Schulerkreis, Mass Media and Mass Hysteria
by Michael Fishwick
The eagerly awaited discussions on Creation and evolution of the “Schulerkreis”, former doctoral students of His Holiness, Benedict XVI, have come and gone. These informal discussions, the subject matter of which is chosen by the former students, are held every year without great fanfare. Not surprisingly, this year’s topic generated wide ranging media interest and prediction that covered all possible outcomes.
The media frenzy was set rolling by the publication of an interview with Dr. Dominique Tassot, Kolbe Center Advisor and President of the French language association Centre d’Etude et de Prospectives sur la Science. Conducted by John L. Allen Jr., and published by the U.S. based National Catholic Reporter, the profound interview quickly spread across the world generating stories as far away as Europe and Australasia. ncronline.org/mainpage/specialdocuments/tassot_interview.pdf
Picked up first by the liberal, U.K. based, Guardian newspaper the secular, scientific and even some Catholic press speculated in turn whether the Vatican would now endorse a position of “Creationism”, “Intelligent Design”, or continue with an alleged acceptance of “Evolution”. This wide ranging spectrum of anticipation was expressed in even more wild terms across internet sites and discussion forums. Balanced, reasoned and informed articles were few and far between. One article on a respected internet site even managed to report that Dr. Tassot is an evolution supporting Catholic scientist before being corrected! The New York Times, for instance, sought out, and were granted twenty minute interviews with both Dominique Tassot and Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. The resulting article gave each of them an over generous two sentences from forty minutes of interview time whilst the article’s general tone and contributed quotes denigrating the Traditional understanding of Genesis and the theory of Intelligent Design flowed freely. Kolbe Center Advisor Dr. Robert Bennett comments upon sections of the NYT article at Catholic Truths – “NY Times Spins the Pope and Evolution”. www.veritas-catholic.blogspot.com
The Reuters news agency went even further and by partially quoting one of the participants, Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., mixing this with its own comments and probably adding its own choice of context gave the impression that the Church did not even believe in revelation as contained in Holy Scripture.
The three-day closed-door meeting at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome ended as planned without drawing any conclusions but the group plans to publish its discussion papers, said Father Joseph Fessio S.J.
Media speculation had said the debate might shift Vatican policy to embrace “intelligent design,” which claims to prove scientifically that life could not have simply evolved, or even the “creationist” view that God created the world in six days.
“It wasn’t that at all,” Fessio, who is provost of Ave Maria University in Florida, told Reuters by telephone from Rome. The Pope’s session with 39 former students was “a meeting of friends with some scholars to discuss an interesting theme”.
“We did not really speak much about intelligent design,” said Fessio, whose Ignatius Press publishes the Pope’s books in English. “In fact, that particular controversy did not arise.”
Creationism — the view that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible — was “almost off the radar screen of the people in this group,” he added. The Catholic Church does not read the Genesis account of creation literally.
Fessio said Benedict took part in the discussions but said nothing different from previous public statements, in which he has recognized evolution as a scientific fact but argued that God ultimately created the world and all life in it.
Notwithstanding Reuters’ purposely cloudy use of the term “evolution”, even though it is now publicly known that His Holiness specifically distinguishes between the fact of microevolution and the fantasy of macroevolution, it is somehow hard to believe that Fr. Fessio would apparently state that the Traditional Catholic understanding of Genesis was “almost off the radar screen”. It seems far more likely that this comment should be seen in context of the preceding paragraph where he is quoted as saying that the controversy belonging to the teaching of Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Theory within the American public school system did not arise. Surely it was the public controversy in America that was “off the radar screen”.
One glaring omission from the various analyses issued so far is that if His Holiness does indeed distinguish between microevolution and the philosophical notion of macroevolution – and several friends of the Kolbe Center who know him assure us that he does – it would seem highly improbable that he would favor an unsupportable and ancient notion, that has constantly attacked the belief of Christendom and Divine Revelation itself, over the faith of the Church. It has long been reported that one of the greatest wishes of His Holiness is an end to the Eastern Schism and to see the return of the Eastern Orthodox to union with the See of Peter. The Orthodox churches lean heavily upon the Patristic witness and faith of the Fathers. It is certainly true that the modernist spirit has been at work in the East as well but the groundswell of Orthodox belief still strongly affirms the traditional understanding of Genesis. It is clear that the reunion of the East with the Church can not happen without the Latin Church strongly affirming the Faith in its integrity.
The strength of the Orthodox churches continues to grow throughout the ex-Soviet bloc. Two years ago the Orthodox Minister for Education in Serbia, Dr. Ljiljana Colic reintroduced the teaching of religion to the school system and banned the teaching of the Theory of Evolution for the rest of that year in preparation for its resumption only if taught critically alongside the overwhelming scientific evidence that points to the truth of Genesis. Unfortunately, under intense pressure from powerful groups within and without Serbia, her policy was overturned but the fact of Orthodoxy’s growing strength was well noted by all. msnbc.msn.com/id/5932128
Just last month Greece’s international English language newspaper, Kathimerini, reported that the teaching of the Theory of Evolution within the Greek school system was not included in senior high school textbooks much to the consternation of a small group of around two hundred and fifty university academics. Junior level high school textbooks cover the theory but the newspaper indicates that students are not tested on it and it is often not taught at all. Apparently many teachers in Greece do not consider evolutionary notions to be of value in the real world. www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_100003_12/08/2006_73131
Around eighteen months ago a delegation from the Kolbe Center were invited to Orthodox Russia to participate in an important Creation conference after which our Director and members were received at a reception hosted by Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II. Amongst the thousand or so Orthodox Bishops, priests and intellectuals in attendance were Dr. Colic who had traveled from Serbia and Fr. Constantine Bufeev who had organized the conference. www.kolbecenter.org/owen.nl7.feb2005.htm
It became abundantly clear from that moment that if His Holiness wished to attempt a rapprochement with the Orthodox then the perennial doctrinal certitude of the literal, historic truth of the Genesis account of Creation and early history would be an absolutely essential requirement from which to proceed. Fr. Bufeev, who holds a Ph.D in geology, published an article written by Kolbe Center Director, Hugh Owen, to which he added a foreword. Fr. Bufeev wrote:
Orthodox Christians are very glad to observe such a spiritually healthy current in the bosom of the Western Church. If it is possible to achieve a theological reunification of East and West, it is only feasible in one way: through a . . . return to primordial Revelation as contained in the sources of apostolic dogma.
In the following link a powerful article penned by Fr. Bufeev tells us “Why An Orthodox Christian Can Not Be An Evolutionist”. Although aimed at an Orthodox audience there is nothing in this text that does not equally apply to a Catholic who attempts philosophical somersaults in order to arrive at a forced marriage between the Faith and an unscientific philosophy wildly extrapolated from the biological functions of the process of microevolution. www.creatio.orthodoxy.ru/sbornik/sbufeev_whynot_english.html
“Flee from delirious ideas of philosophers who are not ashamed to say that their soul and a dog’s soul are alike and that they were fish”. St Basil the Great.