Darwin, Design, and The Cardinal

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.”

Scientific data supports design in evolution, says cardinal

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.

Darwin, Design, and the Catholic Faith

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.”

Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

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.

Catholic experts urge caution in evolution debate

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.