Superstition in the Catholic Church
Here's the thing. Some people believe in demons, spooks and an assortment of other supernatural beasties, and some people don't.
I, too, have a healthy imagination, and can pretend that dragons exist, that holy water turns vampires, and that I can travel on the astral plane to chat up djinnis. But just saying so, doesn't make it so. That demon, dragon or djinni must also actually do something in the real world, outside of my head – otherwise they are as real as my fantasy that Justin Timberlake is my boyfriend.
This is the confusing world in which all religions live. Regardless of how complicated you make your analysis of religion, there is an irreducible bottom-line: all religions assume the existence of the supernatural. And for that to have any (non-redundant) meaning, the supernatural has to intrude on the natural. And where it intrudes, its effects can be measured.
We have become rather good at measuring things, and in the process, God's gap has shrunk rather rapidly. God's final bastion is – rather unsurprisingly – us humans. The silly but politically powerful Intelligent Design movement has had it's knuckles rapped not only by the secular American courts but also by the oldest Christian organization, the Roman Catholic Church.
In January this year, an article criticizing Intelligent Design appeared in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, written by Msgr. Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna in Italy. Facchini pointed out that although Catholic teaching says God created all things from nothing, it is still possible that evolutionary mechanisms such as random mutation and natural selection caused events to unfold naturally.
And then, upping the stakes in the inversely proportional relationship between science and religion, the retreat to the final bastion: The emergence of humans, Facchini goes on to claim, supposes a wilful act of God. Man cannot be seen as only the product of evolutionary processes, he states, because the spiritual element of man is not something that could have developed from natural selection. This echoes what Pope Benedict XVI said at his inaugural mass last year: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God."
And then, I read in the Daily Mail (2006 August 28), that Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican's chief exorcist, says that Hitler and Stalin were possessed by the Devil. If the report is to be believed, magical thinking is still very much alive in today's Church.
Having effectively exorcised God from the 'hard' sciences, the Catholic Church now has God lurking in psychology and neuroscience, arguably the most exciting and challenging fields of scientific study today. However, it appears that religion will continue to use the supernatural to legitimise itself as a superior philosophy, and will therefore continue to interfere with our study of the natural world by providing supernatural "explanations" for things best left to science.
nothing more to see. please move along.