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Oh, we need another 100+ thread today

So I’ll post some recent articles on Intelligent Design, ‘kay?

Leon Wieseltier in TNR

The cunning souls who propound intelligent design are playing with fire, because they have introduced intelligence into the discussion. It is a standard to which they, too, must be held. The theory of intelligent design must itself be intelligently designed. I cannot judge the soundness of their science, but that is not the only standpoint from which they must be judged. Their science, after all, is pledged to a philosophy. Philosophically speaking, I do not see that they have demonstrated what they congratulate themselves for demonstrating. The "argument from design," the view that the evidence for the existence of God may be found in the organization of the natural world, is an ancient argument, but philosophers have grasped, at least since the sixth section of the third chapter of the second book of the Critique of Pure Reason, that it may establish only the wisdom of a creator, and not the existence of one. It is impossible, of course, not to marvel at the complexity and the beauty of the natural order; but marveling is not thinking. The mind may recoil from the possibility that all this sublimity came into being by accident, but it cannot, on those grounds alone, rule the possibility out, unless it is concerned only to cure its own pain. (Cosmic accident is also an occasion for awe.) Intelligent design is an expression of sentiment, not an exercise of reason. It is a psalm, not a proof. 

Intelligent design was conceived as the solution to a religious problem, not a scientific one. The problem is that the cosmogony in Genesis does not resemble what we know about the origins of the world. Which is to say, intelligent design was prompted by the consequences of literalism in the interpretation of Scripture. Now, there is no more primitive form of monotheistic religion than this. If you believe that the world was created by God in six days because the Bible says so, then you must also believe that the Israelites saw God’s hand, because the Bible says so, and that Moses spoke to God face to face, because the Bible says so, and that God’s feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, because the Bible says so, and so on. The intellectual integrity of monotheism depends upon the repudiation of such readings. Sanctity is not an excuse for stupidity. But once the legitimacy of figurative reading is admitted, the fabled dissonance between science and faith, the fundamentalist melodrama, evaporates. Was the world made in six days? Then "days" must not mean days, and may mean many millions of years. Was man "formed … of the dust of the ground"? Then "formed" must not mean whole and at once, and "the dust of the ground" must refer to some unspecified variety of physical origination. Otherwise Scripture is wrong–but according to the believer Scripture cannot be wrong. And so the believer may turn comfortably to science, without the dread of heresy. Truth is never heresy, except for those who make their religion vulnerable to truth.

I do not mean to gloat. If you were raised on Scripture as a child, if the Bible was your first enchantment, then it is not an easy matter to pull slightly away, to confer upon your improvising intellect so much power over its significations. I remember my torments, in the holy and walled city of Brooklyn, on the subject of dat u’madda, religion and science; but I recall them also as the philosophical characteristics of adolescence. There really is something childish about the notion that everything is exactly as the Bible says it is: this is the spell of fairy tales. I was eventually released from my anxiety about the freedom of my mind by a startling passage in Maimonides, who is not for children. Almost perversely, he wished his students to know that his belief in the creation of the world was not owed to the Bible’s account of the creation of the world. This is how he denied them a fundamentalist satisfaction: "Know that our shunning the affirmation of the eternity of the world is not due to a text figuring in the Torah according to which the world has been produced in time. For the texts indicating that the world has been produced in time are not more numerous than those indicating that the deity is a body. Nor are the gates of figurative interpretation shut in our faces … regarding the subject of the creation of the world in time. For we could interpret them as figurative, as we have done when denying His corporeality." If science could prove that the world was eternal, then the eternity of the world would by some hermeneutical means accord with Scripture. If science can prove that man evolved over millions of years from other species, ditto. The gates of figurative interpretation were opened in my face, and I grew up. 

John Haught in Commonweal:

And even theology has to be careful about basing too much on a sense of design in nature. Cardinal John Henry Newman would have been distressed at Schönborn’s attempt to extort divine design directly from the data of science. Even before encountering Darwin, Newman had already objected to any theological inquiry that seeks divine design in nature apart from religious experience. Such an approach, he wrote, “cannot be Christian, in any true sense, at all.”

Today most Catholic theologians and philosophers agree that it is not the job of science to make any reference to God, purpose, or intelligent design. Hence a scientific understanding of the lifeprocess may legitimately use explanatory categories such as “natural selection” rather than “divine guidance.” And it will speak of “chance” and “accident” rather than divine providence as it explains the diversity of life.

If some scientists go on to maintain that evolution is therefore conclusive evidence of a godless, purposeless universe, this is a leap into ideology, not a scientifically verifiable truth. Schönborn has every reason to defend Catholicism against materialist philosophy, since these are indeed incompatible. But he merely capitulates to the current confusion on evolution, and does no service to the nuances of Catholic thought, when he fails to distinguish neoDarwinian biology from the materialist spin that many scientists and philosophers place on evolutionary discoveries. Even if a great number of evolutionary biologists fail to make the proper distinction between science and materialism, this is no excuse for responsible religious thought espousing the same conceptual mix-up.

John Garvey (who is Orthodox) in Commonweal

The problem with the God rejected by Darwinian atheists and the God of those who believe in intelligent design is that neither is particularly biblical. (By the way, I think it is fair of those who believe in intelligent design to complain that they are not, as some allege, a wedge into the schools that will lead eventually to teaching biblical literalism. This is not, in fact, part of their argument, and the intelligent designer they posit has little to do with the God of the Bible.) The intelligent designer seen by both camps–rejected by one, accepted by the other–is essentially the God of the deists, a generally benign designer compelled to create the best of all possible worlds, a world in which profound flaws and seemingly mad design would be unthinkable. If intelligent design were science, if it could be supported by fact and not what amounts to aesthetic speculation, it might be a good argument for a Gnostic demiurge, a deranged creator-god. Yes, the intricacy of the eye and the elegance of flagella are amazing and the details beautiful. But a designer with his, her, or its hand in at this clockwork level could surely do something to prevent anencephalic babies or Alzheimer’s disease. What about all the apparently useless parts of the DNA strand? Couldn’t praying mantises have been designed with a way to mate that didn’t require the female to devour the head of the male during intercourse? I’ve seen a mother hamster devouring her young with blank eyes, preferable to grief, I guess, under the circumstances. The designer’s eye is upon the sparrow, the mantis, the mother hamster eating her young, the brainless baby.

Arguments at this level are more philosophical than scientific. The philosophical argument seems to be based on a kind of aesthetics–an aesthetic sense based in scientific observation, to be sure, but a little like this argument: Could blind chance produce something as beautiful as so many celestial phenomena are, or the Irish coast, or a sunset? I think not, but that’s not a scientific argument. A believing scientist will certainly delight in whatever beautiful thing is found under a microscope or deep in the cosmos, just as a believer thanks God for the music of Bach, and will see something of God’s glory there. But to say “this is so irreducibly complex and intricate that it must have been designed” does nothing to advance science, which still must connect the dots and describe in detail, and will not be helped by a designer-hypothesis that can be neither proved nor falsified. To say “this must have been designed” will always, at most, be a kind of chorus. You’ve heard of voodoo economics? This is karaoke science.

The God of the Bible is responsible for the world, but it is a world that has been wounded beyond comprehension by sin and evil. The whole of creation, Paul insists in the eighth chapter of Romans, groans as it waits for its true completion in God. When we study this creation we study something infinitely more mysterious–and torn and unfinished–than a well-designed machine; it is something at once wonderful and perishing and cannot be reduced to what science can see and tell us, either about randomness or design. The God of the Bible is not the prime mover of Greek philosophy or the benign provider of the deists. He appears in the burning bush and will not give his name. He wrestles with Jacob (who is Israel, the one who “contends with God”). This God has no handle–not designer, planner, nor architect, except as a fleeting metaphor. This God is unknowable, silent, suddenly appearing, interfering when unwanted and absent when wanted, always elusive–and this tricky one is responsible for the universe. In Jesus Christ we are invited to call this God our Father, a father whose son was crucified to begin the release of the universe from the bondage Paul tells us about, inviting us to await a goodness that is only dawning, and certainly can’t be seen clearly under a microscope.

Finally, writer John McMullen in Catholic Exchange

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Kevin Jones

posted August 16, 2005 at 10:18 am

My two cents of turgidity:
The problem here is that science is the only “public philosophy” allowed nowadays. This is why, among other things, we talk about health instead of ethics when we discuss human flourishing. The scientific method brackets the field of enquiry, trading truth for precise measurement, repeatability, and so forth, and this circumscription is recapitulated in our very political system, which likewise brackets off certain areas as supposedly having no bearing on politics. And notice how the tabulation of votes is just another scientific collection of data.
So those who bring philosophical questions into the mix are challenging not only ill-considered scientism, but the foundations of modern political philosophy itself. So while the details of the debate seem quite boring to me, the debate itself is very interesting.

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posted August 16, 2005 at 10:24 am

Leave it to Catholic Exchange to present the least articulate, most poorly reasoned, most absurd take of four you’ve cited.
The other comments are so well-spoken, that the CE presentation is just embarrassing to us as Catholics.
“People who I think believe in Intelligent Design, although they never really spoke to it and I never really asked them, did good things. So, we must teach Intelligent Design “theory” in science class”

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Cranky Lawyer

posted August 16, 2005 at 10:29 am

I couldn’t find the text you quoted in the article. Where did you find that quote?

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posted August 16, 2005 at 10:37 am

Cranky, I’m paraphrasing. The quotation marks are meant to distinguish what I believe the CE poster is saying from my own belief.
He starts out by asserting that ID is an area of scientific inquiry that must not be rejected by scientists and must be held up right alongside evolution.:
“So if Intelligent Design is also a theory, then why must one trump the other? To be credible, a scientist must keep all possible options on the table for examination. Therefore it would be ridiculous to simply dismiss the concept of a Creator because, as one scientist put it, “there is no concrete evidence supporting it” [Intelligent Design]. There is no concrete evidence denying it either.”
To the extent he has a point, I think it’s contained in his final two paragraphs, which boil down to “believers in evolution do bad, believers in ID do good”:
“Random acts of violence, drive by shootings, and other irrational acts have become commonplace. If we teach young people that there is no order or purpose to the universe or to their own lives, why be shocked when they act as though there is no higher purpose than the creation of more chaos?”
“In contrast, those who believe in an Intelligent Designer of the universe tend to do the most for the good of all humankind. It is only logical that one would want to extend the order of the heavens to the order of the earth. Social justice, the elimination of war and poverty, stewardship of the earth’s resources are all values held deeply by believers. One need only to point out the lives of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II for verification. How many people — believers and non-believers alike — praised both of these persons of faith for their work here on earth? Their work was inspired, not by theories of random chance, but by the Intelligent Design Theory — or as we believers would say, the God of Intelligent Design.”
That’s right up there with Tom Delay blaming the Columbine shooting on the teaching of evolution in schools.

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posted August 16, 2005 at 10:38 am

The anti intelligent design authors are sophistical in the extreme. Take this one for example “This God has no handle–not designer, planner, nor architect, except as a fleeting metaphor. This God is unknowable, silent, suddenly appearing, interfering when unwanted and absent when wanted, always elusive–and this tricky one is responsible for the universe.”
Nice waxing negative theology, but contradictory of Scripture and Tradition. Take the Thomistic analsysis: “I answer that, Our natural knowledge begins from sense. Hence our natural knowledge can go as far as it can be led by sensible things. But our mind cannot be led by sense so far as to see the essence of God; because the sensible effects of God do not equal the power of God as their cause. Hence from the knowledge of sensible things the whole power of God cannot be known; nor therefore can His essence be seen. But because they are His effects and depend on their cause, we can be led from them so far as to know of God “whether He exists,” and to know of Him what must necessarily belong to Him, as the first cause of all things, exceeding all things caused by Him.
Hence we know that His relationship with creatures so far as to be the cause of them all; also that creatures differ from Him, inasmuch as He is not in any way part of what is caused by Him; and that creatures are not removed from Him by reason of any defect on His part, but because He superexceeds them all. “

Now certainly I can understand why the Orthodox, or even the non-Christian are not too big on the authority of St. Thomas, but on the matter of questions like the Eternity of the World, to elide his significance, and the degree to which his answers to the “two truths” are normative for Billions of Catholics around the world, and strongly persuasive to many others, is patent misrepresentation–all one needs do is consult the Magisterium on statements adverting to this understanding: “a third rule is grounded in the “fear of God” whose transcendent sovereignty and provident love in the governance of the world reason must recognize.” and “Having affirmed that with their intelligence human beings can “know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements… the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts” (Wis 7:17, 19-20)—in a word, that he can philosophize—the sacred text takes a significant step forward. Making his own the thought of Greek philosophy, to which he seems to refer in the context, the author affirms that, in reasoning about nature, the human being can rise to God: “From the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wis 13:5). This is to recognize as a first stage of divine Revelation the marvellous “book of nature”, which, when read with the proper tools of human reason, can lead to knowledge of the Creator. If human beings with their intelligence fail to recognize God as Creator of all, it is not because they lack the means to do so, but because their free will and their sinfulness place an impediment in the way.”
To pretend that Intelligent Design is a novelty, and that the questions it points to have never been addressed before, is just disingenous.

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posted August 16, 2005 at 10:51 am

I don’t see why the evidence for intelligent design is not examined and discussed more objectively. If nothing else the examples put forward for design point out deficiencies in evolutionary theory which should be addressed.

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posted August 16, 2005 at 10:51 am

I can only say that I am very confused as to why this is a controversy. Scientists investigate how things work. Theologians say “wow! So, that’s how God did that!”. I can see no contradiction between the Christian vision of an Intelligently designed world which suffered a Fall and any scientific facts or theories. Why do we act like they are contradictory?? Two seperate fields doing two seperate things. If only naturalists would stop pretending they could disprove the supernatural AND VICE VERSE.

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Henry Dieterich

posted August 16, 2005 at 11:11 am

I have posted before on the evolution question, and I have been thinking of doing so again. There is far too much in these articles to handle in a comment. Mr. Wieseltier’s discussion (such as it is reproduced here) appears to be fairly sensible, although I would not agree that Kant has the final say on anything or that any legitimate hermeneutics of Scripture could be extended to cover an eternal universe. To give a hint of one reaction to this discussion: Perhaps the argument from the beauty of creation is being put backwards. The natural phenomena that we admire and value for their beauty and order are taken as evidence of the intelligence of the Creator; but is it not all the more wonderful that we can perceive and value beauty? Where did this ability come from, and can it be imagined to originate in a purely random and mechanistic universe?

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Dorian Speed

posted August 16, 2005 at 12:04 pm

Henry, that is what I wonder about, too – the ability to perceive and wonder at the beauty of Creation. Where is love supposed to have come from? Are my feelings of tenderness towards my daughter and desire for her to recover from the Day of Barfing merely the result of the molecules of my body interacting in the way that is most likely to ensure that my genes are carried on to the next generation?
This all seems tied to the idea of “memes,” which, if I accurately recall my Daniel Dennett from my collegiate days (unlikely), is the idea that all ideas are the result of the physical interactions of our brains. Brains find that certain memes keep them functioning more smoothly, so they assimilate memes from other people. Or something along those lines.
In essence – the evolutionary perspective seems to reduce us to pure materialism, in which everything can be explained as the result of the workings of our physical bodies. I just can’t make the big cognitive leap that every arational thought I’ve ever had (“This music brings me to tears!” “I wonder if they are gossiping about my hair?” “I forgive you for not running the dishwasher.”) was just the result of…my genes expressing themselves?
That seems like just as big a leap – to wipe away all the mysticism and transcendence that most of humanity has experienced at some point or another and say it’s all just neutrons firing. How is it a greater leap to posit the existence of a soul?

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Mark Shea

posted August 16, 2005 at 12:24 pm

Doesn’t this simply boil down to saying, “It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the word “God” means that He is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed, there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.”
It’s the very first objection in the Summa, and St. Thomas deals with it rather reasonably. This particular argument against Intelligent Design just transposes it into a different key: “Why would God let anything bad happen to his creatures?”

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John Farrell

posted August 16, 2005 at 12:49 pm

“Why would God let anything bad happen to his creatures?”
Right. But it’s not a scientific question. I think scientists turn around and (annoyingly) ask it though, because they sense theists insist that science bow to philsophical conclusions which by their nature cannot be tested.
Myself, I believe in Design. I don’t have to call it intelligent either. But as Newman said, I believe the world is designed because I believe in God–with my entire being, mind, heart, soul and senses. But that doesn’t mean I think it can be tested in a lab. In fact, I think God would find that presumptuous (to say nothing of insulting).

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Susan Peterson

posted August 16, 2005 at 2:22 pm

Mr. Dieterich gets to the crux of the matter.
Can an intelligence and a spirit which wants to know, to understand, and to thank and praise, be produced merely as a result of chance forces? What would it mean if we humans “by nature desire to know” and to know is the knowledge of beginnings and of causes..and yet knowledge did not exist? What would it mean if “our hearts are restless til we rest in You” but there is nowhere to rest, noone to thank or praise? Aristotle says “thought is drawn by the objects of thought, as love by the objects of love” which would mean that the desire to know is aroused in us by knowable things, by knowledge which is possible. By (considerable) extension,(I am quoting him only for his epistemology, not the nature of his universe without beginning or end) our longing for God is drawn from us by God. Or the universe is not a “kosmos”, an ordered whole. If it is not, we are strangers in it, random productions, whose desire to know,love, and praise, has no object,no meaning, and no answer. We are left “to observe the strange vegetation of that waterless desert where the confines of thought have been reached.” Ultimately I believe it takes something like faith, not theological faith perhaps, but a faith like trust that the universe is a kosmos and we have a place in it, and that therefore our desire to know exists because there are answers, and our desire to thank and praise exists also for a reason. The nature of human beings even more than the nature of the universe, testifies to the existance of God.
Susan Peterson

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c matt

posted August 16, 2005 at 4:26 pm

I don’t know, to me it always seems the two (science and theology) kind of talk past each other (mostly science talking past theology). Crudely, science deals with the how, theology with the why.
The “how” of the Mona Lisa is pigmentation applied to canvas created by mixtures of various chemicals arranged in a particular pattern that reflect light onto the retina that is then processed by the brain into said recognized pattern.
Decent scientific explanation – but it still doesn’t answer why he painted the dang picture the way he did in the first place (although the movie Hudson Hawk provides humurous speculation).

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Shaun G

posted August 16, 2005 at 5:32 pm

I don’t understand how critics of Intelligent Design Theory get away so easily with saying that it’s more a philosophical argument than a scientific one.
The meat of IDT is the science of pattern recognition — that is, determining whether a given pattern (e.g. a DNA sequence) shows signs of being designed.
Pattern recognition is indeed hard science. Ever watch an episode of “CSI”? Guess what they’re doing. They’re looking for patterns. They’re determining, for instance, whether a fire was an accident or an arson (a designed fire). Similarly, the science of pattern recognition is all the rage among computer scientists who write speech-recognition or fingerprint-recognition software.
Granted, the final result will always be a probability and not a fact. But same with lots of science.

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John Farrell

posted August 16, 2005 at 8:55 pm

There are natural patterns in nature. They don’t need supernatural explanations.

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posted August 16, 2005 at 11:09 pm

“I don’t understand how critics of Intelligent Design Theory get away so easily with saying that it’s more a philosophical argument than a scientific one.”
How about because it is true?
Where is the testable hypothesis? Where is the predictive value of the theory? Evolution tells me to expect speciation. And we have seen it occur in recent years. ID tells me to expect what?
If you can’t measure it, or test it, or, in principle, refute it, it isn’t science. ID is not testable, nor measureable, nor refutable. It is philosophy, not science.

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Alan K. Henderson

posted August 17, 2005 at 12:06 am

One religious objection I hear from some Protestants is that evolution theory generally assumes a world in which death existed prior to the appearance of humanity – and thus prior to the Fall in Eden. I already know the atheist response – no Eden, no Fall. But what do Catholics and other Christians think of this line of reasoning?

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posted August 17, 2005 at 12:24 am

“But what do Catholics and other Christians think of this line of reasoning?”
The Church does not teach that Genesis is a literal representation of history. Catholics are not bound to a fundamentalist literal view, though they are not prohibited from it either. It is acceptable to view the two creation stories in Genesis in their allegorical, anagogical, and moral senses without admitting the validity of a literal interpretation as a historical document.

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c matt

posted August 17, 2005 at 8:30 am

Evolution tells me to expect speciation. And we have seen it occur in recent years.
An example would be interesting. I have heard of micro-evolutionary examples, but not macro ones. (by speciation do you mean one member of the once identical species can no longer produce offspring with another?)

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posted August 17, 2005 at 10:19 am

Well, a careful reading of Genesis will definitely point to some interesting things. The creation of the world, while most assuredly dealing with that specific also points to the Jewish foundation of the Sabbath (and God rested on the seventh day). The names Adam (“adamah”, or “earth”) and Eve (“chavah”, from a Hebrew root that denotes “life”) are in a way the story of every human being’s creation by God, rise and fall in response to the call of God.
Throw in the fact that for Jews the defining event is the Exodus, which shaped them as a people and that Genesis was written later, we have the development of religious “myth”, as a vehicle to bear divine truth without necessarily being exactly literal in every sense.
What we as Catholics and Christians DO have, however, no matter how we see the “intelligent design” and “evolution” issues, is that God chose in Jesus Christ to share the very humaness of our condition, to the point of death. Perhaps that’s why St. Paul, brilliant man that he was, could say “I have decided to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified” because in the mystery of the cross is the only definite answer we will get this side of heaven — no matter what our circumstances, God will not abandon us here and will bring us to the fullness of life after our earthly sojourn.
The rest, including the mystery of sin, is something we have to live with on this side of the divide.

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Patrick Sweeney

posted August 17, 2005 at 8:56 pm

This sort of an analysis has it backwards: start with a belief in God (or denial of God’s existence) and back into the observable data.
The reason for ID is the observable data that classical Darwinism couldn’t explain: It was based that as things got smaller, things got simpler. This is not the case which is why the Neo-Darwinists react to complexity like it’s kryptonite. Another classical Darwinian pillar is random (and for practical purposes uniform) rate of useful mutations but the fossil record doesn’t show this, hence the current scramble to get a version of Darwinism that conforms to the actual fossil record.

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posted August 18, 2005 at 2:20 am

I don’t get the beef that would supposedly occur between John Cardinal Newman and Cardinal Schonborn….

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posted August 19, 2005 at 9:03 am

My brain is still hurting from trying to follow all the arguments on the various threads re ID/evolution. My problem is that I need to know what to teach my children. Basically, I try to teach them what the Church says Catholics are required to believe and encourage them to research and investigate where the Church has not spoken. However, I am concerned about how to help them resist the constant propaganda for Godless evolution. Evolution permeates the secular educational materials. It is not just in science, it is in every subject. Propaganda is hard to resist. I have taught my children at home for nearly 20 years and still have several more years ahead. I seem to have done an adequate job with my older children, but I am always trying to do better. I wonder if people would have recommendations about good materials, faithful to the teachings of the Church?

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