On Fr Purcell’s “groundbreaking book”

That’s how Georgie Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney describes a soon-to-be released train wreck by a guy called Brendan Purcell, who is “Assistant Priest at St Mary’s Cathedral and an internationally renowned academic who taught philosophical anthropology at University College, Dublin for more than four decades”. Clearly that makes the man an authority on matters of science, and so he is about to release a

ground-breaking book that explores these issues and answers to the ultimate question: where did human beings come from.

Africa. Next question.

Oh wait, we’re dealing with religious fools here, so we have to inject an imaginary supernatural being into our theories somewhere :

Fr Purcell points out that like the beginning of human consciousness, scientists are at a loss to adequately explain the origin of the Universe and “why there is something rather than nothing.”

He describes questions such as these, which are raised by the natural sciences but cannot be fully answered by them as “boundary questions.”

“The origin of human beings is a boundary question, one we can explore, compare and on which we can do a large amount of work, but which we still can’t explain,” he says. “We have no explanation for the development of human qualities such the mind, intellect, the concept of freedom, understanding, compassion and language. Nor can we explain self-awareness which is not apparent in any other being.”

While we know the modern facts of biology, when it comes to the principles of life Fr Purcell says we are at a loss and scientists, no matter how hard they try, cannot explain the vast difference between human beings and all other living creatures or plants.

Err, yes , we can in fact explain why we look different from bananas or broccoli. It’s the genes, baby ! We still share 70% of our genome with sea sponges, so while we may look very different from them or broccoli, genetically the common ancestry is not in doubt.

As to the particularly silly and ill-informed question of why there is “something rather than nothing”, see here, or buy a book by Lawrence Krauss. Hint : In a universe with a sum (gravitational and kinetic) energy content of zero, there can be pockets of “something” out of nowhere without breaking any natural laws. And besides, the fact that science doesn’t have all the answers yet does just not mean “therefore god”. It just means we need to learn more, find out more, study more, and we will continue to acquire more knowledge about the world as time goes on. That is a very different concept from “it’s all in this book written by Stone Age peasants, just believe it and don’t worry about thinking for yourself”. A very different concept indeed.
So yeah, sorry, but I can’t really recommend Fr Purcell’s grand opus to anyone who has moved beyond believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Most of the things he writes about, science already has answers to. It’s just that Brendan Purcell apparently didn’t get the memo.

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