His Holiness has regaled us with two more statements, to which one doesn’t immediately know how to react.
The first one, on evolution, is generally unassailable from any position, other than the stridently and unscientifically atheist one. It does, however, raise the question of why it had to be made at all. Also, some of the wording may be interpreted as more deist than Christian.
The second one, on the death penalty and life imprisonment, which the pontiff equates, is open to criticism from a wider base, both secular and orthodox Christian.
Let’s take them in turn.
Reassuring his audience that there is no contradiction between God and evolution, the Pope began by saying: “When we read about creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything.”
Why the pontiff decided to give an airing to a patently vulgar idea of God escapes me. It’s best kept for the exclusive use of atheist propagandists, who put forth the notion of a magician deity the better to mock God.
Since the Pope clearly believes no such thing, one would think he would eschew the language of those he must regard as enemies of Christianity.
“God is not a divine being or a magician,” continued Francis, “but the Creator who brought everything to life. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”
In other words, before things evolve, they have to be. This is true at every level: theological, philosophical, logical and scientific.
There are a couple of slight problems though. One could argue that ‘brings’ would have been a better word than ‘brought’: the latter hints, probably unwittingly, not at a living God but at the Cartesian, deist ‘clock winder’, who set the world in motion but then lost all interest in it.
The other problem is that it isn’t clear exactly what this statement adds to the thinking prevalent in the Church not just since Pius XII, but actually since Cardinal Newman, Darwin’s contemporary, who saw no conflict between Christianity and evolution.
Being omnipotent, God can obviously choose to create things not only quickly but also slowly. The six days mentioned in Genesis convey the spiritual, but not literal, truth of Creation.
After all, since God exists outside time, as we don’t, a day can only be metaphorical: on our earthly clock God’s six days could mean six nanoseconds or six billion years.
The Pope seems to misunderstand the nature of the modern debate. This isn’t about evolution as a formative element of the world before our eyes.
It’s about evolution as the sole and sufficient explanation of the world. Insisting, as Dawkins and other strident ignoramuses do, that Darwin’s theory explains everything has little to do with science. Nor is it even faith, as is frequently but inaccurately suggested.
It’s a pernicious ideology, on a par with Marxism, Freudianism and other determinist travesties. As such, it’s impervious to any evidence, including that supplied by science, not to mention philosophy and plain common sense.
For example, not a shred of scientific evidence supports any evolution of man’s spirit – on the contrary, evidence proves that this faculty, which defines man, was created once and for all.
Thus a Pope pursuing the truth, rather than political ends, would phrase his statement differently. He’d say something along these lines:
“It’s unscientific and therefore ignorant to deny the presence of evolutionary elements in natural history. Yet it’s even more unscientific and ignorant to insist on their self-sufficiency. And, when it comes to man, evolution, even if true, explains so little of importance as to be irrelevant. Man stands as towering testimony to Creation and the glory of God.”
We these days can’t afford to pretend to be walking through a bucolic landscape to the accompaniment of gentle birdsong. We’re walking through a minefield to the accompaniment of deadly charges going off all over the place.
Treading carefully, which in this case means weighing the consequences of every word, is a matter of life or death, and not just metaphorically speaking.
When the Church stops being militant, it stops being triumphant, and militancy by definition precludes the urge not to offend secular sensibilities, which are growing more delicate by the minute.
The Pope said little wrong, semantically. But the overall tone of his remarks has encouraged atheists – and they never forgo their militancy – to ignore the denotation and respond to the connotation.
Hence, the mendacious nonsense in The Independent: “The Pope made comments which experts said put an end to the ‘pseudo theories’ of creationism and intelligent design that some argue were encouraged by his predecessor, Benedict XVI.”
Benedict XVI believed that the world was created by God, which was a job requirement for his post. Being also a thinker and philosopher, he mocked the trumped-up conflict between ‘creationism’ and evolution.
“The doctrine of evolution,” he wrote, “does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man?”
Pope Benedict, along with other intelligent men, knows that, because such questions are metaphysical, they can only have metaphysical answers. If Pope Francis knows it too, one wishes he expressed himself with the kind of clarity that would preclude lying comments in the atheist press.
No one in his right mind would interpret the Pope’s remarks as disavowing Creation. But strident ideologues, such as the anonymous ‘experts’ mentioned in The Independent, do.
If Francis’s views on evolution sit more or less comfortably within Christian doctrine, his statement on crime and punishment I’m afraid doesn’t.
Specifically, His Holiness opposed in no uncertain terms not just the death penalty but also life imprisonment. This is his right as an individual, but not as the spiritual and institutional leader of Christians.
Even on a purely individual level, his rationale is puzzling: the media and politicians, said the Pope, advocate “violence and revenge, public and private, not only against those responsible for crimes, but also against those under suspicion, justified or not”.
Right. So media and politicians favour bumping people off merely on suspicion. Perhaps they do, or rather used to, in the Pope’s native land, but one doesn’t often hear an MP, congressman or even an Independent hack advocating any such thing.
Moreover, most Western countries have abandoned the death penalty even for convicted murderers, in my view ill-advisedly. Yet Catholic teaching doesn’t proscribe capital punishment, the Pope acknowledged.
That is God’s own truth, often expressed by Fathers of the Church. The Church’s view of the death penalty is inseparable from its view on death. A vicious criminal must be deprived of his life in earth, both to protect the still living and to render him to God’s judgement in afterlife.
Thus, for example, St Augustine: “It is in no way contrary to the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of public authority to put criminals to death, according to the law, that is, the will of the most just reason.”
St Thomas Aquinas confirms: “Therefore if a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and healthful that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since ‘a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump’ (1 Cor. 5:6).”
It would have been more helpful had the Pope restated the Christian position on such matters, rather than giving credence to one springing from liberal, which is to say atheist, consensus.