I have been deliberating on the address of Pope John Paul II delivered to the Pontifical Academy of Science, on 22 Oct 1996 and have been unable to understand two of his points. Can you help me to understand them?

I quote the Pope:

1) As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.

I do not believe that any scientist, including Darwin has ever spoken that the spirit emerges from matter. This is quite unscientific, so where does the Pope get this idea?

In the beginning of the next paragraph, the Pope says:

2) With man, we find ourselves facing a different ontological order-an ontological leap, we could say. But in posing such a great ontological discontinuity, are we not breaking up the physical continuity which seems to be the main line of research about evolution in the fields of physics and chemistry?

What does the Pope mean by the ontological leap or discontinuity?

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Replies to This Discussion

He's confused and keeping his sheep confused is beneficial to his position

As with most of the things which JPII had to say about science, he doesn't know what he is talking about.

First of all, the theory (singular) of evolution doesn't arise from philosophy but from observation, experiment, analysis, and peer review.  To my knowledge, it doesn't treat with the concept of "spirit" at all, nor is that part of its purpose or mandate.  If Wojtyla wants to equate "spirit" with consciousness (which I emphatically do NOT), then again he is in the wrong field. Neuroscience, while a young discipline, is far better equipped to identify and quantify the nature of consciousness and how it develops or, in JPII's words, "emerges from matter."

While I am no neuroscientist, I am an engineer and I look at the brain as a highly sophisticated organic computer, with an evolving consciousness as its operating system.  A PC runs on power and has +5- and ±12-volt buses to power its circuitry.  Analogously, the brain obviously has its blood supply.  The computer has RAM (Random Access Memory) which is volatile and a hard disk drive or other non-volatile medium for storage.  The brain has its different sections: cerebellum, cerebrum, cortex and so on, ALL of which is volatile and utterly dependent on that aforementioned blood flow.  Pull the plug on the computer and whatever was in RAM is instantly LOST.  Cut off blood to the brain and, after a short march of minutes, the exact same thing happens - with NO hard drive to archive whatever was stored in those billions of neurons.

JPII and the rest of his ilk remain married to the idea of the immortality of the human animal because of their fear of death and simultaneous insistence on mechanisms of survival after death which they cannot demonstrate.  So they blow smoke by the cubic meter to obfuscate the issue in an attempt to maintain their illusion and the authority they hold onto from the promotion of that illusion.

News bulletin for Vatican City: no smoke around us, fellas ... and no spirit, either.  Just consciousness borne of a highly evolved neural system, which lasts for so many years, then fails, leaving nothing behind, other than memories in other similar neural systems.

Karol Wojtyla and his fellows should learn to cut with Occam's Razor ... not that they will.

Before addressing either question let me first assert that the dignity of man that John Paul II was supposedly so staunchly defending cannot be sustained by worshipping even the most perfect being. This is because a perfect being would find it wrong that others worshipped it. Instead, it would desire to inspire others to be its equal rather than that they lie prostrate before it. If they could not be its equal they still would be wrong to worship it. This is because it would have free will and, in this, could choose on a whim to be less than perfect.  Its good faith worshippers would then be left having blind faith in something they should instead be reprimanding. As such, although one should appreciate the goodness of others, worshipping even the most perfect of them would leave vulnerable the commitment of one to his or her personal dignity.


 Now for your questions -(It’s no wonder you don’t understand his points – They don’t make sense):


1.) He starts by wrongly professing that the theory of evolution necessitates that the self cannot exist independently from the physical. The theory of evolution has nothing to do with whether the self can exist independently from the physical. He then wrongfully professes that the self absolutely can exist independently from the physical. Science does not know enough about the nature of life to say absolutely whether the self can exist independently from the physical. He finally uses his wrong assumptions to wrongly conclude that, because the theory of evolution precludes the self from being able to exist independently from the physical when the self absolutely can exist independently from the physical, the theory of evolution cannot serve as the basis for human dignity. Of course his argument is ridiculous as it stands. However, let us add insult to injury: The question of whether the self can exist independently from the physical is completely immaterial to the basis for human dignity because true dignity comes from within a person in the form of self-respect whether he or she can exist independently from the physical or not.


2.) He is saying the same thing here as in item 1.) but in a different way (and it makes no more sense). When he says ‘ontological leap’ he is saying that we as humans can exist independently from the physical when all other science is bound to it. He then asks the rhetorical question of: 'Are we not in this ability to exist independently from the physical invalidating the theory of evolution which requires that we cannot exist independently from the physical?' Of course he uses the same two erroneous assumptions as in item 1.) to come to the same erroneous conclusion but in a different way. That is, the theory of evolution does not require that we cannot exist independently from the physical and he cannot legitimately say that we can exist independently from the physical so evolution is unharmed.

Thanks John. Your reply seems to answer my questions. Though I will need to deliberate more on your answers, your reply appears to be quite correct.




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