Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tassot debunks evolution--that's macro-evolution

Here is part of a fascinating interview of Dominique Tassot, the director of Centre d’Etude et de Prospectives sur la Science (“Center for Studies and Prospectives on Science”), a group of 700 European Catholic scientists and intellectuals based in France. This part of the interview conducted by John Allen of NCR deals with evolution:

Allen: Did you come to doubt evolution on scientific or religious grounds?

Tassot: When I was in school studying mathematics, my favourite book was by Teilhard de Chardin. I studied with Jesuits who were all in favor of Teilhard’s very positive approach to evolution. I was a Teilhardian. I didn’t question that at all. I saw no contradiction between my faith and what I was studying in science. But later I read a book by two French scientists written during the Second World War, in which they questioned evolution on scientific grounds. My doubts began at that time.

Allen: What convinced you?

Tassot: Originally, it was the argument from probability, meaning the extreme improbability of positive mutation in the sense that evolutionary theory suggests. Later, of course, I have also been persuaded by Berthault’s refutation of the geological chronology. At bottom, theological, philosophical, and scientific truth must be in accordance. All truth must function together. Thus if evolution does not have a sound scientific basis, it’s not necessary to waste time arguing over whether it’s compatible with Christian theology.

Allen: When you say that evolution does not have a sound scientific basis, are you talking about micro-evolution (development within species) or macro-evolution (development from one species to another)?

Tassot: I mean macro-evolution. This, by the way, is what makes the book Truth and Tolerance (2003) by then-Cardinal Ratzinger so interesting, because he’s one of the few theologians who understands this distinction. Normally people talk about ‘evolution’ but they don’t distinguish, and it’s impossible to say anything meaningful that way. You may remember that in his New York Times piece, Cardinal Schönborn said something fairly incredible about the 1996 text of John Paul II that termed evolution ‘more than a hypothesis.’ Schönborn called that text ‘rather vague and unimportant.’ Many people were surprised to hear him talk about a papal text that way, but it’s actually very easy to understand. ‘Evolution’ is never defined in that text. In philosophy, we are supposed to define everything, but that was not the case here. The phrase ‘more than a hypothesis’ was actually a reference to Humani Generis. [Note: Pius XII in that encyclical referred to evolution as a ‘hypothesis.’] But what does this formula mean? What does it mean to be ‘more than a potato’? It means nothing without further definition and distinction.

Allen: What do you mean by ‘macro-evolution’?

Tassot: I mean the appearance of an organ in the offspring which did not exist in the parent. When you put it that way, you understand immediately that it’s impossible. The continuing dominance of evolutionary theory depends upon a voluntary confusion between micro and macro-evolution. Darwin himself relies upon micro-evolution, giving many examples of it, but the he switches to making generalizations about macro-evolution. This is philosophically incorrect.

Allen: If the evidence against ‘macro-evolution’ is as compelling as you say, why do most scientists still support it?

Tassot: They live in this confusion, and in general they don’t think about it. Very few people, in reality, make these distinctions. I think they live and think inside the paradigm of evolution. As Thomas Kuhn explained [in the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions], theories are accepted or rejected in order to defend the dominant paradigm. Information which conflicts with that paradigm is set aside, it doesn’t get published. Psychologically, this is all quite normal. It’s not just scientists who behave this way.

Allen: Do you believe scientists defend evolution because it does away with the need for God?

Tassot: In the States, people are quite conscious of the religious and political dimensions of evolutionary theory. In Europe, I have the impression that most scientists just don’t think about it. Evolution is the accepted paradigm, and that’s it. They think inside this scientific vision of the world. They’re forced to question it only when they find themselves in front of a fact that’s clearly incompatible with the paradigm.

Allen: You said Pope Benedict is one of the few theologians who distinguishes between micro and macro-evolution. What do you know about his thinking on the subject?

Tassot: For one thing, Pope Benedict became familiar with the discoveries of Professor Berthault many years ago, from the time he was a cardinal. He met Berthault at a conference center and spent several days with him, quite by accident. This is a center in the Alps that Ratzinger used as a meeting place for a theological conference, and Berthault was one of the directors of the association that owned the place. Ratzinger came several times over a period of years, and got to know Berthault. I think that has had some influence on him. It was an opportunity for him to see that even on the scientific questions surrounding evolution, debate is possible. Most people think that the findings of science are completely established and are beyond discussion. They think it’s the way it’s presented in textbooks in school. But those textbooks are the result of a long process, which in itself is not so simple. Science doesn’t give definite certainties.

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