Meet Father Paul…
Father Paul, God-fearing English Catholic and unashamed advocate of Theistic Evolution, looked up from his heavily revised thesis, glanced towards his cluttered study’s window and reflected on his last eight years service at the Magis Centre for Reason and Faith.
This job was an ideal one for him. He was leading a stress free life, following his passions, exercising his mind and keeping faith with God, his way. Things were just as he wanted them.
It was undemanding work, this pondering over the beginning of life and explaining the latest scientific discoveries in a way that fit the institute’s brand of evolution. Let’s face it, if one overlooked the Old Testament and accepted evolution—the one as proven by science—but put God at the beginning of Creation, whenever that was, then there wasn’t much left to argue over. After all, who was going to prove what had happened 14.5 billion years ago, except by means of mathematical calculation?
Theistic evolution was a convenient theory, for sure. There wasn’t much to defend. The scientists could prove as much as they wanted to in any field, and it would fit. God was there at the beginning with a grand scheme in mind; whenever that beginning was; and before it.
Prove He wasn’t.
But the theory was convenient for other reasons. It had left him free to pursue the two other great loves of this life: restoring 20th Century automobiles and drinking whisky. For that, he felt blessed: his car collection was coming along nicely—he had even found some gasoline to fire up the Thunderbird the other day and what a treat that was!
At 60, though, life was catching up with him. His third hobby, boxing, was now a distant memory: his once fine physique now sagged under his cassock. All that was left was his bulk: he was still a bull of a man.
He blamed the sedentary lifestyle for that, and not having a flock to worry about, but he knew that, in truth, it was the whisky. Shame! If he had to give up one more of his hobbies, well he was sure it wouldn’t be the whisky. He had given up on snacking years ago. That left him with two out of the centre’s three meals a day. But he wondered for how much longer. He’d need to cut it back to one a day some time soon.
The PC pinged as it announced yet another mail, probably another demand to cut back on costs, to make the Centre more attractive to tourists or more relevant to theology students—quite possibly, all three. Father Paul thought to look at it. Instead, he got up from his chair, walked across to the window and looked out onto a dark and empty pod park.
He sighed. No one else bothered him these days: certainly not the students; for there weren’t any.
He walked back across the room and poured himself a whisky, an 18-year old, one of his genuine Irish single malts. Sipping from an antique glass tumbler, he took another look out of the window. It was still dark. 4.30 am. There was no movement anywhere, just a piece of paper floating across a tarmac that he knew would still feel warm to the touch, even at this hour. Still, it was breezy outside, he noted. Perhaps it would be cooler than yesterday; hopefully today it would stay below 100 degrees.
The PC pinged again, this time continuously. He ignored it and stroked his greying beard, willing his day-long hangover away, hoping that the next time he looked at his thesis, something would jump out at him; something he might have missed when he submitted the earlier version.
The PC pinging grew more urgent. Someone was demanding an immediate reply, despite the hour. He looked around his desk for his reading glasses.
It was a summons to New York, to attend a meeting at the Inter-Faith Council for Cooperation. … With the Budget Committee. … And then a meeting with HR.
So they were getting serious. It was no longer a matter of shaving a few cents or dollars from the operating budget. They were cutting his staff back again.
He sat down, heavily, facing the screen; an old flat screen parked in the middle of a pile of dusty briefs.
He read on. It looked as if this were the beginning of the end for the Magis Centre, the end of his ‘Career in Thought’.
He continued reading.
“… Estimate the cost of dismissing staff … Get multiple quotes for the transfer of the centre’s historical documents to St Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco. …”
He looked up. That could mean only one thing: the Council was finally cutting off the centre’s funding. That meant the Centre would need to close.
The centre was closing?
He sat back in his chair and drained his tumbler.
So! This wasn’t the beginning of the end, this was the end. His years of quiet contemplation and mulling over of his centre’s improvable theories were over.
He looked around the room.
He loved this place. He would miss it. He had loved what it represented, and all that it had given him. Yes, it was a job, but it was also a job that had allowed him to question his faith. Although he would never ask, ‘Is there a God?’ because he knew there was one, it gave him the freedom to question the faith’s ancient tenants: To question the seven days it took to make the world and then to populate it with Mankind; the age of the planet being less than a few tens of thousands of years old; man’s place on it, at the top of a pyramid, requiring all other things to serve him.
This place suited him. In truth, Father Paul was a free thinker in a church that had never asked too many questions. The mainstream church had left him frustrated. His faith in the Good Book was never quite as strong or as unquestioning as that of his peers. He knew in his heart that the Bible was flawed: written by ancients with no real understanding of their world, the evolution of life, or the physics that governed its development.
His appointment as the Principal at the Magis Centre had been truly a gift from God for it gave him a chance to stay in the priesthood, but to stay separate from it. It also gave his intellect room to grow. And it gave him time to himself.
In a way, it was unfortunate that his centre’s philosophy had gotten lumped in with Creationism—a wholly unsustainable philosophy in his view. In the outside world, there was now no demand for either, and he knew it. The Fundamentalist Wars had played their part, but it was more than that. Science was developing at such a pace that it was hard for the Creationist loons to patch up the holes in their beliefs, and, no matter how hard the Magis Centre tried to differentiate itself from such intellectual junk, its own philosophy—Intelligent Design—found it harder than ever to get a hearing. But then, it always had been an uphill battle.
Intelligent Design had never genuinely caught on: its main tenants—Irreducible and Specified complexity—were both dismissed by scientists and their governments as pseudo sciences, completely unsupported by the empirical data.
But, surely, if there was no data then that was where faith was meant to play its part, right?
Scientists had never held to faith. They believed in what their eyes told them. They believed in the facts—in the evidence—and the evidence for the existence of God was lacking. Instead, they derided the Intelligent Design movement for invoking the supernatural. It was a ‘gap-based’ explanation, they said—only answering what questions remained about the universe with ridiculous claptrap.
And, in a way, they were right. As one question in man’s understanding of the universe was answered by a new scientific truth, Intelligent Design had just moved on, aiming to fill the other gaps. It had finally settled on the one key question Man was never likely to answer with any certainty: Who put the laws in place that governed the Big Bang? That and evolution being given a guiding hand.
Yes, it was hard being lumped in with the Creationists, or even being loosely associated with them, in a world where scientific discoveries moved at such a pace. And Father Paul knew it.
But convincing the scientific community was only one half of the problem. The theory was also looked down upon by the mainstream religions for not being biblical enough. Intelligent Design reduced the Creator to the status of an engineer, they said: hardly fitting for a being that had created a universe and all the life that was to be found in it.
So it was ostracized by the mainstream churches, kept out of schools, and pilloried in the press. Even the Times of London called it nothing more than ‘superstitious poppycock’, a ‘fantasy’, only propped up by the IFCC as a demonstration to all the religious houses that the Council for Cooperation was truly a council for all faiths, no matter how ‘half-baked’.
Alas, it would seem, not for much longer.
Father Paul drained his tumbler and reached for the bottle, finding it hard to believe that yet another branch of faith was about to die.
But if his theories had taught him anything, it was that he lived in a constantly changing universe, and all good things must come to an end. And now it was his time for a change.
He felt heavier than usual. He shook his head. The Magis Centre was the last of its kind and at 60 he was too unorthodox a priest to be given a congregation.
He wondered what they would replace reason with, now that the traditionalists had finally gotten their way.
And what they had in mind for him.