Stop Celebrating the Pope’s Views on Evolution and the Big Bang. They Make No Sense.

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Photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

By Jerry A. Coyne

A famous anecdote from 19th century New England involves Margaret Fuller, an early feminist and ardent exponent of the spiritual movement of transcendentalism. Besotted by her emotions, she once blurted out, “I accept the universe!” When he heard of this, the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle remarked dryly, “Gadshe’d better.”

While the story may be apocryphal, if you replace Fuller with Pope Francis and “the universe” with “evolution,” then Carlyle’s feelings are identical to mine. For, according to many media outlets (for example, herehere, and here), Pope Francis has just declared that he accepts the fact of evolution.

Gad, he’d better. Evolution has been an accepted scientific fact since about 1870, roughly a decade after the theory was proposed by Darwin in 1859. And there are mountains of evidence supporting it, as documented in my book Why Evolution is True, and no evidence for the religious alternative of divine creation. As Pope Francis tries to nudge his Church into modernity, it wouldn’t look good if he espoused creationism.

But if you parse Francis’s words yesterday, spoken as he unveiled a bust of his predecessor Benedict XVI, you’ll find that tinges of creationism remain. In fact, the Vatican’s official stance on evolution is explicitly unscientific: a combination of modern evolutionary theory and Biblical special creationism. The Church hasn’t yet entered the world of modern science.

The recent history of Catholicism and evolution is spotty. Pope Pius XII claimed that evolution might indeed be true, but insisted that humans were a special exception since they had been bestowed by God with souls, a feature present in no other species. There was further human exceptionalism: Adam and Eve were seen as the historical and literal ancestors of all humanity.

Both of these features fly in the face of science. We have no evidence for souls, as biologists see our species as simply the product of naturalistic evolution from earlier species. (And when, by the way, are souls supposed to have entered our lineage? Did Homo erectus have them?) Further, evolutionary genetics has conclusively demonstrated that we never had only two ancestors: if you back-calculate from the amount of genetic variation present in our species today, the minimum population size of humans within the last million years is about twelve thousand. The notion of Adam and Eve as the sole and historical ancestors of modern humans is simply a fictionone that the Church still maintains, but that other Christians are busy, as is their wont, trying to convert into a metaphor.


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57 COMMENTS

  1. I for one have felt a huge sense of “meh” by the pope’s comments.

    of course we know evolution was accepted by the church some time ago, even if half it’s members never got the memo, but the church has also accepted the heliocentric theory of the solar system.

    if there is one thing worth celebrating though, it’s the fact that whenever a religious leader says something relatively sensible, it’s time to reach for the popcorn and already it begins

    I don’t understand what Jerry’s saying about Adam and Eve though, I was under the impression the church had already done away with a literal interpretation of most of the OT but I could be wrong, it’s been a few years since I slept through my last sermon.

    Every religious position on science, is self-contradictory. by moving the goalposts from time to time you can tell people to ignore the glaring contradiction and for a while they’ll all be happy with the mantra “science and religion are not incompatible” so long as they don’t realise they’ve traded one contradiction for another; maybe more subtle at first glance but actually more contadictory when you think deeper.

    Pope Francis has declared the cathoilc church worships the god of the gaps, and no doubt has made lots of catholics happy they can get out of awkward positions at dinner parties but this deistic prime-mover still performs miracles, and according to catholic docterine, bestows super powers on certain dead people to do magic tricks too. The core dogma of catholicism, virgin births, magic man-crackers, and the big-bang-starter fathering himself as a scapegoat for something that happened 4000 years before (or not) for the mob to execute, just becomes even more silly.

    For those reasons, I do celebrate the pope’s comments. wether it’s nasty hitler youth pope lamenting how child sex abuse might lead to fewer bums on pews or jolly latino pope laughing at the silliness of expecting any real magic to happen like some holy Tommy Cooper, I love it when a pope comments. it’s all comedy gold

  2. As I pointed out in this earlier comment,

    https://richarddawkins.net/2014/10/happily-godless/#li-comment-159000

    This is just Catholic double-talk which pretends that “Theistic evolution” is science, when it as an attempt to shoehorn God back into science using god of the gaps-type arguments.

    They pretend that they accept the science, when actually they are perverting the science to vaguely insert supernatural woo, miracles, human centric notions etc. .

    It is part of the false claim that the supernatural is compatible with science, which of course it is not.

    Needless to say, no evidence for their claims, consistency, details of mechanisms for how alleged creation processes work, are forthcoming. – Merely assertions that the false claims of woo miracles are compatible with science.

  3. SaganTheCat Oct 30, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    I for one have felt a huge sense of “meh” by the pope’s comments.

    of course we know evolution was accepted by the church some time ago,

    Actually they didn’t! – and still don’t! – They merely falsely claimed that they had!
    They still don’t accept the scientific theory of evolution.
    They pretend evolution is a mechanism for their god to produce ensouled humans as servants of their god.
    This has nothing to do with the workings of biology!

  4. Brilliant, Sagan,

    I especially like this bit:-

    The core dogma of catholicism, virgin births, magic man-crackers, and the big-bang-starter fathering himself as a scapegoat for something that happened 4000 years before (or not) for the mob to execute, just becomes even more silly.

    As you say… and though the magic man redeemed us for our(?) sins, still we must keep on begging forgiveness for them anyway??

    If only this made some kind of coherent sense, I might have bought it, when I was about 8, but I had to quit because it was incomprehensible.

  5. It’s not a matter of celebrating but asking whether it is better the Pope accepts evolution (to whatever degree) or climbs on board the creationist train. I think the former is better and probably does more to make creationist Christians of whatever sect consider their position than a thousand Dawkins’ speeches. Baby steps are better than backward steps.

  6. The “logic” of the Christian religion is that humanity “fell” when Adam and Eve directly disobeyed God. This was the Original Sin, by which humanity is permanently stained i.e. the humans alive today are supposedly guilty because of something someone else did long, long ago. The sins of the first humans are literally transmitted to all future generations unto the end of time, like a really bad version of karma (“species karma” we might call it). At least with karma, you are being held responsible for something you did in a past life. With Original Sin, you are being penalized for what others did that had absolutely nothing to do with you. So much for divine justice and fairness. Because of the “crime” of Adam and Eve (eating an apple – an infinitely diabolical act, apparently), humanity is condemned to hell. Only the sacrifice of God himself could atone for humanity’s cosmic sin. Hence Jesus Christ, the Son of God and one third of the Holy Trinity, had to suffer crucifixion and death. But if you are a Christian who rejects the Biblical tale of Creation and Adam and Eve and instead accepts Darwin’s theory of evolution then you are suddenly presented with an insurmountable difficulty. Who was it that committed the “original sin”. If it wasn’t Adam and Eve then was it some grunting half-ape ancestor (?), and what was the sin in question (rubbing two sticks together to produce fire?). No “evolutionary” Christian has ever answered this question. But without original sin the whole logical edifice of Christianity collapses because if there is no specific sin for which to atone then there is no need for Christ. He instantly becomes superfluous, hence so does Christianity.

  7. Religion has been defeated over and over again as far as discussions on existence of God and evolution are concerned (and more). Their defense has always been their ridiculous interpretations of their bronze age books and made up stories. Interestingly, they still have followers (although on the decline).

    The fact is that they cannot prove the existence of God in the first place. Why bother discussing evolution with them? I don’t! How can they claim that evolution is “guided” by God if they cannot prove God’s existence. Before God can be cause or creator of anything, it needs to exists. End of story!

  8. paulmcuk Oct 30, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    It’s not a matter of celebrating but asking whether it is better the Pope accepts evolution (to whatever degree) or climbs on board the creationist train.

    He is talking double-talk and pretending that the science of evolution is the same as creationist Catholic dogma.

    Fortunately many of his followers will not attempt to understand his rambling comments beyond looking at the titles, so will take it as an OK to accept scientific evolution. Their cognitive dissonance should accommodate the vague inserted wooism.
    This is actually happening in some Catholic school science lessons, – particularly in the UK.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution#Pope_Francis

    This link, along the the ones before and after it, explain the various RCC claims and contradictions of Benedict and Francis.
    Further back the same page has a paragraph on the nutty rantings of Pius IX.

    The RCC condemns YECs and ID, not because they are wrong, but because they are the “wrong kind of creationism”, – Just as Hammy and the fundamentalists, condemn the RCC as “the wrong kind of creationism”!

  9. In a way the YECs are more honest in their interpretation of the Bible. Okay they rely on Archbishop Ussher’s Biblical dating of the world to give us the start of the universe as 23rd October 4004 bc. Just where the “about 10,000 years old” brigade get their figures is beyond me. But there it is in the holy book, which is inerrant, and there were only two humans to begin with, plus the talking snake. The YECs have their banana men and their con-men to “argue” their case and diss science.

    The Old Earth Creationists (OECs), are far more dishonest. They ignore the Biblical dating and instead apparently accept the big bang and evolution as part of God’s plan to create humans. “Allegory” suddenly becomes an imperative in nit picking the chosen verses of the Bible. The Christian “intelligentsia” will resist the findings of science until they realise that reality is knocking at the door. Even now “progressive” Christians like William Lane Craig and Dinesh D’ Souza are mocking the universe from nothing idea, as if it is preposterous, although it is in full accord with current scientific understanding.

    Their current mockery is worth noting, because as to the origins of their “creator” they remain completely clueless. “Out of of time and space” … yeah sure. Don’t get me going please !

    I can imagine the tabloid headline re Holy Jo’s statement:

    Ex-Bouncer Likes Big Bang !

  10. In physical cosmology, the age of the universe is the time elapsed since the Big Bang. The current measurement of the age of the universe is 13.798±0.037 billion years.

    Then there was a bit of a GAP!

    The age of the Earth is 4.54 ± 0.05 billion years (4.54 × 109 years ± 1%)

    Then there was a bit of a GAP!

    The history of life on Earth began about 3.8 billion years ago,

    Then there was a bit of a GAP before the first humans appeared!

    While creationists claim there are gaps in scientific evidence, the gaps in “god-did-it” (so called) “explanations”, run to millions or billions of years.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_evolutionary_history_of_life

    Of course without a Garden of Eden and no Adam or Eve, there was no fall, no “original sin,” and need for “a son of god” redemption!

    It all kind of falls apart!

  11. Mr DArcy Oct 30, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    The Christian “intelligentsia” will resist the findings of science until they realise that reality is knocking at the door. Even now “progressive” Christians like William Lane Craig and Dinesh D’ Souza are mocking the universe from nothing idea,

    Interestingly:-

    an infallible doctrine of the Catholic Faith (De Fide):

    1.On God the creator of all things

    5. If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God; or holds that God did not create by his will free from all necessity, but as necessarily as he necessarily loves himself; or denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution#Pope_Pius_IX

  12. Oh but the delusion is worse than that. You are correct of course regarding religious beliefs about Adam and Eve falling into sin, but reading that story shows God was the liar, not the Serpent. It’s important to note, in the story, Adam and Eve were not kicked out because they sinned, but because God did not want them to eat also from the Tree of Life. The take away here is that if Christians cannot even read their own book, then….whatever, they’re totally deluded.

  13. Although the Pope and other bishops are shielded from most expressions of adverse opinions and reactions to their statements and decisions, I feel a little sorry for Pope Francis because he seems a likeable man but just has not cottoned on yet to the fact that the prescientific culture in which church doctrine was thrashed out during the first five or six centuries of the Church’s history has since been superseded by a science-based culture in which the Church’s doctrines have no grounding at all. The significance of the change of culture is that facts about the world are much more plentiful in the new culutre, thanks to technological and methodological advances, than in the previous culture, where facts hardly mattered and what did matter was one’s fiducial disposition. Of course people can believe whatever they like, but Christians (the Pope included) have to realize that, in believing what they believe about God’s creation and Jesus’s redemptive action and so on, they are not believing anything real, however orthodox their faith and trust in God. What they believe has all been made up.

    I am at present working my way through Jaroslav Pelikan’s monumental five-volume work The Christian Tradition, in which the difference between the world in which church doctrine was formulated and developed on the one hand and the modern, scientifically informed world on the other is made abundantly clear. I can only shake my head at the highly educated hierarchs of the Catholic Church who continue to pretend that nothing of great intellectual and cultural significance occurred during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As Jerry Coyne hints at the end of his article, it is well past time for the Catholic Church to rethink the basis of its theology if it believes that it still has a message about Jesus Christ that is worth propagating in the world. As it is, the Church is sounding more and more like a dementia patient, especially when the Pope talks in a pleasant and airy manner on such matters as creation and evolution, obviously without taking into account the vast array of evidence and facts and scientific theories long amassed and elaborated and verified, which were not available to inform the Church Fathers of late antiquity when they were trying to work out the Church’s doctrine. Had all that information been available to those Church Fathers, they might well not have bothered further with their theological puzzles.

  14. When I was two, I was staying at my aunt’s for Halloween. They gave me a monkey mask and a sucker on a stick. I could not get the sucker through the mouth hole, so I took off the mask, threaded the stick and replaced the mask.

    Relatives made a huge fuss at how clever I was. I felt extreme contempt for them that they were so easily impressed.

    The people seem to treat the pope the way way those aunties treated me. He does the least thing, and everyone applauds. We expect him to be retarded, so the least sign of intelligence requires adulation.

  15. Hey there, he did not say he accepted it only on Monday… and he is probably older than you! But the consequences are serious for catholics. What about Adam? Was he the first plancton, or first cell or the first DNA ? If so, how does God look like, since Adam was made as His image? This may occupy the Vatican for another millenium.

  16. I for one would never celebrate the RCC’s views on anything scientific. It has always worked on the basis of giving in to orthodoxy one micrometer at a time over hundreds of years so they might catch up to 21st century thinking by the year 2525.

  17. I for one would not want to see the Catholic church swing to creationism. The last thing I want to see in my country is a situation similar to the US where evangelical churches undermine education in order to get their religion pushed into science classes.

    So, yes I think there is reason to celebrate the fact that the pope has made the clearest statement yet from a pope in favour of science. If he wants to insist that the soul exists, that’s his department. Science isn’t concerned with that, so science classes should run smoothly without interference.

  18. Ramon Oct 31, 2014 at 5:04 am

    So, yes I think there is reason to celebrate the fact that the pope has made the clearest statement yet from a pope in favour of science.

    He has not made a statement “in favour of science”. He has made a statement calling on the faithful to “believe” in evolution – their trooooo pseudo-science theistic version of evolution, which has the PURPOSE of producing faithful humans.

    If he wants to insist that the soul exists, that’s his department. Science isn’t concerned with that, so science classes should run smoothly without interference.

    Hopefully they will as most of his followers won’t bother to read or understand the details of evolution, or the Vatican pronouncements.
    Hopefully the science teachers will be able to get on teaching the science, but it is totally wrong to suggest that the Vatican is advocating objective scientific methodology.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994, revised 1997) on faith, evolution and science states:

    159. Faith and science: “… methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” (Vatican II GS 36:1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution#Catholic_teaching_and_evolution

  19. thanks for pointing this out

    you’re right, the church is so huge, it encompasses many rich, powerfull and educated people. These must be pandered to while feeding fairy tales to the great unwashed. I guess my view one brought up in as satanic, idolitist papist was possibly different from others. it depends which priest you listen to and which audience they’re preaching to. I understnad now why translating the bible was considered heresy, it’s easy to claim it’s all true if no one actualy reads it.

    I also accept that anyone claiming evolution is compatible with religious belief is not actually talking about natural selection, this business of Benny favouring ID with Franky favouring “theistic evolution” is pure semantics. they mean the same thing

  20. thanks but I’m sure nothing I’ve said here hasn’t been said many times before, just as popes throughout history have no doubt said something vaghue and nebulous in an attempt to be seen as progressive!

  21. I apprecieate this, thanks. another example of teachings that are “best left unquestioned”. If they were real people the church presumibly accepts they were not the only shaven apes at the time, or the parents of everyone else. Scientifically speaking, since we mast all accept original sin is a genetic condition (right?), this must suggest that it was spread horizontally, maybe through some sort of naughty virus.

    presumibly it could cross the species barrier too? especially if it can be caught from eating fruit. not all viruses present symptoms in all carriers though so maybe that’s why animals don’t go to heaven? we have to stay here in quarantine..?

    Was Jesus an early attempt at homeopathic medicine? after all it seems to have done bugger all yet it’s followers insist it worked

    yep, religion is a bit like science. every answer just raises more questions…

  22. The Church hasn’t yet entered the world of modern science.

    Except in the cost of it´s telescope-a toy for Cardinal Shoenborn- and the solar panel roof- a gift from some catholic business man..

  23. Hi Sagan,

    I do like the Daily Mash; always good for a cheering chortle.

    And It makes me think: what else can His Popiness do at this point? How much contradiction of science can his more educated followers let him get away with? How much biblical contradiction can he get past his more devout followers; and if you represent the two factions in a Venn diagram, how much smaller can the middle bit get?

    It seems to me that his job is not going to get any easier!

  24. well you’ve answered your own question there. “more educated followers” are both educated and papl followers so they’ve already done their own mental gymnastic routines.

    catholicism isn’t going anywhere just yet, the catholics seem to like it too much.

    who he’s appealing to here is mostly the less-educated non-followers which is all part of the current vatican pr program

  25. Couldn’t agree more. The RCC are a bunch of muddled hypocrites who say one thing and preach another. Catholic authority accepts evolution except when it doesn’t. This is usually when humans are involved. Isn’t that every religious objection to evolution in a nutshell?

    So long as they try to buoy up their dogma, however much twisting that involves, then they’re not really reconciling with science. Merely accepting evolution is a pretty meagre benchmark, and they can’t even do that because the dogma has to be preserved by hook or by crook. The edifice of nearly every religious movement is an unwillingness to let facts get in the way of a good spiritual, faith-based story. Any religion that genuinely incorporated the scientific mindset required to comprehend evolution – rather than just adding evolution into their story as a sop to science – would collapse.

    I’m not interested in seeing the Catholic Church accept evolution. I’m interested in seeing religion exposed as either a fraud or a legacy of embarrassing gullibility, and marginalized because of its intellectual weakness. There are no compromises between fairy tales and facts. “Compromises” are some combination of dishonesty and manipulation.

  26. Alan4d wrote (on another thread) (sorry thought it was this one)

    It sometimes seems surprising, that believers will cling to a
    0.0000001% chance, and ignore 99.9999999% of the evidence, and then claim uncertainty as supporting their views

    I personally think they are trying to turn the tables on the “God of gaps” scenario. If I were the pope then this tiny gap in science would be what I would exploit knowing it’s all the majority need.
    .

  27. Ramon Oct 31, 2014 at 5:04 am

    I for one would not want to see the Catholic church swing to creationism.

    The Catholic Church has been advocating creationism for centuries. It is simply very slightly less in denial of evolution, than it was in the days of the “infallible” Pope Pius IX.

    “9. Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.” (Vatican Council I)

    “10. Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.” (Vatican Council I) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution#Pope_Pius_IX

  28. Pathetic.

    Bertrand Russell was expounding on the “first cause” a hundred years ago, and in doing so quoting from the autobiography of John Stewart Mill, who was born a hundred years before that.

    I don’t care what brick head religious leaders fantasize about – I have fantasies myself, but they’re corporeal and confidential – ,I just don’t want children to be got at by these silly childish people.

    I think it’s profoundly worrying that there are one point eight billion Muslims, the vast majority of whom, apparently, don’t think evolution is true. Or most probably have been told it isn’t, and because they’ve been told as much by their religious leaders accept it without question; or rather submit to it as god’s fiat.

    Indeed, at Imperial College London there are Muslim biology students who don’t believe it; how the hell did they wangle places on the courses?

    I suppose they entered on courses other than biology and switched to the subject.

    This is really serious now, and rationalists simply have to make a stand!

    I notice in the UK that there’s recently been an increase in science programmes; at least I hope that’s what I’ve noticed, and it’s not just wishful thinking on my part.

  29. Stafford Gordon Nov 1, 2014 at 6:22 am

    I notice in the UK that there’s recently been an increase in science programmes; at least I hope that’s what I’ve noticed, and it’s not just wishful thinking on my part.

    There are indeed many high quality science (and history) programmes.

    The air-heads will of course instead, be watching soap operas, superficial panel games, celebrity chat shows, and cooking programmes on how to play with food and make you fat!

  30. I still don’t understand why scientist cannot see that science works??? As I posted above, I think the church has thought it through and are playing to their strengths. In boxing, if you don’t give your opponent respect, in that he might actually be able to fight, then you will get pummelled. A sucker punch.

  31. I very much doubt it.

    Admissions tutors have a few rules around A level grades and an ability to pay. Foreign students whom make up the majority of students at Imperial pay hell of a lot more. The cash is persuasive.

    I heard a good many ‘Doctors’ as opposed to other scientists are more inclined to religious ideas as they have to deal with people and issues about dying.

    I suppose one could still function as a dispenser of prescription drugs without having to think too much about whether antibiotic resistance is evolutionary pressure or down to god’s fiat.

  32. The art of the magician is the collaboration between him and his audience.

    Give the Poop a tiny bit of credit. There is a trend among religious apologists and the like of late. Previously when they were embarrassed by people pointing out that their ideas were just plain stupid they tortured and killed them. Then they had laws passed to make it illegal to criticise them. Then they found people had become conditioned to think critique was unfair and rude and they dodged behind that for a while. Now, finding their arguments under attack from ‘new atheists’ they have moved away from the easily demolished vapid arguments that frighten old ladies and retreated out of range to lurk in a murky twilight gallimaufray of D’Souzan quasi-epistemological idealist horseshit. That way they keep the show going for those desperate enough to believe anything. Way to go Poop! There’s a man who knows how to defend a hopeless position with only smoke and mirrors at his disposal.

  33. Vorlund:

    The art of the magician is the collaboration between him and his audience.

    Yes ! There will be no real rabbits pulled from Holy Jo’s hat, only the kind of rabbit that Alice followed into the hole. Indeed even the doves released by Holy Jo were attacked by real seagulls desperate for a meal. A trick of nature not anticipated by the Vatican.

    The showman has his audience to please, please don’t spoil the show by explaining how the trick is done !

  34. Mormons backed off of polygamy and African ancestry racism and are even trying to find a way not to looks so virulently homophobic. You can’t do it all in one generation but as the older wackos die off, you can gradually move your religion towards something more marketable to the current generation. The key is to make it look like you aren’t changing the core beliefs, but to steadily redefine “core” and never apologize, at least not for anything specific. Perhaps the Pope has been taking lessons from the Mormon apostles.

  35. This is one small step for the pope.. and one giant leap for Catholicism….not far from the slippery slope to reason…….the tipping point…..when they realise how irrelevant they actually are….and why there’s so many atheists already rolling their eyes and yawning while looking at their watches when popes speak….

  36. “Stop Celebrating the Pope’s Views on Evolution and the Big Bang. They
    Make No Sense.”

    Yes, I agree with Prof. Jerry Coyne. In Italy we have a very long history on that issue and those Italians that are not too much distracted by soccer and so on know how the millenarian Enterprise works.

    “Although the media, besotted by a supposedly ‘modern’ Pope, is all
    excited about what Francis said, his views don’t differ in substance
    from that of his recent predecessors.”

    “The Vatican’s view of evolution is in fact a bastard offspring of
    Biblical creationism and modern evolutionary theory.”

    Yes, but not only his “recent” predecessors had a bastard offspring of Biblical things and modern scientific theories.

    For example, there is a book written in 2011 by astrophysicist Margherita Hack entitled “La Mia Vita in Bicicletta” (My Life in Bicycle) in which she wrote:

    In 1952 the congress [of International Astronomic Union] was held in Rome. I could have gone there […] Sensational discoveries were not announced, but it made news the intervention of the pope that commented the model of universe originated from the Big Bang, that [said the pope] it resembled so much to the fiat lux of the Bible.”

    (My periphrases of some line of P. 87-88 ed. 2013)

    I think that Margherita Hack wrote these lines with irony.

    Irony is essential when you have to deal with THEM for so long.

    So, dear Prof. Jerry Coyne, don’t be so angry.

  37. I find it telling that whenever atheists speak of the Church’s stance on evolution (ie the the Big Bang) there is never any reference made to the fact that the concept/theory of the Big Bang was initially put forth by Georges Lemaître in 1931. He was a Jesuit priest

  38. Brian Nov 3, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    I find it telling that whenever atheists speak of the Church’s stance on evolution (ie the the Big Bang)

    The RCC has of course, only recently corrected its geocentric attacks on Galileo, and has still (despite their claims), not accepted the science of Darwinian Evolution by means of Natural Selection.

    there is never any reference made to the fact that the concept/theory of the Big Bang was initially put forth by Georges Lemaître in 1931. He was a Jesuit priest.

    Really?? I find scientific discussions of the Big Bang and evolution, usually mention Georges Lemaître, and Gregor Mendel, along with the well known historical near monopoly of religious institutions dominating work in educational establishments to the detriment of science, in those times.
    A few inspired individuals did valuable work despite the background religious resistance against scientific methods.

  39. Olgun Nov 1, 2014 at 7:33 am

    . . .. An interesting video .. which explains why religions (and ideological groups) try to present illusions of inflated numbers of members, seek to make their leaders and gatherings prominent, and try to bully and denigrate competing views to push them out of sight of those looking for an informed consensus.

    Climate is a typical example, where the 97% of expert consensus of scientific opinion is not at all reflected in the % volume of denial claims in the popular media.

  40. “Really?? I find scientific discussions of the Big Bang and evolution, usually mention Georges Lemaître, and Gregor Mendel, along with the well known historical near monopoly of religious institutions dominating work in educational establishments to the detriment of science, in those times.”

    What I read was that part of the reason why Lemaitre’s Big Bang theory was met with skepticism by many scientists was partially due to him being a Catholic priest. Your suggestion is actually extremely self-contradictory, as well as illogical in the face of such accomplishments as Lematire’s and Mendel’s.

  41. Really?? I find scientific discussions of the Big Bang and evolution,
    usually mention Georges Lemaître, and Gregor Mendel, along with the
    well known historical near monopoly of religious institutions
    dominating work in educational establishments to the detriment of
    science, in those times.

    I recently read about how Lemaitre’s Big Bang theory was met with skepticism by many scientists, and in some cases it was at least in part due to him being a Catholic priest. I think your post is rather symptomatic of that sort of irony. Your suggestion is not only extremely self-contradictory, but a huge bending of logic in the face of such accomplishments as Lematire’s and Mendel’s. Somehow evidence that religion is not detrimental to science becomes evidence of that very thing? Evidence that prejudice is detrimental to science becomes evidence that it is justified? And, seriously, where it the evidence that, say, the 1920s Royal Society, Columbia, etc, were all infiltrated and dominated by the Catholic Church (and, no doubt, other religions and denominations), yet somehow failed to stop Hubble and Einstein and others? Sounds like it’d make a great Dan Brown thriller!

  42. A few inspired individuals did valuable work despite the background
    religious resistance against scientific methods.

    You’d think there was no Einstein, no Heisenberg, no Hubble, no Planck, no Rutherford, no Bohr, no Chadwick, no Dirac, no Morgan, no Sutton, no Boveri, no Sturtevant, no McClintock, no Schrodinger, no Pauli, no de Broglie, no Born, no Curie, no Lorentz, no Hubble, no Alpher, no Dicke, no Herman, no Anderson, no Chandrasekhar, no Zwicky, no…. all to the so-called Religious Resistance. And here I thought Einstein rejected the expanding universe (and undermined his own work in the process) because he had his own prejudices, not because some evil Pope visited him at his residence, with a few Archbishops no doubt in tow, in the middle of the night.

  43. Nonsense, Jonathan.

    Mendel was a good cautious scientist. His work at the time appeared countered by that of another.

    http://www.dnaftb.org/4/bio.html

    LeMaitre was lauded after only a few years of incredulity. No churchy reason for neglect is needed to account for such a momentous idea.

    Link follows.

  44. Jonathan #50
    Mar 20, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    “Really?? I find scientific discussions of the Big Bang and evolution, usually mention Georges Lemaître, and Gregor Mendel, along with the well known historical near monopoly of religious institutions dominating work in educational establishments to the detriment of science, in those times.”

    The religious domination of educational institutions was detrimental to science, just as the present day Vatican perversion of the Neodarwinian scientific theory of evolution in “theistic evolution” is an obstruction to the understanding of the science today.

    Mendel was an exception who carried out objective scientific work despite being a monk, and was probably left to get on in his garden by those more steeped in dogma.

    Many religious scientists manage to compartmentalise their science and their religion to avoid the inevitable conflicts between thinking from the preconceptions of faith in ancient mythology, and the scientific logical thinking from objective evidence.

    Your suggestion is actually extremely self-contradictory, as well as illogical in the face of such accomplishments as Lematire’s and Mendel’s.

    The compartmentalism in the minds of those who try to combine faith-thinking with evidence based reasoning is indeed self-contradictory, but separated and isolated in the religious brain to reduce the obvious conflicts!

    Religious thinking is a disability in objective scientific thinking, (but not necessarily an overwhelming or totally disabling disability, as some notable scientific discoveries by exceptional individuals show).
    This is illustrated by the fact that generally the weaker the religious faith, the more effective the scientist – with a high percentage of atheists in the world’s leading scientific bodies, and religious fundamentalists and bibilical literalists usually being laughable assertive science and history duffers, who fail at school text-book level!

  45. phil rimmer #54
    Mar 21, 2017 at 4:05 am

    Most “discoverers” of profound science have to wait a tad longer than seven years for complete acceptance.

    . . . and indeed the delay for the religious establishments to accept scientific evidence, is usually considerably longer!

    @ link – The report which would eventually bring him international fame, entitled “A homogeneous universe of constant mass and growing radius accounting for the radial velocity of extragalactic nebulae” in translation, was published later in 1927 in the little known journal “Annales de la Société Scientifique de Bruxelles”.

    Later in 1931 , at a meeting of the British Association in London to discuss the relationship between the physical universe and spirituality, Lemaître first voiced his proposal that the universe had expanded from an initial point, which he called the “primeval atom” or “the Cosmic Egg, exploding at the moment of the creation”, a theme he developed further in a report published in the journal “Nature” later that year.

    Meanwhile despite Lemaître being a Christian and proposing the Big-Bang, the backwardness of the Vatican was still prevalent at this time and for decades following!
    With the evidence readily available in text books, it apparently took the Vatican a 13 year investigation through the 1980s to establish that Galileo was correct about a heliocentric Solar System!

    http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/31/world/after-350-years-vatican-says-galileo-was-right-it-moves.html

    Published: October 31, 1992

    ROME, Oct. 30— More than 350 years after the Roman Catholic Church condemned Galileo, Pope John Paul II is poised to rectify one of the Church’s most infamous wrongs — the persecution of the Italian astronomer and physicist for proving the Earth moves around the Sun.

    With a formal statement at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Saturday, Vatican officials said the Pope will formally close a 13-year investigation into the Church’s condemnation of Galileo in 1633. The condemnation, which forced the astronomer and physicist to recant his discoveries, led to Galileo’s house arrest for eight years before his death in 1642 at the age of 77.

    The dispute between the Church and Galileo has long stood as one of history’s great emblems of conflict between reason and dogma, science and faith. The Vatican’s formal acknowledgement of an error, moreover, is a rarity in an institution built over centuries on the belief that the Church is the final arbiter in matters of faith.

    “The occasional Christian did a bit of valid science, so the religious dogmatic preconceptions can’t be wrong or disabling to scientific thinking”, – is a very poor argument, once we look at historical evidence!

  46. Jonathan #50
    Mar 20, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    “Really?? I find scientific discussions of the Big Bang and evolution, usually mention Georges Lemaître, and Gregor Mendel, along with the well known historical near monopoly of religious institutions dominating work in educational establishments to the detriment of science, in those times.”

    The religious domination of educational institutions was detrimental to science, just as the present day Vatican perversion of the Neodarwinian scientific theory of evolution in “theistic evolution” is an obstruction to the understanding of the science today.

    Mendel was an exception who carried out objective scientific work despite being a monk, and was probably left to get on in his garden by those more steeped in dogma.

    Many religious scientists manage to compartmentalise their science and their religion to avoid the inevitable conflicts between thinking from the preconceptions of faith in ancient mythology, and the scientific logical thinking from objective evidence.

    Your suggestion is actually extremely self-contradictory, as well as illogical in the face of such accomplishments as Lematire’s and Mendel’s.

    The compartmentalism in the minds of those who try to combine faith-thinking with evidence based reasoning is indeed self-contradictory, but separated and isolated in the religious brain to reduce the obvious conflicts!

    Religious thinking is a disability in objective scientific thinking, (but not necessarily an overwhelming or totally disabling disability, as some notable scientific discoveries by exceptional individuals show).
    This is illustrated by the fact that generally the weaker the religious faith, the more effective the scientist – with a high percentage of atheists in the world’s leading scientific bodies, and religious fundamentalists and biblical literalists usually being laughable assertive science and history duffers, who fail at school text-book level!

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