The Heresy That May Help the Pope

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First of all, I would like to congratulate Pope Francis I on his election, becoming the first South American to head the Vatican. Although the Church has been having some serious trouble over the last decade with numerous scandals and harsh although often warranted criticism, I feel his election is an appropriate step in the right direction and an indication that the Catholic Church is concerned about the affairs of the New World.

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Pope Francis I

In his short tenure as pope, despite what many see as a conservative ideology in matters of faith, he has already taken some admirable stands on major issues. Having grown up poor, he has condemned world leaders for their failure to take care of their poorest citizens, calling for stringent market controls, which have been supported by leaders as diverse as Chancellor Merkel and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. He recently asserted that atheists are worthy of redemption. According to some reports, he has also supported the use of contraceptives, a long-standing controversial issue within the Church.

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For all the criticism faced by the Catholic Church for being a ‘backwards ideology,’ there is a great deal to admire, even if I find myself not always agreeing – their adamant pro-life stance alongside their equally prominent stands against war and the death penalty, show a strong regard for human life. It is also easy today to forget the longstanding tradition of great artwork that the faith has inspired, Michaelangelo, Botticelli, DaVinci, or the Church’s significant contributions to the sciences, supporting the studies of Roger Bacon, of Copernicus, and Mendel.

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Also significant and largely overlooked, are their positions on protecting the environment and the theory of evolution, which the Church fully supports, upholding that the teachings of science are fully compatible with their theology. Although the theory of evolution has widely been accepted as fact by the scientific community at large, in the United States the population that accepts it as fact has largely remained unwavering for the past 30 years. Between 40 and 46 percent of Americans accept the creationist account from Genesis as fact, instead of evolution, according to Gallup polls.

Many people are unaware of the darker undertones of this. Despite Sarah Palin’s claim, it’s not possible “to teach both,” because there aren’t two sides to this issue. The theory of evolution is not the only thing at stake – the view of a Young Earth defies a number of important scientific discoveries – the Big Bang Theory, Tectonic Plates, as well as the most basic ideas of botany and zoology.

Creation science is not only bad science, it’s also bad theology. While many scientists and educators find the exhibits of people living alongside anatomically incorrect dinosaurs appalling, perhaps the worst display in the Creation Museum are the panels depicting racism, slavery and imperialism, alleged byproducts of a ‘godless’ society. Like many creationist programs, the museum emphasizes the 7 Cs, an overview of bible stories where failure to disobey God always results in death and destruction. There is little to be said of the teachings of Jesus or the importance of the stories, little about the virtue of being a good person and loving humanity without fear of damnation.

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6a00d8341bf68b53ef00e552989b628833-800wiWorse is that creationism goes far from its supposed goals of instilling morals and values in children. Rather, it misleads and often outright lies, as in the case of Ben Stein’s documentary Expelled, where Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers agreed to be interviewed under false pretenses and then denied entrance into the movie’s first screening. Creationist advocates insist that Darwin’s theories led to the Holocaust, although this notion has been dismissed by the Anti-Defamation League as false.

Rather than teach objectively, any text that compares creationism and evolution generally leaves students with the question of whether to trust ‘the mere speculation of man’ or the word of God. It pretends to be a system that supports questioning new scientific discoveries, yet undermines their relevance, and discredits professional sources. In turn, it also undermines the students’ ability to think critically, and rendering them unable to thrive in a competitive world economy. Instead of encouraging the students’ ability to reason, it preys upon their emotions and guilt. This fire-and-brimstone ideology making its way into science classrooms inevitably leads to a culture of repression and fear.

While the scientific community has done a commendable job at arguing and rejecting the tenets of creationism, as have many religious communities in rejecting its doctrine, I feel that Pope Francis I has the ability to take the Catholic Church’s stance on evolution a step further. Throughout the Church’s history it has dealt severely with religious ideologies regarded as dangerous, declaring such practices as heretical. In modern times, it has done this by condemning the white supremacist Christian Identity movement which uses the Bible to justify racism. Although heresy sounds laughable as an antiquated practice, the Christian Identity movement’s influence has shriveled considerably in the 21st century. Such a move, exposing fraudulent peddlers of creationism, may be a significant step in increasing the popularity of the Church with a new generation of followers, and renewing the faith of people who turned against it in the wake of the scandals. Such a decision could also impact the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church, both of which openly accept evolution as fact, to take a harder stance on creation pseudoscience. Such a decision would hardly go unnoticed, and could influence the other prominent denominations of Christianity to take a stand together against a malignant ideology.

At the same time, if creationism is declared a heresy, it will also lose the influence over politics it briefly enjoyed, pushing candidates who believe in a Young Earth closer to the fringe where they belong. It may even be the catalyst needed for dividing religion and its influence on politics, as the cause to force ‘the controversy’ into schools will die down significantly. Creationism is a dismal blend of religion and science that is outrageously offensive to most reasonable people from both fronts, but can also be fought and overcome by reasonable people from both fronts.

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I have no intent of going into why evolution is real or debating it in this blog. Whole books have been written on that by people more qualified than I am, and your questions are better answered here and here.

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To read Stephen Jay Gould’s famous essay on the compatibility of religion and science: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html

Why Hitler was not a Darwinist or an atheist: http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/2488

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More about Ben Stein’s Expelled: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=six-things-ben-stein-doesnt-want-you-to-know&page=2

From Sam Greenspan’s blog, a dissection of a creationist textbook published by Bob Jones University, 1990: http://www.11points.com/Books/11_Eye-Opening_Highlights_From_a_Creationist_Science_Textbook