The Catholic Two-front War: Against Scientism and Scriptural Literalism

Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish. Pope St. John Paul II,”Letter to Rev. George Coyne, S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory.”


Originally this post was to be about a three-year old article on Smithsonian.com,”The Pope [Pope Francis] would like you to believe in evolution and the Big Bang.”   This article was the taking-off point for a Stations of the Cross podcast by Fr. Shannon Collins, who adheres to a strictly literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, against evolution and cosmology (the Big Bang).  Before arguing against Fr. Collins, I want to point out that the Smithsonian article itself had several errors of commission and omission:

  1. It conflated evolution–the common descent of living things–with the neo-Darwinian model for evolution; there are eminent scientists and philosophers, atheists or agnostics, who accept evolution but reject the neo-Darwinian model for how it works, so accepting or rejecting Darwin is not to be correlated with religious belief;
  2. The article ignored Pope St. John Paul II’s incisive statement on evolution “My predecessor, Pius XII, has already affirmed in his Encyclical, “Humani Generis” (1950) that there is not opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the fall of man and his vocation provided that certain fixed points are kept in mind.”  Pope St. John Paul II, Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Oct. 1996 (my translation from the French).
  3. The distinction between evolution of a physical body and the implantation of an immortal soul done only by God, was ignored;  this distinction was pointed out by Pope St. John Paul II and is discussed in one of my posts,
    Did Neanderthals have a soul?

Now the title above speaks of a two front war–one front against scientism, those who propose science or “naturalism” as an explanation of everything and as a basis for atheism; the other against Catholics who say that Genesis 1 is the literally true in all details, six days of creation, Eve from Adam’s rib, etc. Since I’ve written many posts against scientism (see here, here, here, here, and here), I’ll not repeat those arguments.

What I will attempt below is to refute  what Fr. Collins had to say about cosmology and evolution.   Why do I believe this refutation is important?  As a recent article in Our Sunday Visitor pointed out, one of the main reasons young Catholics are leaving the Church is that they believe that science contradicts Catholic teaching.  This belief is not true, and those who propose a literal interpretation of Scripture do not gain reverts or converts to the Church,  but only strengthen this false proposition of naturalistic atheism, that you can’t believe what science has to say about the world and be a believing Catholic.

Against a Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2

If we believe that Genesis 1 is literally true in everything it says, then we must believe that the universe, despite cosmological and geological evidence to the contrary, was created in six days; we must also believe that Adam was created literally from dust, that the first woman, Eve, was created from his rib, and that the order of creation of animals was given as in Genesis 1 and 2, even though these two accounts are contradictory.

We must also, if we believe Genesis 1 to be literally true and go to the original Hebrew, believe that the Catholic doctrine of Creatio ex Nihilo contradicts Scripture.  One translation of Genesis 1 gives “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters’.”   The term “formless void” in Hebrew is “Tohu Bohu” or “Tohu va-Bohu”, which a Hebrew scholar (a scholar in Hebrew–this guy was a retired Irish-American physician) has said is better translated as “topsy-turvy” or “chaos.”   And the translation mentions “waters,” which is not “nothing.”   Actually the “chaos” or “formless void” description is in better accord with the materialist proposal for pre-Big Bang:  a sea of virtual quantum fluctuations.

Moreover, the notion of Creatio ex Nihilo is first given in the Old Testament in 2 Maccabees 7:28 and in the New Testament in Hebrews 11:3.   The first Christian writer to promote the doctrine of Creatio ex Nihilo was Theophilus of Antioch in the late 2nd Century.  It was St. Augustine who developed arguments about time and Creatio ex Nihilo, that time could have begun with creation, which is a view remarkably in accord with much of modern cosmology.

“…no time passed before the world, because no creature was made by whose course it might pass.“–St. Augustine, “City of God,” book 11, ch.4.

For a more detailed account of the history of the doctrine Creatio ex Nihilo and the translation of Genesis 1,  see here and here.   My general point is that the sense of the original Hebrew in Genesis has been altered and modified in various translations to fit with that doctrine Creatio ex Nihilo; and I must emphasize that I truly believe this doctrine.  I also should emphasize that I interpret Genesis to say that God created the universe and man, and found this creation “good” (“tov”).

Fr. Collins’ case against evolution and cosmology

I don’t believe that Fr. Collins made a good case against evolution and the Big Bang in his podcast.  Let me again make the distinction between evolution, common descent from one species, and the Darwinian model for evolution.  The same distinction was made by  Pope St. John Paul II in his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

“And to tell the truth, rather than speaking about the theory of evolution, it is more accurate to speak of the theories of evolution. The use of the plural is required here—in part because of the diversity of explanations regarding the mechanism of evolution…” 

First, Fr. Collins argued that evolution was inconsistent with philosophical principles set forth by Aristotle and Aquinas.   Of course not all that Aristotle proposed was valid–his theories of gravity and kinetics have been superseded by physics going back to Galileo.    Moreover, the Dominican scholars, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP; Fr. George Brent, OP; Br. Thomas Davenport, OP; and Fr. James Ku, OP, have given a convincing account of the Thomistic support for evolution.

Second, Fr. Collins says that evolution is not supported by paleontology–there are no fossil records of transitional forms.  This is not true.  While there are gaps in the fossil record for such transitional forms, there are some found–see here, for examples.   Moreover, the  existence of early forms without later in dated fossil records is in itself evidence for the development of species: that in rocks dated a billion or more years ago there was evidence of bacterial forms, but no higher species, that in eras when reptiles and dinosaurs were the dominant species, there was no fossil record of developed mammals, etc.  (By the way, Fr. Collins made a serious error by saying that cave drawings of early man showed dinosaurs–they did not, the drawings were of mammoths).  Finally, Fr. Collins did not address one of the most important pieces of evidence for common descent, evolution:  the phylogenetic tree  that show sequence of genetic similarities and differences correlating with species evolution.

At the end of his talk, Fr. Collins evaded a question that asked his opinion about cosmological evidence for a universe some 14 billion years old.   His response that a universe had to be that old to allow for evolution and since evolution was not true, this age for the universe was not so did not say why the physical evidence was incorrect.

Final Thoughts

I have written in other posts about this: “Can a faithful Catholic believe in science?” and “God’s Periodic Table and Evolution.” In those articles and this one I argue, along with Pope St. John Paul II, that man is carried to truth on the two wings of faith and reason.   I cannot undertake that cognitive dissonance in which I believe that science tells us the truth about the world on Mondays through Saturdays and Scripture an entirely different story on Sundays;  to put it more succintly in the word of Pope St. John Paul II: “Truth cannot contradict Truth”.    God is not a prankster who plants evidence that would mislead us from a story of Creation given in Genesis that has to be taken as literally true.   The two stories from science and Revelation are the same: “The heavens declare the Glory of God” (Psalm 19A).


On Climate Change

In light of a recent post of mine, I wanted to share something from my old blog on the topic of Climate Change, which is fast becoming a religion of sorts. Any denial of it and man’s direct responsibility for it is blasphemy and/or heresy for one side of the aisle. Any agreement with it is just as sacrilegious to the other side.

Because of this quandary, I took some time to look at Climate Change through the lens of the problem solving & decision making methodology we use where I work. Whatever you think about Climate Change, you might agree that people tend to first form a conclusion and then look for data to support it…and, of course, explain away or ignore any data that doesn’t support it. Why is that? Politically speaking, if we can definitively tie Climate Change to human activity (CO2 emissions), it’s a perfect opportunity for a power grab—to control a whole lot of human activity. On the other hand, refuting the aforementioned has the opposite effect if one wants to limit government involvement in human activity.

Before we can even being to address any concerns about Climate Change the situation must be made clear. Before a situation can be made clear any ambiguities and over-generalizations must be dealt with. Beginning at the beginning, we can see that the term “Climate Change” is ambiguous because both “climate” and “change” can mean too many different things to too many different people, so I went to a NASA website for clarification on what is changing and how. I found these:

  • See levels are rising
  • Ice sheets are shrinking
  • Arctic sea ice is declining
  • Glaciers are retreating
  • Snow cover is decreasing
  • Oceans are acidifying
  • Extreme weather events are increasing
  • The Earth and oceans are warming (Global Warming)

Whatta mess!!!

Next is to look at one thing at a time and tackle the most serious concern first. Which concern above would have the biggest current and future impact? I’ll go forward with the premise that Global Warming is the highest priority concern on the list above because it could conceivably be causing most of the other things on the list.

If my superiors at work were to ask our group to look into the Global Warming situation, we would look at something called “The Should” and also something called “The Actual”. For this case, “The Actual” would be the current average global temperature assuming we can get a reliable measurement. “The Should” would be the Earth’s normal average temperature range…the way it should be. What would be the upper limit of that normal range and what would be the lower limit? I can tell you that a huge difficulty we’d run into right away is defining “The Should”. This is very problematic because you cannot truly understand a problem—in terms of an abnormality—if you do not understand what is normal.

But why not just look at the rise in CO2 since that is the presumed main cause of the warming? We could, but we’d invariably be back to the same questions about the Earth’s temperature. What “Should” is good? At work we’ll define “The Should” for a product or system based on historical manufacturing records and control limits and/or established industry standards among other things. There are no such standards for the Earth’s average temperature range that I know of, but we can look at history.

Let’s suppose we have about 200 years of accurate global temperature data. My guess is that it is much less than 200 years because of the many years with no satellite temperature data from space, but we’ll go with it. Also, the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, but I’d say the climate 4.5 billion years ago is irrelevant data for humans living today. Let’s go back an amount of time in which the first mammals were happily living on Earth, breathing clean air and drinking clean water. Mammals go back about 200 million years. Keep in mind that 200 million years is only 4% of the Earth’s lifetime, so it’s a relatively short period of time to look at, but we’ll go with it. So, 200 years of temperature data in 200 million years of history would represent .0001% of the time.

To put this in context of something we can grasp, the Dow Jones Industrial average (DJIA) has been around for about 120 years. .0001% of 120 years is about 63 minutes. Suppose that tomorrow the DJIA were to dive 1000 points from 1:00PM to 2:03PM. At 2:04PM, should we conclude a long term financial disaster and an urgent need for more industry regulation? For even more context, consider that 0001% of ten years is about 5.3 minutes. Suppose you walk into a ten year old home for the very first time with a family inside going about their business and you begin measuring the temperature. You note a warming trend of about 1°C after about 5.3 minutes and announce a domestic warming crisis and begin to regulate the families’ activity. Seems like hysteria to me without more data.

Chart taken from MarketWatch

In either the case of the family home or the DJIA, if you were to declare a crisis and an urgent need for regulation you’d likely be on the receiving end of some blank stares. This does not mean there should be no concern for Global Warming. In my profession I would need to report that there is not enough information to define “The Should”, so we would likely move this issue away from a problem analysis and into a decision analysis. Problem analysis focuses on the question “Why did it happen?” while decision analysis focuses on the question “What should we do?”

A good decision in this arena is above my pay grade, but whatever the decision, let’s be aware of two opposing extremes…

#1 Nature Worship

The view that nature is “perfect” just the way it is acts as a kind of secular “dogma”. With this as a base premise, we can see the logic that concludes the following…any unnatural interference or manipulation of nature for the benefit of man is a deprivation of nature’s perfection, and a good definition of evil is just that—a deprivation of perfection.1 Therefore, defending anything in nature against man is intrinsically “good” and promoting man’s industrialization and expansion is intrinsically “evil”.

#2 Nature’s Neglect

Beware of any ideology that says man can and should interfere and manipulate nature anyway we see fit. God wants us to take care of the temporary dwelling place he gave us. “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” (Gen 2:15) So if we are to be good stewards of all the gifts God gives us, including the Earth, should we not be trustworthy stewards? Of course we should. “Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Cor 4:2)


  1. St. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas’s Shorter Summa (Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2002), p. 125.

Academic Feminists Want to Destroy Math, Science

My blood pressure rose, my stomach gurgled as I read the following two accounts of academic feminists who would totter–not male supremacy–but mathematics and science.  The first (see here) is by Rochelle Guterriez, a  professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She claims in a new book that “on many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness (sic).”  She advocates “that things cannot be known objectively;  they must be known subjectively.”    Further, basic material in mathematics emphasizes Western culture too much (the Dead White Man complaint?):  “curricula emphasizing  terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”  (Note:  all quotes are taken from the linked article.)

The second (see here) is by Sara Giordano, a Women’s Study professor at UC Davis, who argued in an article in Catalyst Journal, that rather than traditional science, people should take an “anti-science, anti-racist, feminist approach to knowledge production.”   Shades of Stalinist Lysenkoism!   She proposes that “feminist science practice” (which is???) be introduced that “explicitly unsticks Science [sic] from Truth [sic].”  Further, she is interested in what “scientific illiteracy we might embrace to destabilize science [no uppercase here]  and remake  knowledge production.”  And, pray tell, what is knowledge production?   Science is only a part of knowledge production, but perhaps this isn’t known by academic feminists.  (Again, quotes are taken from the linked article.)

I should emphasize that I do not oppose women taking part in science.   There is a letter from a former grad student in my research group (it was on the occasion of my 80th birthday–a minor Feschriff (sp?)) thanking me for the efforts I took back in the 1950’s (when feminism was not in sway) to argue for her against professors who said women had no place in gradate school, who gave her unfair grades and who wanted to boot her out of the graduate program because she was pregnant. My efforts to change her grades and keep her doing research were successful.   She got her Ph.D. and a successful career thereafter.  There are many women who have made significant contributions to science and mathematics.   One of the most significant is Emmy Noether, who made a profound contribution to theoretical physics by her work relating conservation principles to symmetry.

What amazes and disturbs me is that the two feminist academics discussed above are suckers of the public teat;  they have positions (tenured?) at moderately prestigious universities, financed by taxpayer dollars.    Is the academic enterprise so far gone that there is no hope for recovery?  I don’t see that there’s any cure, other than a stake through the heart–remove all public support from institutions of so-called higher learning and let the marketplace decide what shall flourish.  Although, that may not work either–witness the Ivy League and second and third class stand-ins.   Hmm… any solutions, dear reader?



The Physics Nobel Prize–All about Wrinkles in Space

The 2017 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Rainier Weiss, Kip Thorne and  Barry Barish for their work on detecting gravitational waves, “wrinkles in space”.    For a detailed account of the award to these old guys (they, like me, are over 80, but that’s the only similarity) see here.   For a fuller account of LIGO, the super piece of work that detected the gravitational waves, see my post “Peeling Back the Onion Layers:  Gravitational Waves Detected”.    And, finally let me add, it takes a heap of money and talent to do this sort of super-science.   But it’s worth it–I can think of much less desirable stuff to which we should devote our resources.