Home > atheism, evolution, Pope francis, religion, science > Atheist Perspective: God is not a wizard

Atheist Perspective: God is not a wizard

A lot of pixels have been burnt among the atheist, agnostic, free-thinking crowd regarding Pope Francis. It was to be expected given that this guy is such a departure from the previous two popes that some controversy has been generated. It’s a shame though because for every step forward he seems to take a step backward as well. He wants Catholics to stop being so focused on social issues but then penalizes nuns for doing exactly that–focusing on poverty rather than abortion and homosexuality. He says that people like me are not damned to hell but then walks back his comment on whether or not we can be saved. This latest move, one that had the science fans all in a buzz, was that he claimed the Big Bang and Evolution were not incompatible with the Christian faith, and that the evidence for both theories were conclusive and necessary for the Catholic view on the formation of the Cosmos. He then went on to give his blessing to the Catholic exorcist conference. One step forward, one step backward.

If we consider his thinking on the Big Bang and Evolution though, he’s not that revolutionary. Sure, it may seem odd that such a pious Christian would accept the scientific theories, but if you think that it’s only because you pay too much attention to the likes of Ken Ham and other loud mouth bible literalists. The Catholic Church, since Pope Pius XII, has been accepting of scientific theory provided the evidence of it is overwhelming. That’s supposed to be the case, facts are neutral in that they reflect the reality of the world. Pius XII accepted the hypotheses, John Paul II commented that evolution was an “effectively proven fact.” You can shout “Galileo” and “Bruno” to me as evidence of the Catholic church’s opposition to science but there are two relevance issues with both of those martyrs. First they were over five hundred years ago and an organization can change. Second, there problem with the church was a bit more than just the ideas they proposed. Galileo in his dialogues repeatedly called the defender of the old system “Simplicio” (meaning “simpleton”) using Pope Urban VIII’s words. Whether this was on purpose or not is a matter of debate but the Catholic church did not take lightly both the insult and the denial of their doctrine. With Bruno, his crime was not so much the teaching of an alternative view of the universe but that he taught against Catholic dogma, most notably he denied the trinity and that Jesus was anything but a normal man (in either case immolation was undeserved but we must be careful on why it happened to him).

Whether or not you trust the Catholics on science is a matter of opinion, but their track record shows that they accept it with regard to the physical world. They also at least consider dissenting opinions, their “Pontifical Academy for Life” brought in the dissent, and while I hold the opinion that they came to the wrong conclusions on moral issues they do at least get the science behind the controversies. Claiming that evolution and the Big Bang are more than ideas is nothing new for the Papacy. In fact, Georges Lemaitre, the person who originally came up with the Big Bang was a Catholic priest and was completely uncensured for developing the theory (I suppose it would be hard to do so when even Einstein vocally applauds it).

It’s only Benedict in recent times that has tried to walk back on evolution, but nevertheless the Catholic church has stood by it’s acceptance of the theories.

What’s troubling is Francis’ comments. He said that “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. But that is not so…”

Really? I thought god was supposed to be omnipotent, able to do anything by sheer will. How else can he violate the physical laws of conservation. The same question that is posed to me and my ilk, “how did something form from nothing?” I thought was answered by the theists through divine will. Now, however, we have a qualification. God used the big bang and evolution as tools to make creation. I can accept it without the god part but it raises the question of why god needs tools and materials in the first place. The Epicurean asks Cicero in “On the Nature of the Gods,” what tools the gods used to create the universe, what methods, what raw materials, and the question is left unanswered by the Stoic and Academics in the dialogue.

The “magic wand” comment is curious, because I never have thought of god as a wizard, even when I believed. I have no memory as to how I thought creation was undertaken but my vaguest memory was just using words to bring things into existence (which of course would have been in Latin). God doesn’t need a wand, but he also would not need a mechanism. Claiming that these theories necessitate the existence of a god being begs the question–God used the big bang to create the Cosmos that’s how we know God exists. I’m afraid not Papa, if God is subject to the Big Bang and Evolution that means that the law of the physical universe are above His will, which means that the laws restrict those divine abilities of creation. It also means that the miracles of the holy book are impossible since the universe doesn’t allow them. The sun can’t stop in the sky to allow one army to massacre another, and many others that we can point to.

Accepting scientific theories is not something to be lauded, it’s the way it is supposed to be. It’s not a brave thing that he did, it merely represents a stance that was taken five decades ago. Pius XII wasn’t even changing the stance of the church at the time, he was merely clarifying that the soul cannot be explained by evolution. I’ll even accept that, evolution cannot explain the soul–nothing can because it’s an assumption. Yet the science is proven, it’s not a miracle to accept it it’s merely what we ought to expect form any rational person.

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