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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

No, the Pope is not a Darwinist, but what sort of evolution does he support?

I've been meaning to catch up with the Catholic side of the controversy over Darwinian evolution, and now at last I have a moment: Recently, Pope Benedict XVI gave a talk in which he said explicitly:
"Man is not the fruit of chance or a bundle of convergences, determinisms or physical and chemical reactions," he told a meeting of academics of different disciplines sponsored by the Paris Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Sciences.


This sort of language explains why Catholic Darwinist Ken Miller got so upset with Christoph, Cardinal Schoenborn, a close B16 associate, over his famous 2005 op-ed in the New York Times.

Miller was upset because he knows as well as anyone that this and other instances of Cardinalspeak and Popespeak are a polite way of saying that the Catholic Church does not support materialist theories of evolution like Darwinism, a point made in 1996 by John Paul II, but widely misrepresented ever since. Clearly, Schoenborn did not believe Miller's claim that Darwinism is not inherently atheistic. Indeed, he should not, when 87% of evolutionary biologists are atheists or agnostics (with 78% being pure naturalists).

But that's well-trodden ground and I am not going there now.

The key question is what WILL the Church support, if not Darwinism - and a surprising answer has come up. A friend tells me that Cardinal Schoenborn's own recent book, Chance or Purpose?, which I have ordered but not yet received or read, summarizes Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin in a favourable way, quoting,
He [Teilhard] incorporated the way that Christian faith viewed the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ as an inspiring vision into his research and his thought as a natural scientist.Conversely, he was constantly opening up his activity as a scientific researcher toward the great horizon which had been unlocked for him by his Christian faith.


Frank Wilson, books editor for the Philly Inquirer, reviewed Schoenborn and picks up on his sympathy for Teilhard too:
What is perhaps most interesting is the extent to which Schönborn is sympathetic to the views of the controversial Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose 1960 book The Phenomenon of Man (boasting a foreword by no less an evolutionist than Julian Huxley) gave a Christological spin to evolutionary theory (Christ "becomes the visible center of evolution as well as its goal, the 'omega-point' ).

Linking evolution to Christ may sound bizarre, but it is central to the point of Schönborn's book, evident in its title. Need evolution be thought of as a matter of pure chance? Or might it be purposeful?


Hmmmm. Truth in advertising, Teilhard's ideas were denounced by the Church in 1962 and 1981, as full of “serious errors” that “offend Catholic doctrine.” Here's a summary of his basic ideas, and yeah, they do bounce from wall to wall.

Christian apologist C. S. Lewis quipped to a friend that Teilhard's book, Phenomenon of Man (which some sources say should have been translated from the French as "The Human Phenomenon") was “evolution run mad":
He saves 'continuity' by saying that before there was life there was in matter what he calls 'pre-life'. Can you see any possible use in such language? Before you switched on the lights in the cellar there was (if you like to call it so) 'pre-light'; but the English for that is 'darkness'. Then he goes on to the future, and seems to me to be repeating Bergson without the eloquence) and Shaw (without the wit). It ends up of course in something uncomfortably like Pantheism; His own Jesuits were quite right in forbidding him to publish any more books on the subject. This prohibition probably explains the 'succes fou' he is having among our scientists . . .


Presumably, among "our scientists" Lewis would include atheist Julian Huxley who wrote an Introduction to Teilhard's book, and apparently wanted to found a religion of evolution. In Evolution Sunday, he finally got his wish.

Lewis wasn't alone in dismissing Teilhard. Nobelist (immunology) Peter Medawar wrote a devastating review of Phenomenon, lamenting
the gullibility which makes it possible for people to be taken in by such a bag of tricks as this. If it were an innocent, passive gullibility it would be excusable; but all too clearly, alas, it is an active willingness to be deceived.


A savvy friend figures that Schoenborn's difficulty is political. He cannot support Darwinism but he also cannot use terms or concepts like design. Not only would that enrage Top People but it would also imply that Protestant evangelicals are influencing him. But, while understanding his difficulties, many people have expressed dismay to me at his recent choice to present Teilhard as a Catholic thinker widely honored in the Church - which he wasn't.

Yes, there are Teilhardians out there, but look at who they are and judge for yourself how they relate to Catholicism.

(For a summary of Catholic teachings, go here)

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