The Church’s Retreat in the Face of Science

Adapted from When God Speaks for Himself: The Words of God You’ll NEVER Hear in Church or Sunday School, by Mark Tier and George Forrai (Inverse Books, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Mark Tier.

From Chapter 4: Reason, Science and the Church

The “Big Bang”

The church’s retreat in the face of science continues to the present day. Consider just two recent examples.

In a 1951 address[1] Pope Pius XII seized on the then new scientific hypothesis of the “big bang” as the origin of the universe as scientific proof for the existence of God:

“44. …a mind enlightened and enriched with modern scientific knowledge…perceives and recognizes the work of creative omnipotence, whose power, set in motion by the mighty ‘Fiat’ pronounced billions of years ago by the Creating Spirit, spread out over the universe, calling into existence with a gesture of generous love matter bursting with energy. In fact, it would seem that present-day science, with one sweeping step back across millions of centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to that primordial ‘Fiat lux’ uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, while the particles of chemical elements split and formed into millions of galaxies….

“50. It has, besides, followed the course and the direction of cosmic developments, and, just as it was able to get a glimpse of the term toward which these developments were inexorably leading, so also has it pointed to their beginning in time some five billion years ago. Thus, with that concreteness which is characteristic of physical proofs, it has confirmed the contingency of the universe and also the well-founded deduction as to the epoch when the cosmos came forth from the hands of the Creator.

51. Hence, creation took place in time. Therefore, there is a Creator. Therefore, God exists! Although it is neither explicit nor complete, this is the reply we were awaiting from science, and which the present human generation is awaiting from it.”

Evolution

In an opening address to a conference of scientists in 1996, Pope John Paul II endorsed the theory of evolution, saying:

“Taking into account the state of scientific research at the time as well as of the requirements of theology, the encyclical Humani Generis considered the doctrine of ‘evolutionism’ a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study equal to that of the opposing hypothesis…. Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.”[2]

By endorsing the Big Bang and Evolution, even just as serious hypotheses, both Popes implicitly reject the scriptures.

According to the hypothesis, the big bang took mere milliseconds to create the foundation matter of the universe — and billions of years (rather than six days) passed before our earth came into being. To accept the Big Bang, then, is to deny the “truth” of the book of Genesis which clearly states that God created the earth in just six days.

Once the earth coalesced into a planet, another several billion years passed before life appeared and another billion or so before homo sapiens evolved. Man, in other words, was not created on “the sixth day.” Indeed, if man evolved he wasn’t “created” — certainly not in the sense of the book of Genesis. And what happened to Eve and Adam’s rib?

But the implications for Christian doctrine go far deeper. What happened to the Garden of Eden? If man evolved he wasn’t thrown out of it — so how did he acquire Original Sin (and how do the snake and the apple enter the story?) And when (and how) did God decide to add a “soul” to the mix — or did that evolve too?

By accepting evolution and the “big bang,” both Popes are (inter alia) totally rejecting Genesis, necessarily implying that the Bible is not literally the Word of God and is, in reality, little more than a collection of ancient fairy tales.

But then…neither of them were speaking infallibly

A Note on Papal Infallibility

You might think that these errors and reversals of the church cast doubt on the Catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility.

Well — no, they don’t.

What exactly is “Papal Infallibility”? Turning once again to the Catholic Encyclopedia[3] we learn, first of all,

That the Church is infallible in her definitions on faith and morals is itself a Catholic dogma, which, although it was formulated ecumenically for the first time in the Vatican Council, had been explicitly taught long before and had been assumed from the very beginning without question down to the time of the Protestant Reformation.

The Vatican Council declared that:

“the doctrine of faith, which God has revealed, has not been proposed as a philosophical discovery to be improved upon by human talent, but has been committed as a Divine deposit to the spouse of Christ, to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted by her”;

Papal Infallibility refers only to a Pope speaking under certain circumstances:

…it is defined that the Roman pontiff when he teaches ex cathedra [literally, “speaking in his chair”] “enjoys, by reason of the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith and morals.”

Furthermore:

— Infallibility means more than exemption from actual error; it means exemption from the possibility of error;

— it does not require holiness of life, much less imply impeccability in its organs; sinful and wicked men may be God’s agents in defining infallibly; [Given the Borgias, Medicis and all the other corrupt and sinful Popes, this is clearly an essential requirement!]

— and finally that the validity of the Divine guarantee is independent of the fallible arguments upon which a definitive decision may be based…. [The reasoning can be full of holes, but that doesn’t matter]

There’s a problem here that neither the Catholic Encyclopedia nor the Vatican Council confronts directly: that if a doctrine is “infallible” only when the Pope speaks ex cathedra, then:

— Every other doctrine decreed by the Pope or lower church official is fallible, and so potentially in error.

Which is exactly the argument the Catholic Encyclopedia uses (implicitly) when considering whether the condemnation of Galileo cast doubt on the Pope’s or the church’s infallibility.

As to the Galileo affair, it is quite enough to point out the fact that the condemnation of the heliocentric theory was the work of a fallible tribunal. The pope cannot delegate the exercise of his infallible authority to the Roman Congregations, and whatever issues formally in the name of any of these, even when approved and confirmed in the ordinary official way by the pope, does not pretend to be ex cathedra and infallible. The pope, of course, can convert doctrinal decisions of the Holy Office, which are not in themselves infallible, into ex cathedra papal pronouncements, but in doing so he must comply with the conditions already explained — which neither Paul V nor Urban VIII did in the Galileo case.
Neat trick!

Never mind that Galileo was forced by the threat of excommunication (which, at the time, tended to be fatal) to recant.

Never mind that the Inquisition tried, tortured, and executed thousands fallibly.

The church may have done all these things by mistake. But since the Pope didn’t speak “ex cathedra” well. c’est la vie! Or more accurately, c’est la mort!

The Catholic Encyclopedia can conclude with, presumably a clear conscience:

The broad fact, therefore, remains certain that no ex cathedra definition of any pope has ever been shown to be erroneous.

Excerpted from When God Speaks for Himself by Mark Tier and George Forrai. Copyright © Mark Tier and Pronto Express, 2010. All rights reserved.


[1] Aristotle, On the Heavens, quoted in Grant, op. cit., p74.

[2] Rubenstein, op. cit., p210.

[3] ibid, p229.

[4] ibid, p225.

[5]ibid, p236.

Mark TierMark Tier, an Australian based in Hong Kong, started writing when he was 14 – and hasn’t stopped since. His first work, Understanding Inflation, was a bestseller in his native Australia in 1974. That was followed by The Nature of Market Cycles, How To Get A Second Passport, and The Winning Investment Habits of Warren Buffett & George Soros, which has been published in 3 English (New York, London, & Hong Kong) and 11 other-language editions. Once labelled “the Eclectic Investor” for his wide range of interests, he co-edited two science fiction anthologies which won a Prometheus Award in 2005, an analysis of Christianity, When God Speaks for Himself, and a political thriller, Trust Your Enemies. His website is marktier.com.

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