Monday, 19 August 2013

Darwin's Great Great Great Granddaughter Becomes Catholic Theologian: Checkmate, Atheists!

Charles Darwin
So back in June the Catholic news and blogosphere was rocked to its core again by a story about a highly educated smart person who was raised non-religious who became Catholic.

Yes, I know, it sounds improbable - and many Catholics apparently agree because they made quite a fuss about it! - but it did happen.

The last time I heard about this sort of thing happening was way back when the atheist blogger, Leah Libresco announced she was turning Catholic.

This was big news! She ended up getting interviews on major news networks for her conversion to Catholicism!

Now, if Catholicism makes so much sense, what with over 2,000 years of theology backing it up, then why is this such earth-shattering news? Okay, never mind that obvious question - look the other way! - isn't it amazing? Let's get back to this last story, the one in June.

Well, it turns out that Darwin's great-great-great granddaughter converted to Catholicism and is now an independent Catholic scholar and theologian. Earth shattering isn't it? I mean, she's related to Darwin!

I-n-c-o-n-c-e-i-v-a-b-l-e!

Descendant of Charles Darwin becomes a Catholic apologist

So says the Catholic Herald back in June 2013. The descendant shall be here afterwards referred to as Laura Keynes.

In the interview, she pointed out some of the motivating factors that led to her conversion to Catholicism. None of these make much sense to me. Anyway, when she was working on her doctorate at Oxford, she began to re-assess her values and was influenced by Dawkins and the New Atheists.
The debate sparked by Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion inspired her to read more about the subject, and she concluded that “New Atheism seemed to harbour a germ of intolerance and contempt for people that could only undermine secular Humanist claims to liberalism”. 
She writes: “If atheism’s claim to the intellectual high ground is bolstered by my ancestor’s characteristic ability to explore and analyse inconsistencies in the evidence, that same family characteristic led me towards a sceptical assessment of what can and can’t be known absolutely.”
I have about as much difficulty parsing the first paragraph above as I did trying to understand some of Libresco's reasons for converting to Catholicism. All I can interpret here is that some atheists came off as intolerant to her. And this very intolerance will inevitably lead to a total undermining to any claims to liberalism secular Humanism may have.

Come again?

A. I have no idea how some vocal atheists rub off on her could possibly lend credibility to Catholicism or reflect badly on atheism as a whole or how tenable it is philosophically.

B. I have no idea how what a few atheists say could ever undermine Secular Humanism as a positive movement.

C. I haven't the foggiest what claims to liberalism really means.

Look, I get it. She was put off by some atheists out there and decided she felt better as a Catholic. Why not just come out and say it?

As for Darwin's ability to explore an analyse. Nobody doubts that. And there are very smart people who are Catholic out there. I don't doubt that either. What makes Darwin different is he used the scientific method to actually demonstrate his ideas. He was so self critical and skeptical, that he worked for years gathering actual scientific evidence to back up his theory. Christian philosophers and theologians have been at it for hundreds of years. I can't say they've come up with anything that even compares to what Darwin achieved.

As for those things that are absolutely true, I would assume she can only be talking about logical or mathematical absolutes. Because when it comes to things in the physical world - how can we ever hope to know anything with absolute confidence?

Anyway, back in June, I sort of pushed this story aside and forgot about it. But it seems like evolution also occurs in the Catholic and Christian online media as well. You see, I kept seeing this story pop up again and again. It's like some kind of strange recessive gene that's being selected by the Catholic blogosphere.

The National Catholic Register re-ran the story on August 14th.

If Only Charles Darwin Could See His Descendant Now

Either they don't have windows in heaven or hell or else the Register agrees with me that there is no afterlife! Gotcha, Catholic Register! Yes, I know, it's a figure of speech. But I find it an amusing thought nonetheless.
But in mid-June, the Catholic Herald reported the startling news that this highly educated Darwinian descendant had evolved into a Catholic apologist, joining Britain’s Catholic Voices.
No, actually it's not very startling at all. Unless they believe that views on religion are genetically inherited and this is a shocking disproof of evolution?  No, they couldn't think that. They must be startled that a highly educated person would become Catholic? Yes, that seems to be what they're saying.
“Atheists prefer certainty and use Darwin’s theory of evolution to state categorically that God does not exist, overegging Darwin in their argument in a way that Darwin himself would be uncomfortable with. He thought agnosticism the more coherent position, saying, ‘I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect.’ Resting in doubt, he allowed others their conscience. He set out to follow the evidence where it led, not bring down Christianity. The evidence did not have to lead inevitably to materialism, but, for various cultural reasons, this is where it led: to materialism and the culture of death. This is the real battle: the culture of life, supported by Christianity, vs. the culture of death, supported by materialism.”
I'm sure some atheists will use evolution as some kind of proof that God doesn't exist. It could be used to argue against some definitions of gods. But, of course, all the theist must do is slide into some different register of God and the atheist is left once again at square one. It's like philosophical whac-a-mole. A more appealing means is forcing the theist to define their god and then point out the contradictions there. I'll wait for Keynes to do this to lay out the functional diagram of her god so we may all peer review it together. I suggest she comes up with something original, since the eons of work by the theologians of yore just didn't produce anything useful.

As for the culture of life being Christianity, I remain completely confused. I would say that all life is supported solely by materialism. By this I mean all matter, what is real, what is in this world and not in the fanciful myths and mountains of unprovable and nonsensical words written by armies of theologians.  Oh, if those books would only rot away in the basements of empty churches - useless corpses of once majestic forests reduced to material vessels containing nothing but stale immaterial ideas from dark and tragic times.

Like secularism, materialism is an overloaded word these days. This is a shame. Ever since the days of Plotinus, the Church has simply never been a big fan of matter - that is to say, reality.
"... I would then ask the claimant to consider whether it might not, paradoxically, be anti-intellectual, and therefore undermining reason as a value, to dismiss belief in God as irrational and beyond reason, because this claim represents a threat to the practice of philosophy and theology as academic disciplines. The question of whether the existence of God is demonstrable by rational argument has kept philosophers and theologians busy for centuries. I’d ask the claimant to explain how closing this discussion furthers the cause of reason. So I’d respond gently, but if I really lost my patience, I’d tell them: 'Just go and read Aquinas!'”
What? ...

Okay, I don't think Aquinas will make it any easier for me to understand.

Yes, we've been wrong for a very long time. Thank goodness for the scientific method.

But here's what really spurned me on to write this post.

Catholic Church 1, New Atheists 0

A woman with some of Charles Darwin's DNA converted to Catholicism and is having a go at being a theologian! Well then!

CHECKMATE, NEW ATHEISTS!

I think, like the whole Leah Libresco affair, the very zeal and rabid enthusiasm the Catholic online press has gobbled this all up with betrays some sort of underlying lack of confidence.

It seems like nothing warms the hearts of Catholic readers more than a story of atheist turned Catholic. It's like a rare and colourful bird who's scarcity brings about feelings of wonder. I suppose it helps to confirm their faith somehow.

You can find an article written by Laura herself at Strange Notions with the equally shocking title:

I’m a Direct Descendant of Darwin…and a Catholic


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