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Oakes’ Inconsistent Positions

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In my post below I described as “fabulous” Ed Oakes’ “Atheism’s Just So Scenarios,” and I stand by that description.  That said, Oakes never fails to befuddle me when it comes to the topic of evolution.  Oakes is a brilliant and insightful writer, whom I almost always enjoy reading.  Consider his take on “Just So Stories” favored by evolutionary psychologists:  

This, um, scenario reminds me of those Just So Stories so beloved of evolutionary psychologists, who like to speculate that the reason a male wooer pays the restaurant bill when he takes his inamorata out on a date is because in our hunter-gatherer days the menfolk did the hunting, with their meat-consuming wives trapped back at home nursing their bambini and picking nearby elderberries: Bring home the bacon once as a caveman, and you’re stuck with the tab at the local eatery for the rest of recorded history.

Yet, for all his brilliance and clarity of thought on other topics having to do with evolution, Oakes toes the Darwinist line when it comes to evolution of species.  Indeed, in a meeting of ROFTERS (Readers of First Things) I attended some years ago, Oakes went so far as to say that he saw no “ontological discontinuity” between humans and the higher animals.  If he has changed his mind, I am not aware of it.

How can someone who sees the patent foolishness of Darwinian just so stories with respect to the evolutionary psychology scenario (to use Oakes’ term), fail so completely to see the equally absurd just so stories Darwinists push in their “mud to man” scenario?  It is a mystery.

rockyr: You make some good points @5. Here is what I would argue: [A] PPXII was writing formally to speak for the universal Church [a morally binding encyclical] making an official pronouncement about the limits of what a Catholic may believe and insisting that both sides must always be heard. As it is written, I don't think it can be misunderstood. [B] JPII was reaffirming the earlier teaching AND venturing his personal opinion [not a binding encylical] that common descent is likely true, which was misunderstood by some to mean that Darwinism is likely true. Obviously, that was not his point, but I agree with you that another definitive statement should follow to clear up any possible confusion. StephenB
StephenB, I agree with your interpretation of Humani Generis, and with the pope's wish and request that any such interpretations suggested by science and new discoveries be ultimately submitted to the "judgement of the Church." For those who truly understand the nature of scientific endeavor this is not an unreasonable request. Unfortunately, with respect to evolution and Darwinisms, the popes have not explained and spelled this out as explicitly as it should have been spelled out. Plus we have had the confusing statement of John Paul II which made things worse. Sooner or later, and let's hope sooner, the whole issue of modern science, and specially evolution and Darwinism, should be addressed by the pope in an authoritative way to avoid any further confusion and contradictions within the Church. rockyr
Father Oakes must surely know that the Catholic Church DOES have an official teaching on evolution. From Humani Generis [Pope Pius XII] ..."the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faithful. Some however rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question," Could anything be more clear. Catholics are morally bound to [a] Acknowledge that Darwinism has not been established as a fact [b] refrain from asserting without qualification that Darwinism is compatible with Scripture, and [c] weigh and judge all COUNTER EVIDENCE with seriousness, moderation and measure. Does this sound like Father Oakes? Does this sound like Father Heller, Ken Miller, Francis Beckwith, or Stephen Barr. StephenB
Barry, I briefly glanced through the FT's thread and found this "Father Oakes is currently writing a book on evolution and philosophy entitled Radical Naturalism, parts of which have been published in First Things. He has clearly thought at length about the issues you raise. Considering the auctoritas of the corrigendus and the insouciance of the corrigens, I doubt you will persuade him." My guess he will ignore like all the anti ID people do, the problems with biology and the mechanism for change over time. jerry
It seems Rev. Oakes's belief in Darwinism is based on the following, (reply to cardinal Schönborn's article published in New York Times in 2005), the last two paragraphs quoted below. Now, if Rev. Oakes is right about the Catholic Church not having an official doctrine of evolution, that means that each Catholic if free to choose what to believe: "For one thing, the Church has no "doctrine" on evolution, any more than it has a doctrine on tectonic plates or a magisterial teaching on how human consciousness arises from the electrical firings inside the neurology of the brain. These matters are both beyond the competence of the magisterium and are irrelevant to salvation, anyway. Secondly, even if the magisterium did have an official teaching on evolution, it does not officially revise its "views" on matters of science by having a cardinal, however "leading," writing an article in propria persona — on his own behalf — and using an op-ed piece in a secular newspaper to boot. That said, I believe that Cardinal Schönborn's essay "Finding Design in Nature" in the July 7 issue of the Times makes a valid point, roughly the reverse side of the coin of what Pope John Paul II said in his now-famous letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in October of 1996." ... "Defined in that way, the theory of evolution claims that all life began about 3.5 billion years ago as a single-celled, self-replicating organism from which we are all descended. Since everyone now reading this sentence once began his or her existence as a single-celled organism, I hardly see how such a theory can be regarded as inherently implausible. Plus, let's not forget that the biological basis of the Church's opposition to abortion is based on the single-celled origin of human life. And once one traces the transmission of life all the way back, using the science of genetics as one's marker, and once one follows the paths of life back to life's remotest beginnings, one sees how the various life-forms are interrelated. Moreover, using genetics, one can roughly spot when each branch of life broke off from its parent-branches." http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/science/sc0062.html rockyr
I'm sorry to hear that he fell off the deep end (I hope he has gotten back to dry land by now).
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20040723_communion-stewardship_en.html Mainly concerned with evolution as it “involves the question of man,” however, Pope John Paul’s message is specifically critical of materialistic theories of human origins and insists on the relevance of philosophy and theology for an adequate understanding of the “ontological leap” to the human which cannot be explained in purely scientific terms.
So, it's more than a mere "discontinuity" but a "leap" which cannot be explained in naturalistic terms alone. The above-referenced Vatican document has many more choice quotes: For the Catholics who think that materialistic evolution (is there any other kind?) is compatible with Catholicism:
...the Holy Father’s message acknowledges that there are “several theories of evolution” that are “materialist, reductionist and spiritualist” and thus incompatible with the Catholic faith. It follows that the message of Pope John Paul II cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe.

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