Here is a criticism of evolutionary biology:
…it is also true that the theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory … We cannot haul 10,000 generations into the laboratory.
If a Bill Dembski or a Michael Egnor or a Ken Ham had said this — and it is exactly the kind of thing they would say — we’d be throwing rotten fruit at them and mocking their ignorance of how science works. Nothing is proven, it’s all provisional, but we do have an incredible amount of evidence in support of biology. This fellow is also deeply wrong about what we can do in the lab, and is overlooking the fact that not all science is something you do on a bench. Those statements are the kind of destructive nonsense the Discovery Institute uses, propaganda sown explicitly to spread excessive doubt where we should have very little, so that their vapid and useless ‘alternative’ theory looks a little more attractive. That quote is a stupid statement that ought to be ripped apart on the evolution blogs.
The critic, who if you haven’t figured it out yet is Pope Benedict XVI, goes on to make more assertions.
The question is not to either make a decision for a creationism that fundamentally excludes science, or for an evolutionary theory that covers over its own gaps and does not want to see the questions that reach beyond the methodological possibilities of natural science.
Those words could have come out of the mouth of Phillip Johnson. Of course our understanding of the world has gaps; science is a successful strategy for closing them, not a complete description of the state of the cosmos. It’s a pointless platitude to whine that there are possibilities beyond methodological naturalism when you can’t provide any. It doesn’t matter whether it is in defense of Intelligent Design creationism or Catholicism — those are philosophies that have failed to provide any insight into the machineries of the universe, and it’s contemptible and pathetic for advocates of supernaturalism to only look at the triumph of scientific thought to find the questions we’re still asking, and treat that as a weakness.
So why are some people treating this statement as a victory against Intelligent Design creationism? It’s true that the Pope did not endorse the specific organizations promoting anti-scientific nonsense, like the Discovery Institute or Answers in Genesis, but what he did say was superstitious pablum and a carefully phrased rebuke of science — he is actually backing away somewhat from the tepid support of a previous pope, and is providing consolation to creationist philosophy.
This provides no advantage to supporters of good science. We should not be treating it as even a marginal victory. What we have here is a superstitious old man with an exaggerated reputation making stupid remarks about biology that will impede our ability to inform people about science. We should not be nice to him. We should be clearly and vigorously repudiating the sanctimonious old fart’s proclamations.
Sometimes, though, our side has a regrettable tendency to make allies of the enemies of our enemies simply because they are disappointing the Discovery Institute. Ultimately, though, our enemies are not the propagandists of the DI, they are not the dishonest televangelists and wandering creationist preachers, they are not the people who have been duped by the misleading dogmas of the church — our enemies are bad ideas. The pope is a mouthpiece for bad ideas. When we go easy on bad ideas because they aren’t coming out of the mouths of the usual suspects, or because they’re said by someone who might support us in other ways, we have lost our perspective on what we are fighting for.