Father Michal Heller, 72, a Polish priest-cosmologist and a onetime associate of Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, the future pope, was named March 12 as the winner of the Templeton Prize.
In this recent interview came a critique of the intelligent design position as bad theology, akin to the Manichean heresy. Fr. Heller puts forth this rather strange argument as follows:
“They implicitly revive the old manicheistic error postulating the existence of two forces acting against each other: God and an inert matter; in this case, chance and intelligent design.”
Coming from a theologian, this is an astonishing summary of the Manichean heresy. Historically Manichæism is a form of dualism: that good and evil were equal and opposite forces, locked in an eternal struggle. In this distortion, the role of the all-powerful evil is replaced by chance? It is traditional Christian teaching that God forms (i.e. designs) creation. Does this make God the arch-rival of chanciness? It is difficult to see how the intelligent design perspective could possibly be contrary to Catholic teaching. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas speaks in his Summa of God explicitly as the great designer of the creation:
“… the “Spirit of God” Scripture usually means the Holy Ghost, Who is said to “move over the waters,” not, indeed, in bodily shape, but as the craftsman’s will may be said to move over the material to which he intends to give a form.”
The ID point of view is such a minimalist position it is amazing to see the charge of heresy– it simply does not have the philosophical meat necessary to begin to make this kind of theological accusation.
There are some points that Fr. Heller raises that are entirely consistent with an ID point of view:
“There is no opposition here. Within the all-comprising Mind of God what we call chance and random events is well composed into the symphony of creation.” But “God is also the God of chance events,” he said. “From what our point of view is, chance — from God’s point of view, is … his structuring of the universe.”
In this quote, he is basically saying the there is no such thing as fundamental chance, only apparent chance. The apparent noise is really a beautiful tapestry viewed from the wrong side. Of course if there were discernable structure, then we could … well … discern it (this is the whole point of ID). The problem here is that Fr. Heller does not have a self-consistent position that one can argue or agree with, as his next quote shows:
“As an example, Father Heller said, “birth is a chance event, but people ascribe that to God. People have much better theology than adherents of intelligent design. The chance event is just a part of God’s plan.”
Now if I were picking from a list of random events to use as my illustration of chance acting in the world, childbirth would not be one of them. Does he mean the timing of birth, or the act of conception, or the forming of the child? If anything this is an extremely well-choreographed event that has very little to do with chanciness of any flavor. Here he seems to be going back, and saying that chance is real (not just apparent) – but God intends to have it that way. Once again, the ID position can also be reconciled with the existence of fundamental chance, but not fundamental chance as the only thing that exists in the universe.
In this interview, Fr. Heller does not seem to have a sophisticated view of how randomness can work together with intelligence, he also does not seem to have read any books by design advocates – the arguments he makes are directed to nonexistent opponents. For a physicist/theologian that is giving an interview upon the reception of his Templeton award, the only physics/theology that is offered is internally confused, and based on caricatures of the ID argument. My feeling is that if he actually read and considered the ID arguments we might find a kindred spirit.