Monday, July 11, 2005

The catholic church and evolution

/ obscurantism / catholic /
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, an important figure in the Catholic church, apparently with the Pope's blessing, undertakes to minimize the previous Pope's timid endorsement of evolutionary theory, by presenting objections to it that most obviously transgress into the realm of the empirical:

Ever since 1996, when Pope John Paul II said that evolution (a term he did not define) was "more than just a hypothesis," defenders of neo-Darwinian dogma have often invoked the supposed acceptance - or at least acquiescence - of the Roman Catholic Church when they defend their theory as somehow compatible with Christian faith.

But this is not true. 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.

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.

Note the irony in the last phrase, a highly ideological and dogmatic worldview is contrasted with the opinion of the vast majority of biologists (possibly the consensus among all serious evolutionary biologists), yet it is the scientific view that is deemed "ideology, not science". I'm not sure why this view is considered "neo"-Darwinian. Is it implied that "old" Darwinism left much room for direct divine intervention in the process of evolution? If so this is patently false. By creating this dichotomy Schönborn is trying to portray the current scientific consensus as some sort of divergent ideologically minded sect.

In the NYT (which hosted the original article), Kenneth Miller, a Catholic Evolutionary scientist, explains:

"Unguided," "unplanned," "random" and "natural" are all adjectives that biologists might apply to the process of evolution, said Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown and a Catholic. But even so, he said, evolution "can fall within God's providential plan." He added: "Science cannot rule it out. Science cannot speak on this."

But this very indirect path of seeing the whole evolutionary history as part of Providence is obviously not enough for the more dogmatic among the Vatican's Guardians of Dogma. Rather, taking a page from modern PR techniques, Sch%C3%B6nborn insists that in denying most of modern evolutionary theory, the church is defending "reason" against those unreasonable scientists.

I'm eagerly awaiting Schönborn's "clarifications" regarding the acceptance of heliocentricism...

1 comment:

Gothamimage said...

The key word is the use of "neo" Darwinism.

Kind of like Neo- Conservative, which is neither new, nor conservative, Neo-Darwinism can mean what ever you want it to mean.

Which lead me to believe that he wants to play both sides- one for mass marketing, and a little wink (via obscure grammer) to far smaller intellectual world.

Bush is the same way- he has never said he does not believe in evolution and people who know him laugh when they are asked such things. Yet- his "base" thinks he does, and so do most of his opponents. However, if you read his statements carefully, they are carefully worded, so as to allow people to see what they want to see.