Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Fr. McBrian on Sen. Brownback; Faith and Reason

A few days back Rich Leonardi called attention to a rather appalling column by Fr. Richard McBrien on Converts to Catholicism. The basic drift -- I hesitate to say thesis -- of the article being: In the Bad Old Days before Vatican II, there were people who were converted to Catholicism because charismatic individuals convinced them it was the One True Faith, however these days it should be impossible for anyone to believe there is a One True Faith. Nonetheless, there is an Opus Dei (queue frightening organ music) priest in D.C. who has had the effrontery to convert several well known conservatives including Robert Novack, Larry Kudlow and Sen. Brownback.

As if this weren't enough to put his readers into a state of near catatonic fear, Fr. McBrien concluded by saying he would have more to say about Senator Brownback in the following column.

I couldn't help being curious what Sen. Brownback had done (other than converting to Catholicism) to offend Fr. McBrien badly enough to inspire a two part series, so I tuned in this week to find out. Part Two, it turns out, is titled "Theology and Science", and is designed to be a critique of Sen. Brownback's NY Times essay about "What I Think About Evolution".

There is, in some ways, less overtly to be annoyed about in this second part than in the first, though McBrien can't help slipping in several more statements that in the post-Vatican II world (or at least that version of the post-Vatican II world which resides within McBrien's imagination) it is impossible to believe there is only one true religion.

Still, his main bone to pick is with Brownback's take on "Faith and Reason":
While insisting that he opposes "the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion" about evolution vs. creationism (or "intelligent design"), Senator Brownback nonetheless concludes that any explanation of the origins of the universe that excludes God "should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science."

But here the argument becomes slippery. Does the senator mean to imply that some, most or even all scientists explicitly "dismiss the possibility of divine causality"? If there are, in fact, scientists who do that, they are in clear violation of their own scientific methods.

Scientists as scientists can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, nor should they even try to do so. God is knowable only through faith of some kind. The most that people of any specific faith can hope for is the assurance that their belief in God is not contradicted by reason or science.
Now, I was sufficiently fond of Brownback's point that one doesn't "believe" in evolution but rather "thinks that it is correct" that I pretty much game him a pass on terminology. Others have pointed out (that McBrien does as well) that the senator uses the terms "reason" and "science" as interchangeable when discussing "faith and reason" and thus comes out making it sound like faith does not itself derive in part from reason. This may simply be sloppy use of vocabulary, or it may (as McBrien accuses) be a result of a lingering American Protestant worldview.

However, my impression is that, however distasteful Sen. Brownback's other opinions may be to Fr. McBrien, on the question of theology and science, they're actually saying very much the same thing.


Anonymous said...

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The comments are even juicier.

Anonymous said...

The following is the crux of Brownback's position on evolution:

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

The careful ambiguity of this statement is designed to aid and comfort to those who espouse intelligent design, giving us the cozy assurance that God is continually at the controls of the universe, like the unseen pilot in the cockpit of the airliner we're flying in.

Yes, says Brownback, evolution is the autopilot applying minor course corrections within species, but every now and then God needs to give the rudder a kick to head creation in a new direction. After all, God may be great but the material universe He designed requires His constant intervention to achieve His purposes.