The New York Times has a full story today on Cardinal Schönborn’s op-ed: Leading Cardinal Redefines Church’s View on Evolution. According to the story the op-ed was written with the urging of the Discovery Institute’s Mark Ryland but was not approved by the Vatican.
In a telephone interview from a monastery in Austria, where he was on retreat, the cardinal said that his essay had not been approved by the Vatican, but that two or three weeks before Pope Benedict XVI’s election in April, he spoke with the pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, about the church’s position on evolution. “I said I would like to have a more explicit statement about that, and he encouraged me to go on,” said Cardinal Schönborn.
He said that he had been “angry” for years about writers and theologians, many Catholics, who he said had “misrepresented” the church’s position as endorsing the idea of evolution as a random process.
The involvement of Mark Ryland explains why many of the Discovery Institution’s talking points appeared in the Cardinal op-ed.
I still doubt that the Cardinal’s op-ed offers a change to the Catholic Church’s teaching of evolution or our understanding of their official position on it. It is clear that the Catholic Church doesn’t see evolution as a godless process divorced from Providence. But I don’t think that this was ever in doubt, despite what Cardinal Schönborn says.
According to the NY Times,
Both Mr. Ryland and Cardinal Schönborn said that an essay in May in The Times about the compatibility of religion and evolutionary theory by Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, suggested to them that it was time to clarify the church’s position on evolution.
So how did the Cardinal clarify the Catholic Church’s position? He said that the Church does not support “neo-Darwinism”, which was defined by him as “an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection”. But did Krauss argue that the Church supported “neo-Darwinism” sensu Ryland and Schönborn? I can’t find it in his commentary: School Boards Want to ‘Teach the Controversy.’ What Controversy?. Dr. Krauss does say the following:
Popes from Pius XII to John Paul II have reaffirmed that the process of evolution in no way violates the teachings of the church. Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, presided over the church’s International Theological Commission, which stated that “since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism.” . . .
It is certainly true that one can reflect on the existence of the Big Bang to validate the notion of creation, and with that the notion of God. But such a metaphysical speculation lies outside of the theory itself.
This is why the Catholic Church can confidently believe that God created humans, and at the same time accept the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of common evolutionary ancestry of life on earth.
One can choose to view chance selection as obvious evidence . . . that God chooses to work through natural means. In the latter case, the overwhelming evidence that natural selection has determined the evolution of life on earth would simply imply that God is “the cause of causes,” as Cardinal Ratzinger’s document describes it.
Dr. Krauss didn’t say anything about selection being unguided or unplanned and doesn’t use the term “Darwinism” at all. It seems to me that Cardinal Schönborn is responding to a straw-man of Dr. Krauss’s statements, perhaps having been influenced by the Discovery Institute’s spin machine, i.e. biology = “Darwinism” = Atheism.
As far as I can tell, Dr. Krauss’s statements about Catholic Theology are no different than Cardinal Schönborn direct response and clarification of them.
Furthermore, it appears to me that Cardinal Schönborn’s op-ed directly opposes “intelligent design” creationism and its Discovery Institute proponents:
The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things.
“Intelligent design” creationists do not make the distinction between science and the discerning of “design.” (They consider such distinctions “confused”.) Instead they argue that science can discern that the universe is designed; in fact that is the central tenant of “intelligent design” creationism and what distinguishes it from theistic views of evolution:
The scientific theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause. . . .
I hold that we will not see an effort by the Catholic Church to step away from its previous statements supporting evolution to embrace the anti-evolution politics and theology of the “intelligent design” creationists, their fantasies notwithstanding.