Intelligent Design

Pius XII would be turning in his grave

Spread the love

I’ve been trying to obtain a full transcript of last year’s Vatican conference on evolution, if only to confirm my fears that it had been hijacked by the ‘Darwin was right but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist’ brigade. So far I have had to make do with a summary of the papers presented to the Conference, and, sure enough, it makes grim reading. Full details are available at, but suffice to say that they include contributions by the  likes of Douglas Futuyma and Francisco Ayala.

On this evidence, the Pontifical Academy of Culture (which organized the conference) is worryingly unaware of both the latest developments in biochemistry, information theory and cosmology, and the authoritative teaching of Pope Pius XII in this area. In his 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis, that Pope made it clear that research into evolution must be undertaken ‘in such a way that the reasons for both opinions – that is, those favourable and unfavourable to evolution – be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure’. It would appear, however, that last year’s conference contained very little weighing and judging of the evidence pointing to intelligent design as the ultimate cause of mankind’s origins.

A papal encyclical is an authoritative document, and cannot (or rather, should not) be ignored – least of all by members of a Pontifical academy. Does anyone else share my concern?

13 Replies to “Pius XII would be turning in his grave

  1. 1
    rmzupancic says:

    Your link to the scoop was incorrect – one too many 0’s It should be

  2. 2
  3. 3
    EndoplasmicMessenger says:

    As JPII said in the above link:

    “And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. ”


    “With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry? … the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection, while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator’s plans.”

    (emphasis added)

    Sounds like JPII is saying that evolutionary hypotheses should not be considered in isolation of philosophical and theological reflection.

  4. 4
    rockyr says:

    Endoplasmic, JPII’s statement on evolution is still shrouded by a lot of mystery. It was controversial since the very beginning, when the media around the world triumphantly declared that the pope and Vatican finally admitted the validity of evolution and Darwinism. A few days later there was a kind of careful retraction or explanation in some media — JPII made his address in French, and a bad official English translation was supposedly submitted. But few bothered to get to the bottom of it, or couldn’t , since a lot of the background information was simply not available, so the original convoluted and sensationalist statement lives until today as JPII’s and Vatican’s official church statement on evolution.

    Sadly JPII never addressed the controversy and never clarified what he meant, so the controversy continues. To complicate matters further, it is important to understand the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility — and it certainly does not apply to scientific matters, in those areas no pope has the privilege to make infallible statements!

    JPII may have personally believed in evolution, or he may have not. If he did believe in evolution, it was still just his personal opinion, and anybody who makes references to JPII’s belief in evolution should then consider his credentials as a scientist and a philosopher. And while JPII was a brilliant person and a pope in many respects, his area of expertise was not in the scientific matters, but rather in artistic and ethical — he was an artist, actor, and a trained moral philosopher, not a philosopher of science.

    The controversy of evolution and Darwinism within the Catholic Church will continue until some pope finally decides to properly address it in an authoritative way. Pope Benedict has made some careful attempts so far, but we will have to wait and see if he will finally dare to take the bull by the horns.

  5. 5
    EndoplasmicMessenger says:


    That link is very interesting.

  6. 6

    Indeed, especially the concluding paragraph:

    “The Church has had a provisional finding since 1950 that the idea that God used intermediate living forms to produce the body of the first man can be reconciled with the deposit of faith, but that it must still be acknowledged that the soul is created immediately by God from nothing. The evolutionary hypothesis still must stand or fail on the scientific evidence for it, and nobody is a bad or a good Catholic based on whether they accept or reject it, for the Church does not teach matters of science as if they were matters of faith.” [emphasis added]

    This interpretation squares directly with the one currently being pursued by the Pontifical Academy, which views the hypothesis of “intelligent design” as both unnecessary and irrelevant, and hence has not invited ID supporters to its deliberations, nor included any version of ID in its ongoing findings.

    I can see why many of the ID supporters at this website (including the author of the OP) might be disturbed by this, but to me it seems quite consistent with a half century of Catholic metaphysics, which is fully compatible with an evolutionary theory that does not require any supernatural intervention into the “secondary causes” that have resulted in the material evolution of humans from non-human ancestors.

    This also squares with the results of several studies by the students in my evolution course at Cornell, who have interviewed several Catholic priests and scientists, and found two significant positions in common among them:

    • that the Genesis creation stories (along with many other Bible stories, especially in the Old Testament) are considered to be metaphorical interpretations rather than strictly literal descriptions of the origin of the Earth, life, and humans; and

    • there is nothing metaphysically contradictory in the biological theory of evolution (including macroevolution) and the origin of the material basis of human life.

    The origin of the human soul, on the other hand, is inferred (on strictly theological grounds) to be the result of the direct intervention of God into the spirit (i.e. not the material body) of humanity.

    Which leads to an interesting question:

    Who are the real “materialists”: those who insist that God could only have brought about the existence of the human soul/spirit/mind by directly intervening in the origin of its material vehicle (in contravention of the observable laws of nature), or those who believe that God had/has the ability to create a universe in which the material vehicle of the human soul can have evolved according to strictly natural laws, but the origin of the human soul/spirit/mind requires the direct intervention of that very same supernatural soul/spirit/mind?

  7. 7
    vjtorley says:

    Allen MacNeill (#6)

    Thank you for your post. First, I’m sure you are perfectly well aware that ID does not require the Designer to have used supernatural processes to create the various species of living things – including the body of the first man. One could suppose that the initial conditions of the universe were extraordinarily fine-tuned by God, so as to lead to the development of the organisms we see in the world today. This is one hypothesis that Professor Mike Behe proposed in The Edge of Evolution.

    Second, it is one thing to say that God may have used natural processes to produce the human body. It is quite another thing to say that in addition to the laws of nature, God made use of processes which (as far as we can ascertain) are totally random, in order to generate the human body. Giving the green light to evolution is quite a different thing from approving NDE, or some variant thereof.

  8. 8
    Charlie says:

    Keen insight, professor. Thanks for sharing with the generosity of your spirit.

  9. 9
    kairosfocus says:

    Prof MacNeill:

    RE: Who are the real “materialists”: those who insist that God could only have brought about the existence of the human soul/spirit/mind by directly intervening in the origin of its material vehicle (in contravention of the observable laws of nature) . . .

    I think that the observation that empirically reliable signs of intelligence exist and point to the design of life, of body plans and of the fine-tuned cosmos that supports such, is not a “must have” — i.e. an a priori imposition — but a question of “in fact” — i.e. a matter of empirical inference from observed patterns and characteristic signs of empirically known causal factors.

    And, notoriously, the intelligent imposes a different order of reality on the material, which it would not otherwise credibly attain on blind mechanisms and accident of initial conditions and/or stochastic processes.

    As J S Wicken aptly notes (even while hoping that blind selection would duck the implication of the key point):

    Organized’ systems are to be carefully distinguished from ‘ordered’ systems.  Neither kind of system is ‘random,’ but whereas ordered systems are generated according to simple algorithms [i.e. “simple” force laws acting on objects starting from arbitrary and common- place initial conditions] and therefore lack complexity, organized systems must be assembled element by element according to an [originally . . . ] external ‘wiring diagram’ with a high information content . . . Organization, then, is functional complexity and carries information. It is non-random by design or by selection, rather than by the a priori necessity of crystallographic ‘order.’ [“The Generation of Complexity in Evolution: A Thermodynamic and Information-Theoretical Discussion,” Journal of Theoretical Biology, 77 (April 1979): p. 353, of pp. 349-65. (Emphases and notes added. Nb: “originally” is added to highlight that for self-replicating systems, the blue print can be built-in.)]

    The human brain is of course, a uniquely functionally organised, “wired” system. As to the nature and functionality of the associated human MIND, that is a big question. But, we have to constrain the conclusions we make based on the radical difference between mental operations such as inference and reasoning, from the more or less mechanical cause-effect linkages that electrochemical interactions give rise to.

    So, for instance, whilst Crick remarks in his The Astonishing Hypothesis:

    . . . that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.

    Johnson aptly rebuts, in Reason in the Balance, that:

    Crick should therefore be willing to preface his books: “I, Francis Crick, my opinions and my science, and even the thoughts expressed in this book, consist of nothing more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (In short, as Prof Johnson then went on to say: “[t]he plausibility of materialistic determinism requires that an implicit exception be made for the theorist.”

    To try to account for mind on matter through the philosophy of evolutionary materialism imposed as a straitjacket on science, inevitably ends in self-referential absurdity.

    So, we must look otherwise than to matter in motion under blind material forces and chance circumstances to adequately explain mind.


    GEM of TKI

  10. 10

    Charlie in comment #9:

    You’re welcome; my pleasure.

  11. 11

    kairosfocus in comment #10:

    I completely agree, and point out that your comment is in entire agreement with Pope John Paul’s comments in the link I posted. The origin of the mind is indeed separate from (and seems to follow different rules from) the origin of the nervous system (i.e. the vehicle within which the mind develops and “lives”). This has been pointed out by philosophers and scientists for at least three millennia. Furthermore, the question of the origin of the mind is separate from (but related to) the origin of its vehicle. Since its inception, evolutionary biology has been virtually entirely concerned with the latter.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    Prof MacNeill:

    Okay, we have a common point.

    I would distinguish, though, that from my Derek Smithian — robot- building- soldering- iron- in- hand — perspective, the brain looks a lot like an i/o front-end processor with backing store.

    Smith’s two-tier controller model is the first I have seen that makes real, suggestively interesting sense from a servosystem cybernetics perspective. And it suggests that there may be multiple possible implementations of he architecture: AI type software programmed subsystems and immaterial minds alike would be compatible with it!

    GEM of TKI

  13. 13
    rockyr says:

    Allen_McNeill, I am not surprised that students and many priests don’t understand the meaning and importance of the “literal” interpretation any more, or that scientists don’t understand the proper interpretation and the importance of the Scriptures even in science. (You know the famous — there is one truth only, not two.) Darwin really muddled this by his confused misunderstanding. I find the following Q & A much more relevant than the conclusions you have drawn:

    Q: Does this statement mean the pope thinks that no scientists have tried to force the evidence in favor of evolution?

    A: Certainly not. The pope is well aware of the role of bias and even dishonesty in the field of science, as in every other field of human endeavor. Human sin affects everything.

    As far as the metaphysical contradictions involved within the notion of evolution itself, the problem, as G. K. Chesterton explained 100 years ago, is that it is not only an innocent scientific description any more, (it never was), it is so much more, especially today. And it is this massive pseudo-scientific extension of this “mere scientific theory” that knowledgeable Christians and Catholics will fight until the cows come home.

    “Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself. Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism.

    If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time. But if it means anything more, it means that there is no such thing as an ape to change, and no such thing as a man for him to change into. It means that there is no such thing as a thing. At best, there is only one thing, and that is a flux of everything and anything.

    This is an attack not upon the faith, but upon the mind; you cannot think if there are no things to think about. You cannot think if you are not separate from the subject of thought. Descartes said, “I think; therefore I am.” The philosophic evolutionist reverses and negatives the epigram. He says, “I am not; therefore I cannot think.” (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, ch. 3 The Suicide of Thought)

Leave a Reply