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When it comes to the Catholic Church, Rowan Hooper evidently writes with a proverbial chip on his shoulder, as in his June 13 Natural Selections column, “Synthetic life zaps ‘the soul.’ ” He forgets that the Catholic Church consists of human beings and that there are as many opinions as there are human beings, even or especially within the broad fold of the church.

Even when authors such as Jose Gabriel Funes and Guy Consolmagno speak as “Vatican astronomers,” they are not speaking for the Catholic Church but for themselves. And insofar as their words carry conviction, they are speaking more as scientists — with a better knowledge of their subject than Hooper shows in his article.

As for any authoritative Catholic teaching on “the soul,” one would have to look hard to find it in councils of the church. Scholastic thinkers of the Middle Ages based most of their discussions about this subject on Aristotle’s “De Amma,” admitting a triple kind of soul in plants, animals and human beings. Where, and to what extent, divine action enters into this evolutionary process is, like every other divine action, a mystery hidden alike from the prying eyes of scientists and theologians. It is believed that God steps in when it comes to the creation not so much of the “human soul” as of “man.”

So, a resolution of the problem seemingly raised by Dr. J. Craig Venter, or rather by Hooper in Venter’s name, will have to wait until either of them, or some successor in a mythical future age, comes up not with a mere bacterium but with a human being like themselves. Then perhaps we may have to bow down before them in Darwinian adoration.

peter milward

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