Evolution Intelligent Design

Follow-Up on Cardinal Schönborn’s NYTimes OpEd

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Leading Cardinal Redefines Church’s View on Evolution
By CORNELIA DEAN and LAURIE GOODSTEIN

July 9, 2005

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/09/science/09cardinal.html

An influential cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, which has long been regarded as an ally of the theory of evolution, is now suggesting that belief in evolution as accepted by science today may be incompatible with Catholic faith.

The cardinal, Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, a theologian who is close to Pope Benedict XVI, staked out his position in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on Thursday, writing, “Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense – an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection – is not.”

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.

Opponents of Darwinian evolution said they were gratified by Cardinal Schönborn’s essay. But scientists and science teachers reacted with confusion, dismay and even anger. Some said they feared the cardinal’s sentiments would cause religious scientists to question their faiths.

Cardinal Schönborn, who is on the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, said the office had no plans to issue new guidance to teachers in Catholic schools on evolution. But he said he believed students in Catholic schools, and all schools, should be taught that evolution is just one of many theories. Many Catholic schools teach Darwinian evolution, in which accidental mutation and natural selection of the fittest organisms drive the history of life, as part of their science curriculum.

Darwinian evolution is the foundation of modern biology. While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory.

American Catholics and conservative evangelical Christians have been a potent united front in opposing abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia, but had parted company on the death penalty and the teaching of evolution. Cardinal Schönborn’s essay and comments are an indication that the church may now enter the debate over evolution more forcefully on the side of those who oppose the teaching of evolution alone.

One of the strongest advocates of teaching alternatives to evolution is the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which promotes the idea, termed intelligent design, that the variety and complexity of life on earth cannot be explained except through the intervention of a designer of some sort.

Mark Ryland, a vice president of the institute, said in an interview that he had urged the cardinal to write the essay. 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.

The cardinal’s essay, a direct response to Dr. Krauss’s article, was submitted to The Times by a Virginia public relations firm, Creative Response Concepts, which also represents the Discovery Institute.

Mr. Ryland, who said he knew the cardinal through the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria, where he is chancellor and Mr. Ryland is on the board, said supporters of intelligent design were “very excited” that a church leader had taken a position opposing Darwinian evolution. “It clarified that in some sense the Catholics aren’t fine with it,” he said.

Bruce Chapman, the institute’s president, said the cardinal’s essay “helps blunt the claims” that the church “has spoken on Darwinian evolution in a way that’s supportive.”

But some biologists and others said they read the essay as abandoning longstanding church support for evolutionary biology.

“How did the Discovery Institute talking points wind up in Vienna?” wondered Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, which advocates the teaching of evolution. “It really did look quite a bit as if Cardinal Schönborn had been reading their Web pages.”

Mr. Ryland said the cardinal was well versed on these issues and had written the essay on his own.

Dr. Francis Collins, who headed the official American effort to decipher the human genome, and who describes himself as a Christian, though not a Catholic, said Cardinal Schönborn’s essay looked like “a step in the wrong direction” and said he feared that it “may represent some backpedaling from what scientifically is a very compelling conclusion, especially now that we have the ability to study DNA.”

“There is a deep and growing chasm between the scientific and the spiritual world views,” he went on. “To the extent that the cardinal’s essay makes believing scientists less and less comfortable inhabiting the middle ground, it is unfortunate. It makes me uneasy.”

“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.”

Dr. Miller, whose book “Finding Darwin’s God” describes his reconciliation of evolutionary theory with Christian faith, said the essay seemed to equate belief in evolution with disbelief in God. That is alarming, he said. “It may have the effect of convincing Catholics that evolution is something they should reject.”

Dr. Collins and other scientists said they could understand why a cleric might want to make the case that, as Dr. Collins put it, “evolution is the mechanism by which human beings came into existence, but God had something to do with that, too.” Dr. Collins said that view, theistic evolution, “is shared with a very large number of biologists who also believe in God, including me.”

But it does not encompass the idea that the workings of evolution required the direct intervention of a supernatural agent, as intelligent design would have it.

In his essay, Cardinal Schönborn asserted that he was not trying to break new ground but to correct the idea, “often invoked,” that the church accepts or at least acquiesces to the theory of evolution.

He referred to widely cited remarks by Pope John Paul II, who, in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, noted that the scientific case for evolution was growing stronger and that the theory was “more than a hypothesis.”

In December, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, chairman of the Committee on Science and Human Values of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, cited those remarks in writing to the nation’s bishops that “the Church does not need to fear the teaching of evolution as long as it is understood as a scientific account of the physical origins and development of the universe.” But in his essay, Cardinal Schönborn dismissed John Paul’s statement as “rather vague and unimportant.”

Francisco Ayala, a professor of biology at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Dominican priest, called this assessment “an insult” to the late pope and said the cardinal seemed to be drawing a line between the theory of evolution and religious faith, and “seeing a conflict that does not exist.”

Dr. Miller said he was already hearing from people worried about the cardinal’s essay. “People are saying, does the church really believe this?” He said he would not speculate. “John Paul II made it very clear that he regarded scientific rationality as a gift from God,” Dr. Miller said, adding, “There are more than 100 cardinals and they often have conflicting opinions.”

10 Replies to “Follow-Up on Cardinal Schönborn’s NYTimes OpEd

  1. 1
    Qualiatative says:

    “Many Catholic schools teach Darwinian evolution, in which accidental mutation and natural selection of the fittest organisms drive the history of life, as part of their science curriculum.”

    “While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory.”

    I thought RM/NS (read: “how the mechanism of evolution plays out”) was the underlying theory….

  2. 2
    Benjii says:

    I’m personally not sure what to make of this issue. In this essay, I will evaluate theistic evolution, young-earth creationism and old-earth creationism.

    Theistic evolution starts with the belief that God used a natural process to yield the human race. I don’t see anything wrong with this assessment, however, I don’t see too much evidence for it. One strength of evolutionary theory is that it does answer a modicum of biological phenomenons. Case in point, the galapagos birds, bacteria resistance, etc.

    Young-earth creationism is the belief that God created the cosmos in 7 literal days, as stated in the bible. Coupled with this view is also the belief that the earth is between 6,000 to 10,000 years old. The problem with this view is that, biblically speaking, it is highly equivocal. One can make the argument that the days could be tantamount to thousands or millions of years. Moreover, this position is highly contradicted by science. Scientific analysis continues to confirm an antiquated earth. Unfortunately, many christians, such as myself, are derided because of this view. Nevertheless, I’d rather not look down on others because of this view.

    On the other hand, old earth creationism holds that the days mentioned in Genesis 1 could be construed as thousands or millions of years. Many young earth creationists ridicule this view, simply because it compromises the bible with mainstream scientists. Other young-earth creationists would equate this view with evolutionism, due to it’s progressive nature. My problem with this belief is that it only arose because of conflict between darwinists and churchmen. Nonetheless, it accomadates the scriptures with science. Unfortunately, science is mutable and future alterations only cast doubt on scriptural interpretation based on this view.

    In conclusion, one has to way the evidence scientifically and exegetically. My interpretation is that the biblical narrative is meant to be theological not scientific. I personally hold the view of theologian, John H. Sailhammer. Sailhammer, believes that the narrative relates to the promise land not the entire earth. When the genesis account mentions the earth, a better interpretation would be land because the earth in early hebrew is translated as Erets. Which in turn means limited territory.

    Hope this helps

  3. 3
    Benjii says:

    I’m personally not sure what to make of this issue. In this essay, I will evaluate theistic evolution, young-earth creationism and old-earth creationism.

    Theistic evolution starts with the belief that God used a natural process to yield the human race. I don’t see anything wrong with this assessment, however, I don’t see too much evidence for it. One strength of evolutionary theory is that it does answer a modicum of biological phenomenons. Case in point, the galapagos birds, bacteria resistance, etc.

    Young-earth creationism is the belief that God created the cosmos in 7 literal days, as stated in the bible. Coupled with this view is also the belief that the earth is between 6,000 to 10,000 years old. The problem with this view is that, biblically speaking, it is highly equivocal. One can make the argument that the days could be tantamount to thousands or millions of years. Moreover, this position is highly contradicted by science. Scientific analysis continues to confirm an antiquated earth. Unfortunately, many christians, such as myself, are derided because of this view. Nevertheless, I’d rather not look down on others because of this view.

    On the other hand, old earth creationism holds that the days mentioned in Genesis 1 could be construed as thousands or millions of years. Many young earth creationists ridicule this view, simply because it compromises the bible with mainstream scientists. Other young-earth creationists would equate this view with evolutionism, due to it’s progressive nature. My problem with this belief is that it only arose because of conflict between darwinists and churchmen. Nonetheless, it accomadates the scriptures with science. Unfortunately, science is mutable and future alterations only cast doubt on scriptural interpretation based on this view.

    In conclusion, one has to way the evidence scientifically and exegetically. My interpretation is that the biblical narrative is meant to be theological not scientific. I personally hold the view of theologian, John H. Sailhammer. Sailhammer, believes that the narrative relates to the promise land not the entire earth. When the genesis account mentions the earth, a better interpretation would be land because the earth in early hebrew is translated as Erets. Which in turn means limited territory.

    Hope this helps

  4. 4
    Charlie says:

    Benjii,
    I like your point about reinterpreting scripture based on the ever-changing and fallible doctrines of man.
    I think of the example of the Catholic Church trying to accommodate the worldly and scientific thinking regarding geocentrism.
    In Iight of the baggage carried from that attempt, I am glad to see they are further clarifying the distance that exists between themselves and Darwinism. Otherwise, in maybe as little as a few years, we could have another Galileo story to de-mythologize when scientific concensus ultimately turns against RM+NS.

  5. 5
    Benjii says:

    Exactly, they need to brush up their theology and be slow to run into hasty conclusions.

  6. 6
    jumanabeth says:

    Hi, I agree with the Cardinal’s view, which was also Pope John Paul II’s view. I wanted to let you know that I have just published a new book, Creation: Towards a Theory of All Things. John Umana, Copyright, 2005.

    Creation strives to reconcile creationism with certain aspects of Darwinism, where possible. This book analyzes evidence as to the creation of the Universe, the creation of our solar system and the formation and development of complex life on Earth, prehuman hominids and the eventual creation of our species, Homo sapiens, 200,000 years ago in East Africa. Human beings are not descended from modern apes. Yet 6 to 7 million years ago, prehuman bipedal hominids were evolved from a common ancestor. Darwin’s central thesis that all life shares common ancestors, is correct. However, Darwin’s thesis that “natural selection” accounts for the origins of new species, is unsubstantiated and happens to be false. The book further analyzes the recent spate of crop circles, becoming more complex and sophisticated, and the scientific data known about their formation.

    The Universe really is 13.7 billion years old and commenced with the Big Bang. The cosmic expansion is ongoing and galaxies continue to rush away from each other. Earth really is 4.54 billion years old. But what caused the Big Bang? And what caused complex life to develop on Earth but nowhere else in this sun system? Why have the Mars Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) uncovered no fossils or even so much as a seashell on the red planet although the Rovers have proved that salt seas once covered much of the martian surface? Why are three-quarters of the surface of Earth covered with water? Why is the microwave background radiation from the Big Bang, observed by NASA’s WMAP satellite, uniform in all directions? These are some of the questions that Creation seeks to answer.

    I hope you will take a look at Creation. I’m interested in publicizing this to educators, scientists and the like. Here is a link that will take you to the booksurge.com website and directly to Creation, where you can also read an excerpt.

    http://www.booksurge.com/autho.....ID=A000932

    Best wishes and thanks!

    John Umana, Ph.D. (Univ. of Michigan)
    Washington, D.C.
    202-244-7961

  7. 7
    Charlie says:

    This blog site is endlessly fascinating.

  8. 8
    Qualiatative says:

    Dr. Umana,

    evidence as to the crop circles and their origins

    I hope you realize the evidence of crop circle origins leads unanimously to the intelligent designers being Homo sapien earthlings. 🙂

  9. 9
    dave says:

    A fairly even-handed (at least I thought) piece on the Cardinal’s views showed up in US News:

    http://www.usnews.com/usnews/c.....ligion.htm.

  10. 10
    jumanabeth says:

    “Dr. Umana,

    evidence as to the crop circles and their origins

    I hope you realize the evidence of crop circle origins leads unanimously to the intelligent designers being Homo sapiens earthlings.” Reply: Some are hacked out with wooden planks, true enough. But others are not. http://drumana.blogspot.com/

    Best wishes, John Umana

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