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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Catholic teaching on the origin of the universe: Intelligent design or a non-omniscient god?

Wow! Catholic World News has begun to get the story. Instead of treating Vatican astronomer George Coyne as an authority on the Catholic Church's views when he trashes the idea that the universe is obviously intelligently designed, a CWN report makes a most revealing admission regarding Fr. Coyne's views:
Whereas Cardinal Schönborn argued that a strictly material approach to evolution cannot answer ultimate questions about the origin of man, Father Coyne countered that critics of evolution are underestimating God's willingness to give "freedom" to the processes of nature.

Here's an article by Coyne (06/08/2005) that makes his opposing stance pretty clear.
In the universe, as known by science, there are essentially three processes at work: chance, necessity and the fertility of the universe. The classical question as to whether the human being came about by chance, and so has no need of God, or by necessity, and so through the action of a designer God, is no longer valid. And so any attempt to answer it is doomed to failure. The fertility of the universe, now well established by science, is an essential ingredient, and the meaning of chance and necessity must be seen in light of that fertility.

Huh? So the alleged "fertility of the universe" is supposed to be a substitute for design or divine providence? Where did this "fertility" come in?

Well, Coyne explains,
... if we confront what we know of our origins scientifically with religious faith in God the Creator – if, that is, we take the results of modern science seriously – it is difficult to believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient in the sense of many of the scholastic philosophers. For the believer, science tells us of a God who must be very different from God as seen by them.

Wow. So God is just sprinkling fertilizer, as I might do in my garden, hoping it will land somewhere useful? Then Someone Else must have created the actual universe that we see, in which the stuff might indeed land somewhere and do some good? Well, Fr. Coyne is describing a religion, certainly, but is it Christianity? Or is it just the latest fad, in churches that no one goes to any more?

The main idea behind Christianity is that we can get in touch with the One Who Really Acts and Knows (= omnipotent, omniscient, etc.)

If you are a non-Christian, please bear with me for a moment. Yes, this is a row between Christians, but it is an important row all the same. Christians are instructed to believe that God's power and intellect can be seen in nature. That is, he is either omnipotent and omniscient or he is not. There is no middle ground.

If God is omnipotent and omniscient, we should reasonably expect to find evidence in nature for the "progetto intelligente" - the very term that the Italian media use to render "intelligent design" in the intelligent design controversy, which Pope Benedict XVI also used in his recent discourse . The Holy Father can hardly be ignorant of how the term is generally used in Italy.

A key Scripture verse is St. Paul's proclamation, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Rom 1:18–20, NIV)

In Christian terms, men are "without excuse" if they fail to see God's power and divine nature in the things he has made. For those who do see, the next key task is to look at their own natures, to estimate the difference between what they are and what God wants them to be.

But all this seems very far from Father Coyne. The Vatican may need to provide clarifications in English. Is God omnipotent and omniscient? For that matter, is the universe in fact a "progetto intelligente"?
If you like this blog, check out my award-winning book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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