Richard Dawkins debated Cardinal George Pell of Australia on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Q & A” tomorrow, and the Cardinal got it wrong. Dawkins is right. There must have been a moment when the discontinuity spoken of by John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences became evident, the moment of transition from non-human Homo sapiens to human Homo sapiens. For, as John Paul II so clearly stated in his address:
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? An appreciation for the different methods used in different fields of scholarship allows us to bring together two points of view which at first might seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure, with ever greater precision, the many manifestations of life, and write them down along the time-line. The moment of passage into the spiritual realm is not something that can be observed in this way — although we can nevertheless discern, through experimental research, a series of very valuable signs of what is specifically human life. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-consciousness and self-awareness, of moral conscience, of liberty, or of aesthetic and religious experience — these must be analyzed through philosophical reflection, while theology seeks to clarify the ultimate meaning of the Creator’s designs. [my italics]
Pretend as much as he likes, he still needs that “moment of passage into the spiritual realm,” and this no amount of metaphysical or philosophical reflection will show him. Presumably, then, it is only man as conceived by the church, the being with “self-consciousness and self-awareness, … moral conscience, … liberty, … aesthetic and religious experience,” that will qualify, but when do we reach this stage? Where is the ontological discontinuity, the difference in being? To this there is no answer, and can be none.
Nevertheless, Cardinal Pell tried very hard to slip away, by speaking, in Aristotelian language, about the soul as the principle of life, as though Catholics do not make a crucial ontological distinction between human life and all other forms of life. Plants, too, have a principle of life. Do they also have souls? I guess he simply missed this part of his theological training! Here he is trying to wriggle off the hook that Dawkins had caught him on, but, if you pay attention, you can still see him wiggling at the end of the line, very much caught!
The whole hour is well worth watching. The voters got it right. The world really is no better off because of religion, and may be a great deal worse. We really don’t know yet. Indeed, the world still doesn’t know how to function without religion, and most people are still afraid to let go; but we’re learning.