About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Vatican confused about Intelligent Design

The Vatican seems to be confused by the issue of evolution and so-called “intelligent design.” On the one hand, the new Pope Benedict XVI remarked last November that the universe is clearly the result of an “intelligent project,” and that science has no business claiming lack of direction and order.

However, the Vatican chief astronomer, George Coyne – perhaps mindful of the embarrassment that the Galileo affair has brought to the Church for centuries – stated publicly that intelligent design isn't science, and therefore does not have a place in public schools.

Most recently, Fiorenzo Facchini – a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna – has written a strong defense of evolution in the Vatican official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano. Facchini condemns creationism and intelligent design in no uncertain terms, arguing that “if the model proposed by Darwin is deemed insufficient, one should look for another, but it's not correct from a methodological point of view to take oneself away from the scientific field pretending to do science.” In other words, once again, intelligent design is not science.

However, even Facchini has to allow an escape close for Catholics (after all, he is writing for the Vatican's paper!), which he does by concluding that “in a vision that goes beyond the empirical horizon, we can say that we aren't men by chance or by necessity, and that the human experience has a sense and a direction signaled by a superior design.” Oh? What does it mean for Facchini to go “beyond the empirical horizon”? And doesn't his conclusion invalidate his plea for separating science and religion? Such are the contradictions of people who use their brains in the lab but have to hang 'em outside the Church doors on Sunday mornings. And yet, it is precisely this sort of logical incoherence that makes fundamentalism and creationism so attractive to many people: when one rejects the empirical-scientific worldview altogether one doesn't have to reconcile the way things are with the way one wishes things were. Will we ever grow up emotionally as much as we have developed intellectually? But that's a topic for another day.


  1. Well said, MP.

    I am currently reading "The Seashell on the Mountaintop". It is an extremely interesting look at the birth of the science of geology and the rise of the scientific method in 17th century Europe. Despite the Catholic Church's attitude toward Galileo, they were much more accepting of scientific discoveries that contradicted the Bible than were the Protestants. The main reason seemed to be that the RCC was willing to view at least parts of the Bible as metaphorical whereas the Protestants were biblical literalists. Even so, the Church had to place limits then as it does today, or risk tearing down their own edifice.
    BTW, I highly recommend the book.

    Eat well, stay fit, die anyway!

  2. Grow up!! If only. Why would people want to give up their cherished nonsensical beliefs that make them feel all warm and gushy inside. Logical coherence has no place in religion. The sooner the church admits it the better.

    But just because you give up believing in magic (i.e. miracles) doesn't mean you stop caring about the welfare of your neighbors and trying to be a good person. Hopefully, the good messages can transcend and outlive the popular fairy tales.

  3. Interesting post.

    It's really quite important to note how the RCC has embraced science as a set of valid theories. There seems to be much confusion about this amongst the church goers, many of which are embracing science simply because they believe something like ID may provide scientific proof. The RCC should speak a little louder on this subject but guess what... it could cost them a few more members to the more radical and unscrupulous evangelists.

    Take away people's crutch and they tend to fall over...

  4. same ol' story. if religion didn't contradict itself and was logical, it wouldn't be religion anymore :)

    i've still no idea how to get reply notification here... you should switch to livejournal :)))

  5. The only problem with Evolution
    The only issue that it can't resolve
    Is that as a theory of Creation
    In primordial ooze it does dissolve
    A little thing called the 'fossil record'
    Hard evidence no scientist purges
    Should show sea sponges turning into bird
    But a very different story emerges
    Where we should see change, transitional forms Intermediates in between species...
    - M. Farrand

    Interesting. Can you lodge a complaint in there somewhere about the fact the fossil record cannot be supported by a food chain? I.e. predator prey relationships do make the world go round. (along with a few other non-negotiable facts)

    That would be helpful. I would actually consider that one rare, but beneficial poetic mutation. :)


  6. A deuterostome from Nantucket
    And a protostome from Pawtucket
    Developed a query:
    “If evolution’s just theory,
    Did the featherless biped get pluck`ed?”

  7. ID = Inept Design

  8. A Dembski his mother called Bill
    Was asked why design was so ill.
    He said "Damn it all,
    It must be the Fall-
    That dysteleology mill!"

  9. Farrand,

    I don't care much for poor rhymes and metric, or even for how many verses a sonnet should really have. Artistic license? But I sure can tell you the science there is pretty much absent (and never mind obsessions with food, chained or otherwise).

    The only real "problem" with the fact of evolution is that it does not conform to the wishful thinking of some backwater religions.


  10. ...and before anybody points out that the "sonnet" has the correct number of verses, I know that. Just being ironic with mixing up corrects and incorrects, and how much I don't know of poetry.

    Since sarcasm and irony seem to rarely come across the internet, I decided later I should explain it all beforehand. :O)



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