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Darwin's Pope
Harvard Divinity Bulletin ^ | Fall, 2005 | Kenneth Miller

Posted on 11/23/2005 7:16:32 PM PST by curiosity

"intelligent design," the notion that living things are too complex to have been produced by evolution, has gotten a cold shoulder in the scientific community. Not so in the popular imagination, where its advocates have convinced much of the public and even an Austrian cardinal that it deserves a place alongside Darwin in science classrooms.

The public-relations successes of what's being widely called "ID" reflect the skillful way in which its proponents have framed the debate to place God and Darwin in direct opposition. As Phillip Johnson, the movement's most respected leader, has candidly described it, the principal strategy followed by the "design" movement "is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God." That, the ID folks are convinced, is a winning argument, at least in the United States.

Unfortunately for ID, for years there has been a dramatic, highly visible, well-known contradiction to this claim—the Roman Catholic Church's acceptance of evolution as being entirely consistent with Christian teachings. From Pius XII's first cautious but positive words in 1950, in Humani Generis, to John Paul II's recognition that evolution was now "more than just a hypothesis" and was supported by "discoveries in various fields of knowledge," in a 1996 address, the Church has made it clear that the scientific conclusions of evolution need not contradict the core teachings of the Christian faith. Indeed, reflecting on the broad scientific support for Darwin's theory, John Paul II stated flatly that "truth cannot contradict truth." The "truths" he had in mind were the empirical scientific truth of evolution and the eternal truths of faith. Powerful stuff.

Why, then, did Benedict XVI, on the day of his coronation, preach a homily saying: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary." And echoing Benedict's words, on July 7, 2005, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn wrote in The New York Times that "neo-Darwinian" theory is not "compatible with Christian faith." Incredibly, his essay bore the provocative headline "Finding Design in Nature."

In the United States, those words caused hearts to leap in the breasts of the anti-evolution movement. To hear the ID folks tell it, it's just a matter of time before the new pope places the influence of the Catholic Church squarely into the fight against godless Darwinism. A few have even suggested that Benedict will invite the champions of ID to the Vatican for a private audience.

While no one should be foolish enough to state categorically what the Holy Father will or will not decide on any issue, I'd urge the ID crowd to wait a while before booking those first-class tickets to Rome.

Although Benedict is widely viewed as a theological conservative, with respect to science, his conservatism fits squarely into the mold of Augustine and Aquinas, and follows the long Catholic tradition of respect for scientific rationalism that shaped John Paul II's 1996 endorsement of evolution.

So, what are we to make of his assertions that we are not the "casual and meaningless products" of evolution? We can start with Benedict's own writings, and in particular, I'd point to his book In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall.

After describing the scientific elements of neo-Darwinian theory, then-Cardinal Ratzinger asked: "What response shall we make to this view [evolution]? It is the affair of the natural sciences to explain how the tree of life in particular continues to grow and how new branches shoot out from it. This is not a matter for faith. But we must have the audacity to say that the great projects of the living creation are not the products of chance and error."

Ratzinger, like John Paul II and Puis XII before him, is not at all concerned about the emerging evolutionary account of humankind's material origins. As he makes clear, "this is not a matter for faith." However, he draws the line at any suggestion that we are the mere products of "chance and error," and the reason is the Christian teaching that humanity is not here by accident, but as the intentional result of a Divine plan. As he explains later, the point is: "Human beings are not a mistake, but something willed; they are the fruit of love."

Does this rule out evolution, with its emphasis on chance and necessity, and leave room only for the intentionality of "design"? Cardinal Schönborn certainly seems to think so. But to find the true answer, we need only to look at "Communion and Stewardship," a 2004 Curia document produced under Ratzinger's watch by the International Theological Commission. Paragraph 63 of 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. But just like Ratzinger, it draws the line at any theory of evolution that might "deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life."

I don't doubt for a second that the advocates of ID would be tempted to pencil in their "designer" for the "causal role" that the document reserves for God. But that would be a great mistake, as the document points out a few paragraphs later. Specifically addressing the arguments made to support ID, the commission writes that the argument between ID and evolution concerns "whether the available data support inferences of design or chance, and cannot be settled by theology. But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence. Divine causality and created causality radically differ in kind and not only in degree. Thus, even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God's providential plan for creation."

As the late Stephen Jay Gould was fond of pointing out, evolution is indeed a truly contingent natural process. To a nonbeliever like Gould, the inherent unpredictability of a contingent process was proof that the result of the process could not be the handiwork of a gracious God. But Gould, like many in science, seriously underestimated the philosophical depth of religious thought. As Aquinas wrote: "The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow, but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity happens infallibly and of necessity; and that happens from contingency, which the divine providence conceives to happen from contingency."

The key insight, which sits at the very heart of Benedict's thoughts on the matter, is that "neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science."

Precisely. The point of the pope's homily was not to take issue with evolution itself, but with the philosophical view that humans are nothing more than the casual and meaningless products of that process. Schönborn's ill-considered op-ed made the same point, but erred in its mistaken assertion that these philosophical views are an inherent part of neo-Darwinian theory. The authentic lesson to be stressed is that "divine causality can be active in a process that is both contingent and guided," a process like evolution.

Pope Benedict may never be seen as "Darwin's Pope," but his writings and homilies place him squarely in the tradition of scientific acceptance established by his predecessors. The Holy Father's concerns are not with evolution per se, but with how evolution is to be understood in our modern world. Biological evolution fits neatly into a traditional Catholic understanding of how contingent natural processes can be seen as part of God's plan, while "evolutionist" philosophies that deny the Divine do not. That was the point of the pope's coronation homily.

Despite claims to the contrary by the ID camp, a careful reading suggests that the new pope will give quarter neither to the enemies of spirituality nor the enemies of evolutionary science. And that's exactly as it should be.


TOPICS:
KEYWORDS: catholicism; darwin; darwinism; evolution; ratzinger; religion

1 posted on 11/23/2005 7:16:33 PM PST by curiosity
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To: curiosity

Poor Miller. Left out in the cold and pretending he's still the life of the party.


2 posted on 11/23/2005 7:23:24 PM PST by Liberty1970
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To: curiosity

Ken Miller on the front lines again. He should get a medal.


3 posted on 11/23/2005 7:23:41 PM PST by ml1954 (NOT the disruptive troll seen frequently on CREVO threads)
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To: curiosity

Harvard Divinity School:a well known hotbed of atheism,
as is:Harvard University,Harvard Law School,the Kennedy School of Government,the Harvard School of Interior Design.....


4 posted on 11/23/2005 7:28:43 PM PST by Gay State Conservative
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Comment #5 Removed by Moderator

To: curiosity
Schönborn's ill-considered op-ed made the same point, but erred in its mistaken assertion that these philosophical views are an inherent part of neo-Darwinian theory. In the minds of most biologists, they are. Any Christian who goes into the field will have to work along side of people who think it is and will regarded with incredulity that any reasonable Person could think otherwise.
6 posted on 11/23/2005 7:40:12 PM PST by RobbyS ( CHIRHO)
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To: Gay State Conservative

7 posted on 11/23/2005 7:49:28 PM PST by austinmark ("May the Flea's of a Thousand Camels Nest in ALLAH's Pubic Hair" !!!)
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To: curiosity

YEC INTREP


8 posted on 11/23/2005 8:59:38 PM PST by LiteKeeper (Beware the secularization of America)
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To: austinmark

It's a lot of easier to sent soldiers to war if their president and the soldiers believe in god.

Ever thought of how an atheist values life?


9 posted on 11/24/2005 3:48:48 AM PST by MHalblaub (Tell me in four more years (No, I did not vote for Kerry))
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To: curiosity

Oh, not this shi'ite again.


10 posted on 11/24/2005 5:22:59 AM PST by Tax-chick (Advent starts November 27 ... have you dusted yet?)
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To: narby; Varda; betty boop; Alamo-Girl; PatrickHenry; marron; D-fendr; Junior; Aquinasfan; ...
Faith and Science Ping.

Sorry I did not ping you earlier on this article. I was away for the weekend and did not have access to my ping list.

Let's revive this thread, shall we?

11 posted on 11/28/2005 3:38:52 AM PST by curiosity
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To: NYer
Do you think the Catholic list might be interested in this thread?
12 posted on 11/28/2005 3:39:42 AM PST by curiosity
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To: RobbyS
In the minds of most biologists, they are.

Really? Do you have evidence for this?

13 posted on 11/28/2005 3:40:55 AM PST by curiosity
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To: MHalblaub
It's a lot of easier to sent soldiers to war if their president and the soldiers believe in god.

Ever thought of how an atheist values life?

What has this to do with the article posted above? The author is a Christian with no less faith in God than you.

14 posted on 11/28/2005 3:43:25 AM PST by curiosity
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To: Gay State Conservative
Harvard Divinity School:a well known hotbed of atheism,

Perhaps, but the author of this article is no atheist.

15 posted on 11/28/2005 3:45:13 AM PST by curiosity
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To: curiosity

I hear a lot about Intelligent Design but it always seems to come from people who dont seem to have read any of it. It stands to reason that if we can find evidence of irreducible forms of life then Evolution;s boundaries have been found, thus proving the existence of Intelligent Design. We know that things change but some things have been found to have apparently sprung forth as they are. One example that presents itself is the cilia on a paramicium. They cannot exist in a reduced state. It takes four proteins working together and cannot function with three or less. At any rate, the point is that Evolutionists have been debunking the existence of God for some time now. They have no explaination for existence itself and they should know it. If scientists can detect the imprint of the Creator then we cannot pretend its not science just because of certain deeply ingrained prejudices. And that;s my two cents.


16 posted on 11/28/2005 4:22:54 AM PST by RichardMoore
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To: RichardMoore
It stands to reason that if we can find evidence of irreducible forms of life then Evolution;s boundaries have been found, thus proving the existence of Intelligent Design.

The problem is that there is no scientific way of showing that something is "irreducible."

We know that things change but some things have been found to have apparently sprung forth as they are. One example that presents itself is the cilia on a paramicium. They cannot exist in a reduced state. It takes four proteins working together and cannot function with three or less.

Nope. The problem with this argument is that in their reduced state they don't perform their CURRENT function. However, it has been shown that their component parts can perform OTHER functions, and it is well known that many biological organs and organalles evolve by co-opting and cobbling together parts that have other uses. Lungs are just co-opted swin bladders, for example. The irreducible complexity argument has been thoroughly debunked by, among others, the author of this article.

At any rate, the point is that Evolutionists have been debunking the existence of God for some time now.

Evolution makes no claims about existence or non-existence of God. Any evolutionary biologist writes about God is stepping outside the boundaries of his discipline and acting as an amateur philsopher. Most biologists make poor philosophers. Miller is one of the execptions.

They have no explaination for existence itself and they should know it.

Biology does not concern itself with attempting to explain existence itself.

If scientists can detect the imprint of the Creator then we cannot pretend its not science just because of certain deeply ingrained prejudices.

If it is science, then it must conform to the standards of science. i.e. it has to be empirically falsifiable. Intelligent design emphatically does NOT meet these standards.

17 posted on 11/28/2005 5:01:23 AM PST by curiosity
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To: curiosity

This article explains somewhat my own hopes for Pope Benedict. At some point in his housecleaning of the Catholic Church, I hope he takes on ID which I see as a neo-protestant movement within the Church.


18 posted on 11/28/2005 5:03:25 AM PST by Varda
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To: Varda
I hope he takes on ID which I see as a neo-protestant movement within the Church.

That is an interesting take on it. He would certainly be within his rights in condemning the theological claims of IDists. Many have implied that the Faith requires a beleif that the creation of Man required a direct supernatural intervention. That is proximate to heresy, IMHO.

Claiming to have proven that certain things could not have evolved, while bad science, is not heresy and hence not a concern for the Church.

19 posted on 11/28/2005 5:15:01 AM PST by curiosity
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To: curiosity
Whether something evolved or not isn't a concern of the church, I agree but ID seems to depend on a philosophy that is at odds with traditional church teaching on divine causality. That philosophy is nominalism.

All the ID arguments I've seen claiming Darwinism is atheistic promote the idea that finding chance in a string of particular causes is anti-Christian. They promote the idea that God is be found only in particular causes (must have direct supernatural intervention) and specifically deny any role for a universal cause (no theistic evolution).
Any argument that suggests that there is no role for a universal cause or that chance cannot be explained this way, IMO should be cause for concern to the Church.
20 posted on 11/28/2005 6:25:24 AM PST by Varda
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To: curiosity
I go back and forth. I read Darwin's Black Box (Michael Behe) and was impressed with that; I read Darwin's God (Kenneth Miller's counter-volley) and was impressed with THAT; then I read Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe (Dembski, Behe, and Meyer) and was swayed back again.

You'll notice a certain oscillation going on here.

A big contributory factor must be that I just don't have enough knowledge to place competing claims in context.

Miller is correct in saying that the Catholic Church does not have any dogmas disputing strictly scientific claims (and, pace Galileo, it never did); but the Church does reject the closed philosophical materialism, acknowledged or unacknowledged, which underlies the pronouncements of some scientists in the origins field.

On the other hand, if design is not only empirically detectable, but actually detected, that doesn't necessarily have the theological implications claimed for it. I suppose that if we're not the only technologically advanced civilization in this part of the galaxy, there's always LGM's to consider!

It does not preserve the integrity of scientific knowledge to ignore empirical evidence of design. Nor does it preserve the integrity of theological knowledge to ignore the contingency and the adequacy of secondary causes.

Parse that, earthlings.

21 posted on 11/28/2005 7:02:45 AM PST by Mrs. Don-o (How 'bout providentially calibrated, intelligent, individually loved & planned evolutionary design?)
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To: curiosity

Interesting that Miller and Behe, well-matched rivals that they are, are both practicing Catholics.


22 posted on 11/28/2005 7:04:11 AM PST by Mrs. Don-o (How 'bout providentially calibrated, intelligent, individually loved & planned evolutionary design?)
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To: Mrs. Don-o
I haven't read this book. Previously, design proponents have argued that if something was complex, improbable and unexplained that it was probably intelligently designed. Have they come up with a newer argument?

Also, It seems to me that you can't detect intelligent design without having some method of detecting what's not intelligently designed (that's how archaeologists do it). IDers seem to argue that what science can demonstrate is ipso facto not intelligent design.

"the Church does reject the closed philosophical materialism, acknowledged or unacknowledged, which underlies the pronouncements of some scientists in the origins field."

This is true but whenever scientists make such pronouncements they are not doing science. When they do science they don't make these pronouncements. I think the Church is doing a tremendous service to science by calling out the philosophical materialists who are attempting to claim science for atheism.
23 posted on 11/28/2005 7:46:13 AM PST by Varda
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To: Mrs. Don-o
The book I haven't read, Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe.
24 posted on 11/28/2005 7:49:27 AM PST by Varda
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To: Mrs. Don-o

Excellent post.

From my perspective, there's some language parsing going on between two camps that amounts to arguing about angels dancing on the head of a pin.

I am going to intentionally use different language than either one of them use to make the point.

The intelligent design enthusiasts say that all life was built to a blueprint, with God as the architect.

The hard-core atheistic evolutionist enthusiasts say that all life was not "built" at all, in that there was no builder. Rather, particles were blown along by pure chance, combining and recombining, certain chance permutations were more durable, and they prevailed. Blind, random nature - chance - luck - probability - the thing that drives entropy - that is the source of blind evolution, which is the source of life and nothing else.

My own view is that the latter is the case, but that luck is not COMPLETELY blind: God set His creation spinning according to his immutable laws, BUT he continues to act universally on His creation in the interstices of probability. Where things are not determinate, where random outcomes are possible, God allows many outcomes, but DETERMINES some of them based on what He wants. He can break His own laws, of course, but He likes those laws: after all, He made them. So, he creates what He wants within the cadre of the rules he set, by determining the outcome of entropic happenstances, sometimes.

[As an aside, in general, theologists and scientists really don't like it when you step outside of their preferred terms and start using other ones. Control the language, and you control the debate. And that is precisely why I have used my own terms, and not theirs, to describe what they each say.]


25 posted on 11/28/2005 9:32:07 AM PST by Vicomte13 (Et alors?)
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To: curiosity
"What has this to do with the article posted above? The author is a Christian with no less faith in God than you."

and what got the cartoon to do with the article?
26 posted on 11/29/2005 5:10:51 AM PST by MHalblaub (Tell me in four more years (No, I did not vote for Kerry))
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To: curiosity
Without cilia how did a paramecium exist? Did it evolve from a one cell organism that had no cilia?

If Science cannot comment upon the existence of God or admit that there is the design of an intelligent being behind the universe then how can the universe be studied? Why should it be intelligible at all?

I cannot convince you of the existence of God any more then you can convince me that the evolution of man has actually happened in so much as they are both beliefs which rest on faith. But.... we both can point to evidence of their respective realities. If you think that Intelligent Design is unmeasurable and a purely philosophical/religious concept I can only offer that the counter proposal of randomness and accidental existence is unmeasurable as well.

But that which we can measure is by our nature limited and distorted. If we limit ourselves to what we can measure then we will left with the mistaken impression that the world is flat and the stars are all there is.

27 posted on 12/03/2005 1:20:28 AM PST by RichardMoore
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To: RichardMoore
Without cilia how did a paramecium exist? Did it evolve from a one cell organism that had no cilia?

Most likely, but I'm not an expert on cilia. I'm sure if you google "evolution of the cilium" you'll find some articles about how it happened.

I cannot convince you of the existence of God

You don't have to, because I believe in God.

any more then you can convince me that the evolution of man has actually happened in so much as they are both beliefs which rest on faith.

Sorry, but the truth of evolution is established by looking at the evidence. Faith has nothing to do with it.

If you think that Intelligent Design is unmeasurable and a purely philosophical/religious concept I can only offer that the counter proposal of randomness and accidental existence is unmeasurable as well.

First of all, randomness is easily observable and measurable. If you want to observe it, go to Vegas. As far as measurement is concerned, there's a whole branch of mathematics devoted to measuring and quantifying randmoness: it's called probability theory.

Second of all, "accidental existence" has nothing to do with thoery of biological evolution.

But that which we can measure is by our nature limited and distorted.

True, but science provides a means for correcting for the distortions and expanding the scope of the measurable.

If we limit ourselves to what we can measure then we will left with the mistaken impression that the world is flat and the stars are all there is.

Nonsense. It was their ability to measure distance and inclination that made the ancient Greeks realize the Earth is round.

28 posted on 12/03/2005 8:37:27 AM PST by curiosity
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