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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being came about by chance, and so has no need of God, or by necessity, and so through the action of a designer God, is no longer valid.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.

Templeton funding ID programs: Truth, nonsense, and the desperate need for approval

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that the Wall Street Journal points the finger at profs who encourage students to think about intelligent design, revealing along the way that world-class quantum chemist Fritz Schaefer was dissed by local bonzos on account of his interest in ID.

I had promised to say more about this story. Another interesting feature of reporter Daniel Golden's article was that he noted,

... professors with evangelical beliefs, including some eminent scientists, have initiated most of the courses and lectures, often with start-up funding from the John Templeton Foundation. Established by famous stockpicker Sir John Templeton, the foundation promotes exploring the boundary of theology and science. It fostered the movement's growth with grants of $10,000 and up for guest speakers, library materials, research and conferences.

Well! Templeton senior vice Charles Harper immediately harrumphed to the Journal,

Today the WSJ ran a front page story mentioning the John Templeton Foundation in a way suggesting that the Foundation has been a concerted patron and sponsor of the so-called Intelligent Design (”ID”) position (such as is associated with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and the writers Philip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe and others). This is false information. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The John Templeton Foundation has provided tens of millions of dollars in support to research academics who are critical of the anti-evolution ID position. Any careful and factual analysis of actual events will find that the John Templeton Foundation has been in fact the chief sponsor of university courses, lectures and academic research which variously have argued against the anti-evolution “ID” position. It is scandalous for a distinguished paper to misinform the public in this way.

Harper promises to provide massive evidence for this fact, then notes,

The Foundation believes that proper academic adjudication of important and controversial issues is not by censorship but rather by open scholarly debate and consideration of positions and arguments on the merits or lack thereof. Research scholarship does not proceed by processes of censorship and inhibition of debate.

which sounds like a message to the many admin drones who are trying to simply shut down debate at universities on this subject.

Then he says,

... it is true therefore that Templeton Foundation funding support from time-to-time will have been used by some scholars promoting an ID position whose proposals have passed muster in independently judged review panels. This is entirely appropriate in cases where competitive review panels have found merit in course proposals and have awarded grants. Professors who are winners of Foundation grants are not kept under ideological review for purposes of blacklisting but are free to pursue and debate ideas as they see fit. What is entirely false and misleading is the way in which the Foundation has been portrayed to have been in basic support of the ID position, when on balance the precise opposite is actually the case.

Hmmm. This guy writes as if he doesn't understand that funding any evidence-based critique* of Darwinism or materialism is a violation of the unwritten law that science is merely the handmaid of materialistic philosophy. Even assuming academic freedom in this matter is a violation! When Templeton funds people who were asking questions and offering objections, it is funding virtual criminals, in the eyes of the materialist establishment. So he is admitting Templeton is guilty.

The funny part is that, as Dembski notes, Harper invokes the name of the late Stephen Jay Gould, saying that Gould was a supporter of one of the AAAS programs that Templeton funded, promoting evolution.

In reality, Gould had nothing but "contempt" for the Templeton Foundation, which he accused of trying to mix religion (= meaning, purpose, or design) with science:

In the summer of 1998, a deluge of media hype enveloped the syncretist position, as though some startingly new and persuasive argument had been formulated, or some equally exciting and transforming discovery had been made. In fact, absolutely nothing of intellectual novelty had been added, as the same bad argments surfaced into a glare of publicity because the J. M. Templeton Foundation, established by its fabulously wealthy eponym to advance the syncretist program under the guise of more general and catholic (small c) discussion about science and religion, garnered a splash of media attention by spending 1.4 million bucks to hold a conference in Berkeley on “science and the spiritual quest.” (Rock of Ages, 214)

Good heavens, with supporters like Gould, does Harper need opponents?

Prediction: Templeton will now be asked to buy itself off punishment by 1) funding a whole slew of whack job materialist academics whom it would have rejected in the past (because their insanity can no longer be concealed from their usual funding sources and not from Templeton either) and 2) cancelling a number of worthwhile projects because of guilt, actual or by association, with non-materialism.

Good luck, Charlie, standing your ground.
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.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

The Pope using the term "intelligent design" to describe the Catholic view of origins, go here.

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams attacked by Darwinist, hits back. Will he now cartoon on the subject?

"Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

Roseville, California, lawyer Larry Caldwell is suing over the use of tax money by Darwin lobby groups to promote religious views that accept Darwinian evolution (as opposed to ones that don’t). I’m pegging this one as the next big story. See also the ruling on tax funds. Note the line that the “free speech” people take.
How to freak out your bio prof? What happened when a student bypassed the usual route of getting frogs drunk and dropping them down the chancellor’s robes, and tried questioning Darwinism instead.

Christoph, Cardinal Schonbon is not backing down from his contention that Darwinism is incompatible with Catholic faith, and Pope Benedict XVI probably thinks that’s just fine. Major US media have been trying to reach rewrite for months, with no success.

Museum tour guides to be trained to "respond" to those who question Darwinism. Read this item for an example of what at least one museum hopes to have them say.

World class chemist dissed at Catholic university because he sympathizes with intelligent design.
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