the evolution of catholic thought

According to the New York Times, there are signs that Catholics might be preparing to follow the fundamentalist Christians through the looney door and into the fantasy world where evolution doesn’t exist. Here’s a clip:

An influential cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, which has long been regarded as an ally of the theory of evolution, is now suggesting that belief in evolution as accepted by science today may be incompatible with Catholic faith.

Maybe I’m just naive, but if the Catholic church is infallible, and if they, until now, supported evolution, how is it that can they can now change course?

On this same subject, a few decades ago, I remember sitting through a lecture during which someone made the claim that, centuries ago, the Catholic church maintained that male and female infants were “ensouled” at different times. Males, I believe, were ensouled at 30-some days after birth, whereas females took considerably longer. It’s something that I’ve been meaning to go back and research for years now, but I’ve just never had the opportunity… If you have a suggestion as to where I would look for such information, let me know.

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  1. Jim
    Posted July 12, 2005 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Following Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas held that male fetuses were ensouled, or “animated,” at 40 days, and females at 90 days. Neither this idea nor the popes’ endorsements of evolutionary theory were ever made official Church teaching.

  2. dorothy
    Posted July 12, 2005 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    it’s a common misconception about infallibility—the church is not infallible, nor is the pope himself. it is only when he speaks ex cathedra is the teaching considered infallible. ex cathedra statements are very rare and done only after much study and prayer. see, being raised catholic comes in handy occasionally.

  3. Doug Skinner
    Posted July 12, 2005 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Also — infallibility was not accepted as doctrine until 1870, and then only after much opposition. It also doesn’t mean the Pope is correct, only that he asserts his authority. In theological lingo, it doesn’t mean impeccability or inspiration.

    At any rate, the Vatican has changed its mind about many things over the centuries — as it would have to do to keep alive.

  4. john galt
    Posted July 12, 2005 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    First I’ve heard of ensouling.. If that actually is Catholic Doctorine, then whats wrong with abortion (besides having a negative effect on the number of Catholics).. Us protestants think much of Catholic doctorine is loony.

  5. john galt
    Posted July 12, 2005 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Just wondering if the Ensouling thing was thought up to support the ability to create Golems (think thats Judaic).

  6. john galt
    Posted July 12, 2005 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Another thought, if you are ensouled after birth, why are responsible for original sin? Also where do the souls come from? If god created only 2 ppl, and you don’t believe in reincarnation, how does the number of souls continue to grow to support the birth rate? Also are the souls of men the same as the souls of nephelim? raises a bunch of questions if soul!=life. Is a souless man sentient (is sentience a function of possesing a soul or is just a biological effect) Do androids dream of electric sheep?

  7. mark
    Posted July 12, 2005 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for straightening me out on infallibility, everyone. And thank you, Jim, for pointing out the fact that neither evolution nor ensoulment were ever part of the official Catholic teachings. I guess I knew that evolution wasn’t, but I did think that the ensoulment thing had its roots in official Catholic doctrine. Anyway, thanks for setting me straight.

    As for you Doug, I like your point about the Catholic church evolving to stay alive. It’s ironic, though, that in this instance it’s evolving into a stance against evolution. If there is a God, I have to think that he’d find some humor in that.

  8. chris
    Posted July 12, 2005 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    OK, the Catholics will not believe in evolution (though I learnted it from a nun), I suppose nex t they are going to tell me that the aplle Eve ate was just an apple.

    Fascinating that the ensoulment of women comes later in fetal development than it does in men, seeing as all fetuses(fetii?), are initially female until sex selection later on in utero. Ya ever wonder why you have those nipples fellas?

  9. mark
    Posted July 12, 2005 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t think it was in utero, Chris. I thought ensoulment took place after birth. I suspect they said this at the time due to high infant mortality rates, or something. My guess is that it made parents feel better to think that their children hadn’t gotten their souls yet when they lost them in those first few months… At least that’s my guess.

  10. Doug Skinner
    Posted July 12, 2005 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    We agnostics think both Catholic and Protestant doctrine is loony. In fact, I suspect all doctrine is. But that makes sense; since if there is a god, it’s obviously insane.

    The Vatican, whatever its faults, is not stocked with morons, and doesn’t ignore social and scientific progress. I’ll be curious to see how this plays out. So far, this is one cardinal; maybe he was just riffing.

    I thought I had nipples to make me more beautiful.

    And John — the Golem is indeed an old Jewish legend, usually
    told about Rabbi Loew of Prague. The Golem had no soul; he was created from clay and magic words, and had to be destroyed when he went berserk. Remember that before you start experimenting.

  11. Posted July 13, 2005 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I have to say that I was taught evolution and went to a Catholic school for 12 years.

    And regarding “loony,” I guess it’s all in what you’re used to/raised with.

  12. Jim
    Posted July 13, 2005 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    No, Aquinas wrote that ensoulment happened 40-90 days after conception. It makes sense that ensoulment occurs after conception–otherwise identical twins would share a soul!

    I don’t know what are good sources to recommend on this topic, but this article might be a good place to start:

  13. Posted July 13, 2005 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I have heard some Buddhist teachings which were somewhat similiar, it was said that the fetal material turns from “yoghurt to meat”, I guess in other words becomes actually viable, at around 90 days. However they believe the particular personality is associated with it from conception

  14. dorothy
    Posted July 13, 2005 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    the idea of evolution posits a far more powerful and sophisticated god than one who just waves his hand and a human appears. how much more complicated to set a few atoms in motion with an end in mind.

  15. chris
    Posted July 13, 2005 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Amen Dorothy.

    Yes Doug, the nipples do make you more beautiful.

    And jim, those darn Franciscans…of course, it all makes sense now.

  16. mark
    Posted July 13, 2005 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    My parents had my nipples removed at birth.

  17. chris
    Posted July 13, 2005 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Remember that James Bond from the 70’s, where Roger Moore peels off his disguise…a third nipple.

  18. chris
    Posted July 13, 2005 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and BTW Dorothy. That’s what the nun (see earlier comment) said too!!!

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