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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Catholic Church: Digging in against Darwinism?

In the wake of the Pope using the Italian for "intelligent design" positively in a discussion of Church teaching, here are some fallout stories:

Re George Coyne, the Vatican’s astronomer denouncing ID as "not science", here are some links to some of his other press notices, on
faith. Coyne dismisses the evidence for fine-tuning of the universe as well as for intelligent design because

The crux of the problem is that belief in God requires a leap outside anything science can describe or prove. Coyne insists that this leap does not happen on its own and does not sustain itself. For him at least, it must be continually rekindled: "I thank God constantly that He chose me. But it is not a rock of ages. It's something I have to renew every day."

Coyne's position is, to put it mildly, at odds with traditional Christian theology (which admits no such separation between faith, evidence, and reason), and sounds more like mid-twentieth century existentialist theology.

He has also argued that it is madness to think that there are no alien civilizations out there. Hmmm. Depressing, maybe, but why madness? After all, no one out there has ever returned our calls.

My sense is that, however the American media want to spin the situation, Coyne and the Pope are not on the same wave length at all. Fronting him as the Vatican's spokesman is whistling past the graveyard.

Cardinal Schoenborn, who kicked it all off by dissing Darwinism in the New York Times, has begun to speak directly about the (bad) influence of Darwinism on the achools/universities:

Schoenborn agrees with the Intelligent Design theory that the complexity of life clearly points to a superior intelligence that must have devised this system. He based this on reason, not science, as Intelligent Design theorists claim to do.

"The next step is to ask -- which intelligence? As a believer, of course I think it is the intelligence of the Creator," he said."


Schoenborn, a good-humored Dominican who was the editor for the Church's authoritative Catechism published in 1992, expressed surprise at the barrage of criticism he got for saying Darwin could not explain everything.

"If this is a scientific theory, it must be open to scientific criticism," he said. "What I'm criticizing is a kind of strategy to immunize it, as if it were an offence to Darwin's dignity to say there are some issues this theory can't explain.

"There's a kind of ban on discussing this and critics of the evolution theory are discredited or discriminated against from the start," he said.

"What I would like is to see in schools is a critical and open spirit, in a positive sense, so we don't make a dogma out of the theory of evolution but we say it is a theory that has a lot going for it but has no answers for some questions."

Generally, legacy American mainstream media are the slow class when it comes to figuring out obvious stuff, like that Cardinal Schoenborn, touted for possible next Pope, is many intellectual cuts above the holy moonbat element in American popular Christianity. He is leaving the legacy media little choice but to turn to dissident elements in the catholic Church to supposedly represent the Church on Darwinism. Stay tuned. Let's see who they dig up.

Some insightful comments by Catholic law prof David DeWolf on the Catholic Church and intelligent design, from private correspondence, reproduced with permission:

Cardinal Schoenborn makes it very clear that in observing living things we see the operation of intelligence which through our common sense (reason) we recognize cannot be the product of material causes, since we know that material causes cannot produce intelligence. But he attributes that recognition not to science (which he thinks of as dealing with material causes) but rather with common sense (a form of
reason). I don't think he's drawing a sharp line between reason and science (quite the contrary -- I think he is trying to show that reason, science, and even faith are all attempts by different routes to arrive at an understanding of truth). I think he's saying that reason is inclusive of science and in fact properly understood, sets the boundaries for what science can be expected to discover. What he objects to is the form of science that refuses to recognize the proper role of reason (philosophy) in setting the boundaries of science;

Darwinism in particular is frequently understood to have generated an answer to the question of where this appearance of intelligence came from. Schoenborn seems to be saying that this version of Darwinism is the one that has exceeded its proper realm.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of points over which he invites confusion. For one, Cardinal Schoenborn gives Darwin a lot of credit. It is hard to see what Darwin can be credited for, except for making a very bold hypothesis that, after further research, has turned out to be WRONG. Long before Darwin, it was a well accepted proposition that the earth was very old and that there were "stages" in the appearance of life on earth. Darwin's singular contribution was the hypothesis that
small changes, like the ones observed in artificial breeding and in the adaptation of organisms to their environment, could eventually result in large-scale changes that would in fact completely account for all of the varieties of life on earth. If I understand Cardinal Schoenborn correctly, he thinks that this assertion -- that the observed intelligence in nature resulted from material causes (random mutation
and natural selection) -- is contrary to common sense. Yet if Darwin was wrong about this, it's hard to see what he was right about. I would have preferred if Cardinal Schoenborn had admired Darwin's boldness (noting the contribution to science even by theories that ultimately prove mistaken!) but said he was fundamentally wrong. I think that's what he believes, but I wish he would have said it.

Second, Cardinal Schoenborn doesn't seem to understand the dichotomy that most (at least American) scientists have adopted -- the Stephen Jay Gould NOMA principle. Gould would freely concede that science ought not to overstep its bounds. "Science shouldn't tell us whether there is a God or not, and science shouldn't tell us whether abortion is right or wrong. That comes from our religious beliefs. Sure, there are nut cases like Dawkins who think that science has come to replace religion,
but Dawkins doesn't understand the boundaries of science. I appreciate the limits of science and I respect what it can and cannot do." Cardinal Schoenborn seems to be saying something similar, but that is where he is courting misunderstanding. Cardinal Schoenborn is NOT saying that religion only deals in the "values" or "feeling" side of things, whereas science is devoted to the "objective" nd "measurable."

Well, maybe he actually tends to think of science as being -- at least most of the time -- the latter, but in Cardinal Schoenborn's mind there is a bridging concept called philosophy, which orders the truths of religion and the truths of science. Because most Westerners don't have an appreciation of the role of philosophy, and its place in defining the boundaries of science, Cardinal Schoenborn's statement that the inference of intelligent design comes not from science but from reason
(for him, philosophy) sounds to the Western ear as though intelligent design springs from religion, not from science.

It may take a while for the distinctions to be made more precisely, but eventually I am confident that Cardinal Schoenborn and Pope Benedict are going to make it pretty difficult for [names deleted] of the world to maintain that they are "orthodox Catholics" and "orthodox Darwinists." The noose still has a little slack in it, but it's tightening . . . .

Also, the Catholic News Agency finally picked up on the Rick Sternberg story, recently. A bit late, considering that Sternberg, persecuted by Darwinists simply for permitting others to consider ID-related ideas, self-identifies as a questioning Catholic. Goodness that man is brave. Now he can be persecuted for being a Catholic and for having questions as well as for questioning Darwinism. Some columnists in the Catholic press have talked about his case, which I regard as a watershed of sorts.
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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