Darwin, Design, and The Cardinal

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I’ve been meaning to follow up on my previous two posts about Cardinal Schönborn’s op-ed in the New York Times. I argued that the Cardinal’s op-ed should not be seen as a theological attack on evolutionary science but instead a theological attack on atheism and anyone who would think that the Catholic Church supports atheism. The Cardinal, although influenced (manipulated?) by the Discovery Institute, was actually arguing a position in opposition to their views on science and religion. This was not immediately clear from the op-ed because it relied heavily on creationist phraseology. However, I feel that subsequent developments have confirmed my interpretation of the op-ed.

In response to the confusion over his op-ed, Cardinal Schönborn has stated that he was not attacking the science of evolution:

In follow-up remarks published July 11 by Kathpress, an Austrian Catholic news agency, Cardinal Schonborn cited Popes Pius XII and John Paul II as saying that the theory of evolution – as long as it remains within the realm of science and is not made into an ideological “dogma” which cannot be questioned – is in conformity with Catholic teaching.

The cardinal quoted Pope John Paul as saying in 1985 that “the properly understood belief in creation and the properly understood teaching of evolution do not stand in each other’s way.”

Further insight into Cardinal Schönborn’s position can be found in his statement to Time Europe Magazine: “I believe in dogmas of faith but I don’t believe in dogmas of science.”

“Knowing how the good Cardinal’s words will be misused by the enemies of science in our country,” Biologist Ken Miller felt that “it [was] important to set the record straight.” In a clear and succinct response to the Cardinal’s op-ed, Miller points out that not only is Catholic theology compatible with evolution but that Catholic Church has accepted evolution as “virtually certain.”

Cardinal Schönborn also errs in his implicit support of the “intelligent design” movement in the United States. The neo-creationists of intelligent design, unlike Popes Benedict and John Paul, argue against evolution on every level, claiming that a “designer” has repeatedly intervened to directly produce the complex forms of living things. This view stands in sharp contradiction to the words of a 2004 International Theological Commission document cited by the Cardinal. In reality, this document carries a ringing endorsement of the “widely accepted scientific account” of life’s emergence and evolution, describes the descent of all forms of life from a common ancestor as “virtually certain,” and echoes John Paul II’s observation of the “mounting support” for evolution from many fields of study.

However, Cardinal Schönborn’s op-ed has created confusion and concern amongst scientists that the Catholic Church may be looking to abandon its previous endorsement of the science of evolution. Seeking clarification, Miller, Francisco Ayala, and Lawrence Krauss have sent a letter to Pope Benedict.

These principles were reinforced more recently in explicit statements by the International Theological Commission, headed by you before your election as Pope. As the Commission document explicitly states, “God is…the cause of causes.” As a result, “Through the activity of natural causes, God causes to arise those conditions required for the emergence and support of living organisms, and, furthermore, for their reproduction and differentiation.” Finally, referring to evolution as a “radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation”, the commission nevertheless concluded “even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan for creation.”

In another follow-up the National Catholic Reporter looks at the broader picture of the debate over theological implications of evolution, and the editor remarks, “It also is unfortunate that a cardinal with strong connections to the pope would appear to be used on one side of that battle by a think tank and its public relations arm in the United States.”

Townes said that things are not so clear-cut. Even processes that appear random, he said, can have an underlying logic.

“The idea that calling something ‘random’ means that it’s without direction is a mistake,” Townes said. “In a gas, for example, random interaction among particles ensures uniform distribution and temperature. In other words, an unplanned process produces an orderly outcome.”

“Evolution,” Townes said, “is like that. It’s a random process that produces spectacular things.”

Jesuit Fr. George Coyne, head of the Vatican observatory, agreed.

“Chance is the way we scientists see the universe. It has nothing to do with God. It’s not chancy to God, it’s chancy to us,” Coyne said.

Coyne told NCR in a July 20 interview that far from implying atheism, evolution “can equally well be interpreted to the glory of God.”

“I see a God who caresses the universe, who puts into the universe some of his own creativity and dynamism,” Coyne said. Cabbibo said he would call evolution “self-directed” rather than “undirected.” The point is that random genetic mutation, coupled with natural selection, does not require anything external to direct the process.

This does not exclude, Cabibbo said, the faith conviction that God arranged things this way.

“As a scientist, what I can say is this: If the will of God was to create man, he certainly organized things in a beautiful way to do it,” Cabibbo said.

I’ve been reading A. W. F. Edwards’s classic, Likelihood, and I’ve been thinking recently about the nature of probability and stochastic models. There is probably a blog post in there that I can tie to the question of atheistic evolution versus theistic evolution versus “intelligent design” creationism. Maybe I will get around to it some day.

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Schönborn im ORF from Hier und Jetzt on August 2, 2005 6:09 PM

Why is it that leaders of the Cleric are allowed to be on TV? For once a good reason: Cardinal König would have turned 100 these days. On this occasion, his successors successor Cardinal Schönborn was on austrian TV tonight and was asked about his r... Read More

16 Comments

Chance is the way we scientists see the universe. It has nothing to do with God. It’s not chancy to God, it’s chancy to us.

I’d been waiting for someone to make this theological point perfectly clear. Leave it to the Jesuits.

I’d been waiting for someone to make this theological point perfectly clear. Leave it to the Jesuits.

Dr. Pangloss beat them to it.

“Dr. Pangloss beat them to it.”

Or maybe he got it from them. :)

http://www.visitvoltaire.com/voltaire_bio.htm

Ah yes, good point. :-)

He doesn’t believe in dogmas of science? Well, bully for him. I wonder if he even knows what they might be.

Does anybody know how much scientific education and knowledge this guy has, or isn’t that relevant if you’re far enough up the church hierarchy?

There are no dogmas of science as I understand since science by definition will always be tentative. Science is not absolute.

Catholic theological dogmas are absolute and the relevant ones are these, from Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott (De Fide means infallibly defined dogmas “Of Catholic Faith”) :

All that exists outside God was, in its whole substance, produced out of nothing by God. (De Fide)

Ott points out that what is in view here by the First Vatican Council are those heresies of ancient pagan and gnostic-manichean dualism (where God is not responsible for the entire created world, since mere “matter” is evil not good, etc), along with modern materialism or pantheism (Ott, page 79). Biological evolution is not in view here. Further:

God was moved by His Goodness to create the world. (De Fide) The world was created for the Glorification of God. (De Fide) The Three Divine Persons are one single, common Principle of the Creation. (De Fide) God created the world free from exterior compulsion and inner necessity. (De Fide) God has created a good world. (De Fide) The world had a beginning in time. (De Fide) God alone created the world. (De Fide) God keeps all created things in existence. (De Fide) God, through His Providence, protects and guides all that He has created. (De Fide)

Most Catholics who are theologically and scientifically literate have no problem reconciling evolution with the above statements. Four books that do this are Finding Darwin’s God by Ken Miller, Origin of the Human Species by Dennis Bonnette, Perspectives on an Evolving Creation by Keith Miller, and Coming to Peace with Science by Darrel Falk. Some of my current favorite books on this topic.

Phil P

There are no dogmas of science as I understand since science by definition will always be tentative.

Well, perhaps, but there are at times dogmas that are almost universally held by scientists and are declared, without proper basis, to be scientific. The Mismeasure of Man comes to mind, among others.

Not to pick a fight or anything, but I have read the phrase “Central Dogma” (of biology) as a monniker for evolution. I wish I could remember where but I am pretty sure it was in something by Dawkins. And he wasn’t being sarcastic . I interpreted the word “dogma” to mean something analogous to “axiom”, in other words if evolution is wrong a whole lot of subsidiary ideas in biology go too.

Has anyone heard this and if so is the phrase more widely used?

google “Central Dogma”

God keeps all created things in existence.

That’s a weird one with regard to things which go extinct. There’s pre-prepared apologetics for humans dying (ie god keeps a soul existing) but one would need to know the specific intended meaning of “keeps”, “created” and “existence” to know what that assertion was trying to say. Otherwise it looks like trilobites evolved on their own from something else without god’s permission or direct creation and hence they no longer exist. Or, down a level of meaning, things which die weren’t created ones.

SEF: “That’s a weird one with regard to things which go extinct.”

Well, Ludwig Ott is not a scientific text, it is a dogmatic theological text, and he does give explanations of each De Fide statement (there are hundreds of them) using various biblical texts, Fathers, Councils, and the Popes. If you want to know what the Catholic Church believes on dogma, Ott is your source (“Denzinger” is another).

By “keeps” I understand God is sovereign Lord over creation, He is the Creator who is (somehow, mysteriously) in control of creation, evolution, extinction, all of it. From St. Thomas Aquinas:

God keeps all things in existence through continual creation:

“We must certainly admit that things are kept in existence by God, and without God they would instantly become nothing… When the action of an incorporeal agent ends, the very existence of things created by it ends, just as when the action by movement of an efficient cause ends, the becoming of the thing generated instantly ends. It follows therefore that if the divine action should cease, all things would drop into nothingness instantly.” (Aquinas, On the Power of God 5.1)

Also similar statements from the old Baltimore Catechism:

“God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and keeps them in existence. (a) This universe did not always exist; it came into existence at the beginning of time. (b) All things depend on God; they begin and continue to exist by the power of God.”

It is a faith and theological position of course. The biblical basis for this would be texts such as Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:3 “sustaining all things by his powerful word,” etc.

Phil P

Ah, so god is allegedly and metaphorically blowing into the universe soap bubble continuously to sustain it in dependent form, instead of allowing it to collapse back or fly away complete on its own.

Setting all this fun with theology aside, Reed stated:

“I argued that the Cardinal’s op-ed should not be seen as a theological attack on evolutionary science but instead a theological attack on atheism and anyone who would think that the Catholic Church supports atheism.”

From all my reading–supported by what the above article presents–this seems to me exactly right. Even if Schonborn did also want to shill for the Intelligent Design movement, he simply has no general support for it.

Thank you for a calm and reasonable assessment of this otherwise regrettable dalliance between one Cardinal and the ID movement. Please let me also point out in passing, the NYT headline – Leading Cardinal Redefines Church’s View on Evolution – did as much to spread confusion and hand the IDers a PR victory as anything the Cardinal actually said.

That 7 July op-ed was somewhat buried until NYT turned it into a story on 9 July. Just a little bit, maybe, of what we’ll argee to call “creative synergy.”

SEF: “Ah, so god is allegedly and metaphorically blowing into the universe soap bubble continuously to sustain.”

Naw, I don’t think its soap bubbles. Nice try though. If the atheists in here would have a little more respect for religion, it might make some of the creationists (who I guess occasionally read this blog) more willing to look into the science of evolution. Just a hint. I am not a creationist, but a theistic evolutionist (and Catholic).

If you want an education in Catholic dogma, get Ludwig Ott.

Phil P

I don’t seem to get the trackback to work (is there a hint somewhere?), so here is a link to a post about a new interview with the cardinal on austrian TV.

http://bcpmoon.blogspot.com/2005/08[…]-im-orf.html

Evolution dispute now set to split Catholic hierarchy

In an article with explosive implications for the Church, Father George Coyne, an American Jesuit priest who is a distinguished astronomy professor, attacks head-on the views of Cardinal Christoph Shönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna and a long-standing associate of Joseph Ratzinger, the German cardinal who was elected as Pope Benedict XVI in April. …

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on July 27, 2005 5:25 AM.

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