Don't Bless Us, We'll Bless You

More from TNR: Gregg Easterbrook has a nice, if awkwardly premature, obituary for Pope John Paul II. I’ve always liked JP2, and the article contains some interesting facts about his life, including this:

Born
in 1920, Wojtyla was a university student when the Nazis invaded
Poland; he joined an underground movement that kept learning alive
during the Nazi darkness by holding university classes in secret and
sometimes performed as an actor in plays staged in secret.

I
did not know that. It certainly explains his modern-seeming attitudes
towards acknowledging Holocaust victims, advocating against the USSR, etc. But there was one aspect of the Pope’s modernizing influence that just leapt out at me:

John
Paul II moved the Church toward rationalism and reconciliation with
science; he was the first pope to say that he believed Darwin’s theory
of evolution.

Huh. Is it me, or did this sort of coincide
with religious conservatives’ attempts to inject creationism into
public schools? Obviously, a lot of those people aren’t Catholic, but
still, this strikes me as troubling. It’s nice for the Pope to
acknowledge science, but attempting to find a place for science in
religion ultimately means finding a place for religion in science. The
Pope, essentially, tried to convince millions of his followers to
increasingly subject their faith to empirical verification. This
degrades both faith and empiricism.

Mixing faith and science is a dangerous business. Sure, modernizing
the church’s stance may give devout Catholics a little more purchase in
cocktail party conversations with secular friends. But where does it
stop? Who draws the line at which empiricism obviates any meaningful
idea of faith? The Pope seems poised to die without providing a clear
answer to this question; it’s unclear that he still wields enough power
to direct world opinion on this anyway. And surely, modification of our
textbooks isn’t what he had in mind. But still, it’s hard not to wonder
if the nuts on the PTA in Kansas and Georgia aren’t the direct descendants of the Pope’s efforts to give religion a little science.

Clarification: A number of commenters have pointed out that the Pope never came close to advocating the kind of creationism-as-science that's currently invading our classrooms. But my broader point was this: The Pope seemed to couch his acknowledgement of evolution in the idea that the Catholic faith needed to "modernize," without establishing a bookend on the other side to denote where "modernization" needed to end. This lack of an outer boundary, I'm concerned, is the same phenomenon that allows people to think our science classes need more stuff about two naked kids and an apple.

Preemptive Clarification: I know that intelligent design theory isn't "two naked kids and an apple."

- Daniel A. Munz

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