by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

I realize this thread is pretty much closed, but I tripped over an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII and some lines from the Catholic Catechism that are somewhat relevant. Leo XIII's contribution is from Providentissimus Deus, which was largely focused on reconciling scientific advances with Biblical scripture:

no real disagreement can exist between the theologian and the scientist provided each keeps within his own limits. . . . If nevertheless there is a disagreement . . . it should be remembered that the sacred writers, or more truly ‘the Spirit of God who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men such truths (as the inner structure of visible objects) which do not help anyone to salvation’; and that, for this reason, rather than trying to provide a scientific exposition of nature, they sometimes describe and treat these matters either in a somewhat figurative language or as the common manner of speech those times required, and indeed still requires nowadays in everyday life, even amongst most learned people.

The Catechism states, variously:

The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.

This is one of the few instances I can think of where official dogma does not simply allow, but confirms, figurative language in Biblical scripture.

Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.

These are official lines from the Catholic Church – I think Catholic blowhards would be wise to remember this, and I think people like Dawkins and Hitchens would be wise to acknowledge this.