Monday, September 29, 2014

Must have been a slow news day: David Barash argues in the New York Times that religion and science are not compatible

A Canadian friend told me the story of his Catholic mother who heard a guest priest deliver the homily at Sunday Mass. The priest was a theology professor, and his sermon was so full of scholarly  mumbo jumbo that the congregation had no idea what he was talking about.

When Mass concluded, the priest stood at the door to greet the departing parishioners. "I don't care what you say," my friend's mother told the scholarly priest. "I still believe in God.

I thought of that story as I read David Barash's essay in the Sunday Times, arguing that science and religious belief cannot be reconciled.  Barash insists that  evolution is no longer just a theory but "the underpinning of all biological science."

David P. Barash
Human beings are indeed complicated, he goes on to say, but that does not mean that humanity was divinely created. Rather, since Darwin, "we have come to understand that an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness."

And, Barash continues, "[l]iving things are indeed wonderfully complex but altogether within the range of a statistically powerful, entirely mechanical phenomenon."

 Moreover, Barash argues, there is nothing unique about human beings that distinguish us from other animals. "[N]o literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens," Barash maintains. "[W]e are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism."

In short, in Barash's views, we are just animals.  I suppose all that distinguishes Barash from the crocodiles is that he has tenure at the University of Washington and a listing in Wikipedia.

Why does the New York Times  print this drivel? Does it believe some benighted Christian is going to read David Barash's essay and proclaim, "I have seen the light!" and quit the Methodist Church?

After all, Barah's critiques of religion are not exactly hot news. Madelyn Murray O'Hare made a good living as a professional atheist back in the 1980s.

I think the Times prints this stuff because atheistic intellectualism peddled by pinhead professors like Barash reinforces the postmodern world view of its readers. Barash's view--that humans are nothing more than highly developed animals, fits perfectly with the postmodernist philosophy that all values are relative, that there are no ultimate truths and that we are all free to seek power, fame, money, and sexual gratification--which is very much the world view of lions, tigers, and python snakes.

I don't claim to be a learned biological scientist like Barash apparently is. But I'm not stupid. I graduated with honors from one of the nation's top law schools (University of Texas) and I have a doctorate from Harvard (although I admit that is no big deal).  And yet I know in my heart that people are not just advanced animals.

No, we are human beings, and all humanity lives in the palm of God's hand. And I believe the Christian story that is the foundation of the Catholic faith. I believe in the core of my being that God entered history in the form of Jesus Christ, and I am strengthened at each Mass by Christ's real presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

Evolutionists like Barash like to think that people with religious beliefs are anti-intellectuals--maybe just plain stupid. But St. Thomas Aquinas argued, successfully I believe, that we can come to accept the existence of God through our intellect.

It is true that the Catholic faith goes beyond a mere belief in God. Catholics are in fact a mystical people. We believe in the intersession of the saints, in Mary's participation in God's plan for salvation, and in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist.  And of course we believe that men and women are more than animals rooting around for food and sex.

Young people who take Professor Barash's courses or courses from other postmodern professors will be attempted to abandon their Catholic faith. But I urge young people to do your own thinking. Read something other than what your professors tell you to read. Read How To Stay Christian in College by J. Budziszewski, for example.  Budziszewski is as smart as anyone a student is likely to meet on a college campus. In fact, he might even be smarter than Professor Barash. And Budziszewski is a Catholic.

And I recommend another book for people who need an antidote to postmodern gibberish like the stuff that Professor Barash slings about.  Read G.K. Chesterton's very short book entitled Catholicism and Conversion.

As for me, when I am tempted to abandon my faith to the sophistry of our modern age, I  meditate on the saints.  Why did Dorothy Day live as she lived? Why did Edith Stein die as she died? Why did Maximilian Kolbe volunteer to be starved to death in an Auschwitz bunker? Why did St. Kateri Tekawitha devote her miserable life to being a witness to the Catholic faith? Why did Father Damien live his life in a lepers colony on the island of Molokai?

I consider myself to be an intellectual. Yet as I have gotten older my faith has become more simple. I have come to believe that when I die I will be enfolded in the loving arms of God.  In some mysterious way, I believe I will be joined to the communion of saints throughout eternity.

What eternity will be like for me, I am not certain. But I feel quite sure I will be spending very little of it reading op ed essays in the New York Times, although I might find time to read Barish's recent book, Buddhist Biology.


Barash, David P. God, Darwin and My College Biology Class. New York Times, September 28,2014, Sunday Review section, p. 5.

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