Fundamentalists Inside The Catholic Church

April 2003By Dermott J. Mullan

Dermott J. Mullan is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Delaware, and the father of 10 children.

Since 1988, the book Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating has helped prevent Catholics from being lured out of the Church by Fundamentalists. Where Fundamentalists attack the Church from outside, that book provides important and useful service.

But what if there are Fundamentalists inside the Church? How is the Church to respond to such a situation?

I submit that Fundamentalism is now beginning to infect the thinking of certain Catholics who are loyal members of the Church. The clearest symptom of infection is the belief that the Earth is young, no more than a few thousand years old. This calls for a change of plan from what has worked so far if Catholics are to be defended against Fundamentalism.

Is Fundamentalism Creeping Into the Lives of American Catholics?

Fundamentalists trace their roots to a series of books called The Fundamentals, published by certain Protestants between 1909 and 1915. These books contained (among other topics) accounts of "heresies" (including Catholicism) and "critiques of scientific theories." To be sure, no one should object to criticisms of scientific work as long as the criticisms are based on sound reasoning. But the critiques that are associated with Fundamentalism at times involve what is in essence a rejection of rational thinking.

Three events indicate to me that American Catholics are now being exposed to Fundamentalist ideas from within the Church.

First, in the process of home-schooling some of our children about five years ago, my wife and I encountered a serious dilemma in connection with certain science textbooks. We did not want our children to be swept along by the erroneous ideas about Darwinian evolution that permeate much of American culture. We therefore selected biology textbooks that reject Darwin's ideas about evolution. In this regard, the textbooks met our needs admirably. However, we were startled to find that the textbooks also contained the following claim: The Earth is only a few thousand years old. One textbook was Protestant, the other Catholic.

Second, in 1999 one of the leading American publishers of orthodox Catholic books released a book entitled Creation Rediscovered by G.J. Keane. This book contains not only a well-written criticism of Darwinian evolution, but also an extended attack (60 pages long) on the results of modern astrophysics concerning the age of the Universe. The book suggests that astrophysicists have misinterpreted the evidence because of their belief in evolution. The book states that the evidence actually points to an Earth and a Universe no more than a few thousand years old.

Third, in 2001 a meeting that advertised itself as the "First International Catholic Family Conference on Creation" was held in Manassas, Virginia. In the first talk at the meeting (entitled "The Catholic Doctrine on Creation"), the speaker argued for a literal interpretation of the six days of creation, implying that the Earth is young. The written version of this talk includes the claim that "contrary to modern theory, the Earth is the center point of the Universe." In another talk at the meeting, a speaker discussed 15 points of evidence from physical science which (he concluded) prove that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. (These talks are available on tape.) However, a critical examination of the 15 points shows that in each case the physical processes at work by no means force one to the young-Earth conclusion.

You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.

Back to April 2003 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
There are other, more harmful kinds of fundamentalism among Catholics.

Fundamentalist Protestant view: the Bible is infallible; I'm just believing whatever the Bible teaches, without any of my own interpretation or opinion; therefore, all that I believe is infallible.

Fundamentalist Catholic view: the Magisterium is infallible (even in its ordinary teaching); I'm just believing whatever the Magisterium teaches, without any of my own interpretation or opinion; therefore, all that I believe is infallible.

Such Catholics have fallen into a fundamentalist error which results in their own limited, fallible understanding of the teachings of the Church being treated as if it were infallible. This is becoming more and more common, even among some priests and conservative theologians.
Posted by: ronconte
January 01, 2007 08:20 AM EST
Think of it this way the Book of Genesis is a written description of the beginning of the world by man, who obviously was not there. So we must contend it is inspired writing. The description predisposes us to think that man was a witness or saw what happened. Look at it therefore this way. A man sleeps and on the first night he dreams of the first day in genesis. He sleeps again at the end of the second day and dreams of a second revelation , the second day of genesis and so on up to six days. Convinced of the influence of God in his dreams he understood that the seventh day had nothing more to show him and then in the simplicity of his early developed mind he received no further revelation from God and he surmised with good reason, God rested. As good as anything else I think. Posted by: mike hurcum
January 01, 2007 03:03 PM EST
I'm pretty seriously disappointed by the quality of the two comments above - where are the orthodox Catholics here?

Believing in the teaching authority of the Magisterium is an orthodox Catholic position that is, in fact, essential to Catholicism. It does not imply anything naive or unintelligent about the believer - quite the opposite, actually. When you become aware that the Holy Spirit protects the true Church from error and that this is something you can rely on for guidance, you've come a long way.
Posted by: Folbrecht
November 02, 2007 10:01 PM EDT
Add a comment