at war. The Church did not accept Galileo's theory because the evidence was not there. Stellar parallax could not be observed with the instruments of the time. We can observe it now. GG was recklessly confrontational. He comes out of the story as badly as the Church - perhaps worse. The Church did not forbid him from proposing his theory, only from declaring it to be a fact. After all, Copernicus was never censored.

Sheldrake is a scientist. He opposes what some have called 'Scientism'. He deplores the popularly accepted belief that 'Science' understands essentially how the world works and is only working on the details. He points out that research gets more and more expensive but that the returns are diminishing. My next blog post will contain two links to Sheldrake. You should, in the meantime, Google 'morphic resonance'.

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