Cutting Edge. A Monthly Review Of Scientific News
FAITH Magazine January-February 2006
If the evidence of Reuters’ 20th-November interview with Cardinal Schönborn is anything to go by, the media still continue to show great interest in the Church’s understanding of evolution expressed by the Cardinal in July in the New York Times. It is unfortunately true that, contrary to his intention, that newspaper article has been understood by many in the US to be directly supportive of the so-called ‘intelligent design’ hypothesis, which invokes divine design through the detection of instances of supposedly irreducible complexity (i.e. un-evolvable organisms). Weblog after weblog manifests this, with commentators clearly seeing Schönborn’s intervention as shifting the weight of the Church’s position from a scientific acceptance of the theory of evolution to an unscientific belief ina version of creationism. The editorial in the previous issue of Faith magazine made it quite clear that this is not what Schönborn intends: his understanding of God’s underpinning design in the universe is quite compatible with the scientific principles of material evolution, but instead takes issue with a neo-Darwinian philosophical position which would claim the universe’s total independence of any Creator’s Mind. This position cannot place the Cardinal in league with the proponents of ‘intelligent design’ such as Michael Behe, much as the latter and his supporters might wish it. The central problem with ‘intelligent design’ — and one which Fr Stephen Dingley pointed out when he reviewed Behe et al.’s book in the March/April 2001 edition of the Faith magazine — is that it posits, justas happily as would neo-Darwinians, that the evolutionary process is a ‘random’ and unguided one, alongside which they then place ‘intelligent causes,’ as if they were competitors. This is not an acceptable hypothesis of God’s providential working — it is not, as the Faith movement seeks to promote, a synthesis of science and faith, but is instead a perpetuation of the myth that faith and science are opposed. This is made clear by the definition of its very proponents: “the theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. ID is thus a scientific disagreement with the core claim of evolutionary theory that the apparent design of livingsystems is an illusion.” The Faith movement would understand this to be entirely inadequate: God has not made a universe in which His intelligent causes are opposed to some ‘undirected process’ of natural selection. He has instead made a perfect universe in which His laws are precisely obeyed, in and through which He, as the ultimate cause and the law-giver, controls and directs material and biological evolution. Evidence of His design is not to be pinpointed where evolution goes wrong, but precisely in that evolution gets it right and there is manifestly a purpose and a direction in the outcome of the evolutionary process.
A good website for understanding the stand-point of ‘intelligent design’ is www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org which has a link to the Autumn 2003 National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly paper by Harris & Calvert entitled ‘Intelligent Design: a Scientific Alternative to Evolution.’
More recently, in the autumn, Cardinal Schönborn embarked on a series of eight, monthly catechetical lectures in his cathedral, the Stephansdom in Vienna, in which he is treating more thoroughly the whole question of creation and evolution. In his opening lecture, he clarifies his position with regard to the theory of evolution and in the fuller treatment that a lecture affords, he has been able to refine his language that led to misunderstandings in the summer: “I see no difficulty in joining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, but under the prerequisite that the borders of scientific theory are maintained. … When science adheres to its own method, it cannot come into conflict with faith.” With several examples, he shows how common it is that some Darwinian evolutionarybiologists make unscientific, ideological claims, overstepping the bounds of natural science, so as to promote an atheistic materialism. These claims are clearly the real target of his criticism over the past months, and not the science of evolution as such. It is from the creeping acceptance of an atheistic materialism as part-and-parcel of the evolutionary package that he desperately wishes to distance the Church. Cardinal Schönborn’s first catechesis (2nd October 2005) can be viewed in full in English at www.stephanscom.at under the section “Thema Evolution.”
The Pontifical Council for Culture’s faith-and-science ‘STOQ’ project (‘Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest’), which unites the resources and new courses of the Gregorian, Lateran and Regina Apostolorum universities of Rome, continues to bring new initiatives to the fore. In early November they held an interdisciplinary conference entitled ‘Infinity in Science, Philosophy and Theology.’ Their other new venture is the Science–Faith Archive, which gathers together a number of on-line resources — books, papers and magisterial discourses — on the theme of the debate and dialogue between science and faith. Particularly welcome is the making available of 19 papers from the ‘Jubilee of Scientists’ meeting at the Vatican in the year 2000. The Science–Faith archive can be accessed athttp://www.stoqnet.org/pcc/archive/pcc\_archive.html.