Catholicism and evolution

I often hear people trumpeting that the Catholic Church supports science because it supports evolution. The usual rebuttal is a terrible one that points to the Church historically denying science, as if that bears any relevance whatsoever to whether or not it supports it now. Let’s stop with that line of bad argument and instead focus on what the Church currently believes – it turns out it, in fact, does not support evolution.

Evolution has no goal. It isn’t conscious. It operates on a combination of natural selection and random mutation (amongst a few other factors). This is necessarily focused on the level of the individual – or gene, if you want to go down that path, but we needn’t – and generation. An organism replicates or reproduces, passing its genes on to the next generation without regard to how well its great-great-great-great-great offspring will fare. Indeed, it isn’t even passing on its genes with regard to how will its own offspring will fare. It, of course, often does make an investment there, but its concern is in and of itself in the passing of its genes. Fundamentally, that is what matters in evolution. The genes that pass through the sieve of natural selection have done so for the sake of continuing to exist. We would be correct to think of the game as resetting in every generation.

What this means is that there is no long term goal within evolution. Genes have unconsciously seen to it that they will get themselves copied for as long as they can. If that ends with a quickly replicating bacterium or something toothy or something small and quick or something intelligent or something simply huge, then so be it. The only way in which it can be said that evolution has any sort of goal is to say that it has generational goals. These are not conscious and they do not come about with any sort of phenotypic effects in mind. That is, the goal is for genes to continue to exist; there is no goal for genes to produce any particular characteristic or trait. Evolution is truly incidental.

This matters in terms of the Catholic Church’s alleged acceptance of evolution because the Church, like most religions, believes that human are special and/or inevitable. We aren’t. As Stephen Jay Gould famously noted, if we re-ran the tape of life, we would get different results every time. The fact that we exist is incidental in the history of life. Change a few factors here or there and humans don’t exist. The same goes for every species. For instance, if an asteroid didn’t hit Earth 65 million years ago, dinosaurs would quite likely still roam the planet. The rise of the mammals probably wouldn’t have happened since we would have remained as small burrowing creatures that kept out of the way of all the big, toothy animals out there.

Human inevitability is necessary for virtually all religions, including Catholicism. If humans are only incidental, then we lose any sort of special status. That’s exactly what reality is, though. We know this for a fact. The only way to reconcile Catholicism and evolution is to say that God guided evolution towards humanity in a way which appears consistent with a natural process. For my money, that’s an unsatisfying God-of-the-Gaps explanation; in this argument, God is indistinguishable from nature.

Your definition of “clickbait” sucks

An example of clickbait: “A firefighter rescued 9 kittens from a burning building. You’ll never believe what happened next!”

Not an example of clickbait: A title to an article you don’t like or a title that is just misleading or a title that is just sensationalist or any content within an article.

The hallmark of clickbait titles is vagueness. If it isn’t vague, it isn’t clickbait. The reader is given the general topic, but the lede is hidden. That’s the bait. You have to click to find out what happened next. You have to click to see why you’ll be so amazed. You have to click because the title doesn’t give you the basic information about the content.

And, no, that definition of “clickbait” that you just googled does not make a case for some other use of the term. While the OED (why aren’t you using says clickbait is any content on the Internet that is sensationalized or designed to get clicks, that’s a garbage definition. Content has been sensationalized on the Internet for the past 25 years. The word “clickbait” has only risen in popular use in the past 2-3 years since Gawker style articles started clogging your Facebook feeds. It’s obvious the word is a response to something more than sensationalized titles. And note how the garbage definition uses “or”. That means anything which is designed to get clicks is clickbait? Quick, tell the BBC and Reuters and Al Jazeera America to stop writing headlines about earthquakes, riots, floods, and Greek debt. Hell, tell Facebook to get rid of that “clickbait” home button at the top of your Facebook page. It’s designed to get you to click, after all.

Related side-rant: People abuse dictionary definitions all the time. First, a lot of people use Merriam-Webster, which is a really shitty dictionary and should be considered dictionary abuse in and of itself. Second, people love to pick one or two *pieces* of a definition that fits their needs. That isn’t how words work. “Television” can be defined, in part, as “visual media”, but that doesn’t mean I get to refer to comic books as television because they’re also visual media.

People labeling everything “clickbait” is a huge pet peeve of mine. It has become this term people use to derisively refer to any article they don’t like. Often, I see people not even being specific to titles, instead focusing on the content of the article. No. The 9th paragraph in an article cannot possibly be what got you to click a link. The title got you to click. And if it was intentionally vague, then it was probably clickbait.

An article title can be bad for many different reasons, but if it isn’t vague, it isn’t clickbait.