J. Mullan responds to letter by H. Owen and R. Bennett (NOR Sept. 2003)
than half of the NOR letter by Owen and Bennett (hereafter OB) has to do with
difficulties they express concerning the wording of my quotes from two
encyclicals: Providentissimus Deus (PD) and Humani Generis (HG). Because OB cannot locate certain
specific words of mine in the English translations to which they refer, they
accuse me of a number of things: misquoting the Pope’s words, cavalier
treatment of a papal encyclical, using a Protestant clergyman as a source, and
using “a source unknown”. These accusations by OB can be refuted simply by
citing the reference work I use for my translation of the encyclicals.
use “The Church Teaches: Documents of the Church in English Translation” by
John F. Clarkson et al. (of St Mary’s College, St Mary’s Kansas), first published in 1955
by Herder Book Company. The original book appeared with the Imprimi
Potest and Nihil Obstat issued by religious superiors, as well as the
Imprimatur of Edmund J. Hunkeler, Archbishop of
Kansas City. The book was reissued by TAN books in 1973, and it is the TAN
version that I use for my citations.
words “irrefutable evidence” are not “source unknown”,
contrary to the claim of OB. Instead, they appear on p. 50 (para.
106) of the TAN version of the English translation of PD.
OB claim that the quotation I
cite from HG “However, it is not right to judge them by modern standards of
historical composition” is “CERTAINLY NOT IN HG” (my emphasis added). However, OB regard
it as significant that “the phrase does appear in a fundamentalist commentary
on HG by a contemporary English vicar”. OB claim that I deceive
readers by “masquerading as a direct quotation from the encyclical”, with the
implication that I rely on a Protestant clergyman for my source. But as any
reader may verify, my quotation comes word-for-word from page 65 (para. 141) of The Church Teaches.
OB claim that I mislead readers by citing from
HG some words that appeared originally
in a letter from PCBS to the Archbishop of Paris. OB suggest
that I am quoting the words from that letter as if they were the Pope’s own
words. This is not a serious charge: since the Pope refers directly to the PCBS
letter in his encyclical HG, whether OB like it or not, the
Pope is in essence making the words of PCBS his own.
OB also criticize me for changing the indefinite
article “a” to the definite article “the”: this is entirely frivolous. As members of the Roman Catholic Church, we
believe that the official teachings of the Church are contained in the Latin
documents in Acta Apost. Sedis.
Now, there are no articles in the Latin language: therefore, definite and
indefinite articles are both acceptable English translations.
OB charge me with altering the meaning of HG by
choosing certain phrases. But I chose my abbreviated words so as to preserve
the meaning of HG faithfully. OB have not demonstrated that
my abbreviated version is in any meaningful sense a departure from the true
meaning of the HG text.
let me turn to OB’s discussion of scientific subjects. Here the discussion of OB reveals a significant lack
of scientific understanding.
first step OB take is to fall back on a criticism of the uniformitarian
principle, which, according to OB, is “indemonstrable”. But this is not true. In
every star or galaxy that has ever had its spectrum taken, the spectral lines
appear in certain patterns, occupying a series of wavelengths which are always
in the same ratio to one another. There are identifiable lines of magnesium,
carbon, calcium, hydrogen, silicon, and many other elements: although they may
all be shifted to red or blue due to various physical effects, nevertheless the
mutual ratios of the wavelengths of all these lines are preserved. This means
that atomic structure in many different elements follows the same laws out to
the edge of the entire universe that is accessible to our largest telescopes.
This is surely an indication of the operation of the uniformitarian
principle on the grandest possible scale.
OB refer to the decay of the Earth’s magnetic
field, claiming that it is “impossible to explain within a gigayear
framework”. This is a well-known canard that fundamentalists like to cite, but
it merely reveals their ignorance of the temporal behavior of the Earth’s
magnetic field. The field strength in fact is known to increase and decrease
over the centuries. The canard arises because creationists concentrate on the
measurements of the field over the last 100 years or so, and then they extrapolate
these measurements to thousands and millions of years in the past. This is
silly, as an analogy with the tides in the ocean can demonstrate. If one were
to examine the incoming tide on a beach for a short period of time, say an hour
or two, and then extrapolate over weeks or months, one could arrive at the
conclusion that the ocean would rise to cover the Rocky Mountains.
OB say that the Earth may be the center of the Universe, because “no
physics experiment has ever detected whether the Earth is stationary (at the
center) or in motion”. OB do not say how they
interpret the observations of regular patterns of stellar motion due to annual
parallax and the aberration of light. Astronomers have been measuring these now
for 2-3 centuries, and both of them are signs of Earth’s orbital motion. Nor do OB mention how they interpret what the twelve
astronauts saw when they stood on the Moon and looked back at Earth: the Earth
was not stationary, but rotated about its axis before their very eyes once
every 24 hours.
OB claim that the “Earth is the focus of physical creation”, because
Robert Bellarmine said that 400 years ago. This argument
makes no sense. The fact of being a cardinal (or even a saint) does not confer
infallibility concerning the physical world. Pope Leo XIII recognized in his
encyclical PD that human understanding about the physical world changes with
time. In choosing to espouse beliefs such as the fixity of the Earth at the
center of the Universe, the Kolbe Center runs the risk of making itself
a laughing stock in the eyes of reasonable people. In a society where people
have watched spacecraft travel to the outer planets (based on the laws of
Newton), how many people does the Kolbe Center think it can convince that the
Sun is not the principal body which controls the motion of bodies in the solar
regards the 15 points based on cosmic data in the talk at the First Kolbe
Conference (June 2001), I stand by my claim that a correct interpretation of each
point according to the laws of physics does not at all point towards a young
Earth. If the Kolbe Center wishes to have a debate on the merits of the case,
let’s find people who have demonstrated expertise in the 15 fields of science
mentioned in the cosmic data talk and then see how best to interpret the data
in accord with the laws of physics.
Dermott J Mullan,