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Herbert London on Cardinal Schoenborn


Science and the Church: What it means to question Darwinism
by Herbert London


Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, the Catholic archbishop of Vienna, recently
caused a firestorm in intellectual circles when he made the rather obvious
argument that Darwinism has many unexplained characteristics. The New York
Times responded reflexively by suggesting that the Church was turning away
from “modern science.”

This is a discussion surrounded by a conundrum: much of the science of
Darwinism is surmise. Even something as seemingly simple as what people mean
when we use the word evolution is fraught with controversy.

Cardinal Schonborn brought this out when he wrote, “Evolution in the sense
of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinism
sense—an unguided, unplanned 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.”

In today’s discussions, words such as “evolution,” “random,” and “design”
are fraught with contested meaning. What the cardinal appears to have been
trying to say is that various forms of natural phenomena suggest, even if
they do not offer proof in themselves, that intelligent design or
providential will, cannot be dismissed out of hand on an a priori basis.

The Cardinal’s view is compatible with the possibility that God set a
process of natural selection in motion or introduced the condition of human
design without the benefit of a random evolutionary process. One may, of
course, reject this position as hoary religionist theory, but one cannot
reject it out of hand on the basis of sheer scientific analysis. Undaunted
by this reality, Tufts University philosophy professor Daniel Dennett
attempted to do so in his August 28 NY Times article entitled “Show Me the

For the Times to contend that the Church opposes modern science by opposing
Darwinian theory is to attribute a truth to a theory and then anathematize
those who do not embrace all aspects of the theory. That a Catholic Cardinal
will not exile God to the fringe of this debate should hardly be surprising;
unless, of course, you write for the New York Times.

Certainly there are questions raised by natural phenomena that do not fit
comfortably in the Darwinian model.

For as long as birds have been on the planet, they have built nests to hatch
their eggs and tend to the very young. In order to build those nests, a
series of complicated maneuvers are necessary, including the selection of
the “right” twig size, avoidance of predators, and twisting the nest into
the appropriate shape and depth. The notion that such complex behavior has
been built into the genetic code of birds is not subject to testing; it is a
matter that Darwinians take on faith.

As the film March of the Penguins shows, penguins walk 70 miles into the
thick ice of Antarctica to mate. Afterward, the females march back to the
sea in order to provide food, while the males use a flap of skin to protect
the fertilized egg from the freezing cold conditions. Darwinians ask us to
believe that countless numbers of birds died before natural mutations led to
a single bird of this type that would have all the necessary characteristics
for survival and successfully pass them on to its children. Simple fairness
would say that a far less fanciful explanation, design, should at the very
least merit consideration as a plausible alternative theory.

Cardinal Schonborn, despite his ambiguous language, seems to think so. His
position is not a rejection of Darwinism; it is a perfectly sensible
questioning of assumptions that underlie a popular scientific theory. For
those who contend that to question Darwinism is to repudiate modern science,
I would say that their criticism is neither modern nor scientific.

Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute, Professor Emeritus of
New York University, and author of Decade of Denial, published by Lexington

Ken Miller is not the only Darwinian Roman Catholic in the world. Theodosius Dobzhansky was a Christian too. The question remains what role did God play in their chance based Darwinian model?John Davison
January 26, 2006
04:54 PM
Revised analogy: No, it is a war, and they are the Romans! The Huns came later and were frightened of the Pope, Pope Leo I in 452 AD. ( see http://www.cryingvoice.com/Christianity/HunAttila.html ) .... God Terrifies Attila the Hun, AD 452 One of the most perplexing puzzles of Christianity and world history is what happened at the meeting of Attila, king of the Huns, and Pope Leo I in AD 452, which persuaded Attila not to attack and destroy Rome and to give up killing the Christians. (read it all) .... I changed my analogy when I thought of this because it's my opinion that the editors of the NYT have NO fear of God. I could be wrong, of course.Red Reader
January 25, 2006
12:21 PM
"For the Times to contend that the Church opposes modern science by opposing Darwinian theory is to attribute a truth to a theory and then anathematize those who do not embrace all aspects of the theory." Actually, I think Prof. London got this observation backwards. Since the editorial board at the New York Times simply cannot fit the descriptions of ES Darwinists nor of KM Darwinists, therefore they are RD Darwinists. "The Richard Dawkins Darwinist (abbreviated RD Darwinist), is virulently against religion of any stripe and uses evolution as a club to beat religious believers. Richard Dawkins Darwinists despise religious belief and regard religious believers as having to check their brains at the door if they are want to maintain both their faith and evolutionary theory." (For descriptions of the three types of Darwinists, see http://www.designinference.com/documents/2005.11.Vise_Strategy.pdf page 3.) So, I think the sequence of events is really this: editors at the NYT *BEGIN* by despising the religious faith of Cardinal Schoenborn and the Catholic Church. THEN they use whatever means they may find on any given day to bash the Cardinal, the Church and anybody else they can reach with their club. The NYT editors LOVE evolution! Not because they really "attribute truth to the theory" (they may or may not--do they even care?), but because its status as the reigning dogma affords them one more opportunity to confirm their own "elite" status and to ridicule their *political* opponents. Their opponents are NOT ignoramuses: they are simply people who have different ideas and different values. Ridicule of political opponents is a tool not only to keep like-minded supporters gleeful, but also to frighten fence-sitters and discourage outright opponents. If the NYT editors mearly believed the theory and thought it really the best explanation for life and living systems on earth, they would actually be FAR more courteous to people who mearly had different ideas. No, it is a war, and they are the Huns.Red Reader
January 25, 2006
12:08 PM

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