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Friday, October 14, 2005

Catholic Cardinal steps up anti-Darwin campaign

Cardinal Schonborn is not backing down, contrary to US legacy media reports:

Far from it, he is more in-yer-face than ever about Darwinism. This is the opening note from the English-language version of a recent talk he gave (in German):
It has come to our attention that the content of Cardinal Schönborn's first catechesis has been mis-reported in the English-speaking press as somehow drawing back from his essay in The New York Times. This is inaccurate, as will be apparent from the full text. In order to clear up this misunderstanding, we are posting here an initial draft of an English translation. (Official and final German and English versions will follow when the lectures are compiled into book form.)

Yes, it is true that Schonborn said the following:
With this, his major work, Darwin undoubtedly scored a brilliant coup, and it remains a great oeuvre in the history of ideas. With an astounding gift for observation, enormous diligence, and mental prowess, he succeeded in producing one of that history's most influential works. He could already see in advance that his research would create many areas of endeavor. Today one can truly say that the "evolution" paradigm has become, so to speak, a "master key," extending itself within many fields of knowledge.

BUT ... did anyone notice that he went on to say:
His success should not be attributed entirely to scientific causes. Darwin himself (but above all his zealous promoters, those who promulgated what is called "Darwinism") imbued his theory with the air of a distinct worldview. Let us leave aside the question of whether such is inevitable. What is certain is that many saw Darwin's The Origin of Species as an alternative to what Darwin himself called "the theory of independent acts of creation." To explain the origin of species, one no longer needed such one-by-one creative activity.

And he followed up later with:
Thus, I should like to remind you once more what I have said in various interviews. For me the question that has emerged from this debate is not primarily one of faith vs. knowledge but rather one of reason. The acceptance of purposefulness, of "design" [English in the original], is entirely based on reason, even if the method of the modern natural sciences may require the bracketing of the question of design. Yet my common sense cannot be shut out by the scientific method. Reason tells me that plan and order, meaning and goal exist, that a time-piece does not come into being by accident, even less so the living organism that is a plant, an animal, or, above all, man.

Apparently, the non-gun-shy Cardinal has a Web site on the issue, in German. My best guess is that he just couldn't be doing all this if BXVI disapproved.

(Note: Try this if the link doesn't work:

I have heard via the grapevine that Schonborn was astounded at the US media's take on his comments - as if this was the first time the Catholic Church has ever insisted on a non-materialist (non-naturalist) view of life. Don't bet anything you need on the English-language publication of his talk clearing things up though.

I've come to the conclusion that many US journalism schools major in teaching formula fiction writing. See, in the story that was supposed to happen, the Cardinal should have been sent to the boonies by now. But he wasn't. So they think the thing to do is NOT to investigate further but to call in the rewrite guys ...

(Note: I would normally link a bunch of media stuff here, but I am about 3000 kilometres from my files on this story. (I will try to do it when I get back.)

Extinction: "Weird internal motor" of evolution? Effect of galactic history?

In an interesting article in Current Biology (September 20), paleontologist Simon Conway Morris argues that human-life creatures would have arisen even if the dinos had not gone extinct:

The bolide misses and the dinosaurs go home for tea... You know the mantra: no K/T impact, no dinosaur extinctions, so no mammalian evolutionary radiations, so neither primates nor in due course apes and so ultimately no us. True, but trivial. Imagine a counterfactual Earth, with no K/T impact. Twenty million years later the planet still sails into major glaciations. Dinosaurs are doing fine, thank you, but look what's happening in the cooler temperate and polar regions. Warm-blooded critters are taking the initiative. Both birds and mammals are intelligent, social and have a tendency to make tools. This means that sooner or later a sentient species with technology will emerge: the demise of the heavy brigade is inevitable. Mass extinctions may accelerate (maybe postpone), but they never cancel.

This is, of course, the opposite of Stephen Jay Gould's position, espousing radical randomness of outcomes for evolution, as exprssed in Wonderful Life.

Morris also weighs in on whether extinctions are periodic:

Discussion of whether mass extinctions are cyclic ebbs and flows. At the moment most pundits say 'no', but the evidence remains intriguing. If correct, either biological diversity has some weird internal motor, or more likely the fossil record is telling us something about galactic history. Recall that presently the Solar System is embedded in what astronomers call the Local Bubble, but in the past-and future- when the Solar System encounters interstellar clouds, the heliosphere will shrink, with consequences such as a change in cosmic ray flux. Now that is beginning to sound interesting.

Yes, it begins to sound interesting. And in even speculating about a "weird internal motor", Conway Morris is beginning to sound like the ID advocates he has no use for. I suspect, along with the late David Raup, that critical to understanding evolution is understanding extinction.

(Note: You have to get CB through a library if you don't subscribe.)

Now back to the blogging conference.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.
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