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For Easter, Philadelphia Inquirer Science Columnist Misrepresents the Pope

There are days when the evolution debate becomes positively surreal. Last time we heard from Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Faye Flam she was complaining of having received corporal punishment from this website (“I Get Spanked by Creationists for Accepting Reality and being a ‘Darwinist’“). Besides observing that she doesn’t know what the word “creationist” means if she thinks ENV is that, we made a joke (“ENV Accused of Spanking Darwinist Lady“) that in turn provoked an outraged squeak of protest (“sexism”!) from Darwin lobbyist Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education. Good grief. These people!
Faye FlamNow Ms. Flam is back with an admiring profile of University of Pennsylvania paleontologist Peter Dodson and his Institute for Religion and Science, or IRS. Nothing wholesome has those initials. We would have called it the Institute for Science and Religion instead.

Professor Dodson takes a couple of shots at intelligent design. Reports Ms. Flam, “On intelligent design theory, he says that an honest appraisal of nature shows both elegance and awkward contrivance.” That’s a shot? Setting biology to one side, elegance and contrivance are hallmarks of design by human beings. Where’s the contradiction in finding the same in natural designs?

Meanwhile, It turns out that Dodson is a Catholic which prompts an observation from Flam comparing him to Pope Benedict who “himself has stated that he accepts Darwinian evolution as the explanation for the physical bodies of plants, animals and humans.” When it comes to evolution, the current Pope and his predecessor must be the most often distorted and misrepresented figures in recent history. Let’s help out Ms. Flam, as we’ve patiently done in the past.

Benedict has never affirmed “Darwinian evolution” anywhere. In fact, he has explicitly repudiated it. He has made affirmative statements about “evolution,” which he always defines teleologically (and so, for the unsophisticated, perhaps confusingly).

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, maybe Faye Flam is confusing Benedict with the encyclical Humani Generis, written by Pius XII, in which he says Catholics are free to entertain the hypothesis that various organisms, including the human body, have had living predecessors. Which of course is no contradiction to intelligent design either.
This is in the context of a document denouncing materialism and relativism. Here’s the relevant quote:

For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter — for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faithful. Some however rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from preexisting and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

Enjoy your Easter.