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Saturday, July 09, 2005

New York Times puzzles over Catholic Church's insistence that life has meaning

The New York Times, in the persons of writers Cornelia Dean and Laurie Goodstein, pretends amazement that the Roman Catholic Church has come out against the meaningless, purposeless universe of life forms advocated by Darwinists, and atheistic materialism generally. (Note: You have to register with the Times to see this, but hey, just do it, and get it over with.)

An influential cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, which has long been regarded as an ally of the theory of evolution, is now suggesting that belief in evolution as accepted by science today may be incompatible with Catholic faith.

The cardinal, Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, a theologian who is close to Pope Benedict XVI, staked out his position in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on Thursday, writing, "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not."

In a telephone interview from a monastery in Austria, where he was on retreat, the cardinal said that his essay had not been approved by the Vatican, but that two or three weeks before Pope Benedict XVI's election in April, he spoke with the pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, about the church's position on evolution. "I said I would like to have a more explicit statement about that, and he encouraged me to go on," said Cardinal Schönborn.

He said that he had been "angry" for years about writers and theologians, many Catholics, who he said had "misrepresented" the church's position as endorsing the idea of evolution as a random process.

No wonder outfits like the Times attract the term "legacy media." Why can't they get it? Of course the Catholic Church has never supported anything like the Darwinism mandated for U.S. school systems! And despite a century of indoctrination, most people just do not believe Darwinism, and are not about to start. Even a slow-moving institution like the Catholic Church is waking up to the fact that science, public policy, and education now reflect doctrines that most people doubt — doubt for good reason. They simply do not believe what Darwinists believe - that life is without design, purpose or meaning (see the post below), because the evidence suggests the opposite.

As a Roman Catholic myself, I am glad to see the Church weighing in against Darwinism, but note the following:

Opponents of Darwinian evolution said they were gratified by Cardinal Schönborn's essay. But scientists and science teachers reacted with confusion, dismay and even anger. Some said they feared the cardinal's sentiments would cause religious scientists to question their faiths.
I would suggest to those "scientists and science teachers", on whose behalf the Times worries, that they make up their mind whether they think they are Christians or not.

Thankfully, there is no public penalty for not being a Christian. As a Catholic Christian myself, I cannot imagine anything worse for the faith than invoking secular powers, typically masterminded by idiot mortals, to defend a position that the universe itself properly defends, through its own laws and design.

But if you are or think you ought to be a Christian, you simply cannot be a Darwinist. Don't deceive yourself: Either there is design in nature or there is not. Either the design is evident, as the Bible claims (Rom 1:20, NIV*), or it is not evident, in which case the Bible is obviously untrue, and you shouldn't be a Christian. Don't blame the Catholic Church for making its own position clear. In my view, it should have done that decades ago, but hey, it's an old institution and takes long time to move.

*In the quoted passage, Paul says, " ... men are without excuse" He means that wrongdoers are without excuse for their wrongs. They cannot say, "God botched me, so that is why I lie, cheat, steal, and kill, whenever I think that kind of behaviour will buy me time." Paul maintains that the design of the world is, in principle, good, and that therefore people are responsible for actions that disrupt relationships and society. God did not ordain those wrong actions from the beginning of time.

Blog service note: Did you come here looking for any of the following stories?
- the Privileged Planet film shown at the Smithsonian, go here for an extended review. Please do not raise cain about an "anti-evolution" film without seeing it. If your doctor forbids you to see the film, in case you get too excited, at least read my detailed log of the actual subjects of the film. If you were one of the people who raised cain, ask yourself why you should continue to believe the people who so misled you about the film's actual content ...

- the showing of Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian, go here and here to start, and then this one and this one will bring you up to date.

- the California Academy of Sciences agreeing to correct potentially libellous statements about attorney Larry Caldwell, who thinks that students should know about weaknesses as well as strengths of Darwinian evolution theory, click on the posted link.

- Bill Dembski threatening to sue the Thomas More Law Center in the Dover, Pennsylvania ID case, click on the posted link and check the current daily post for updates. (Note: This dispute has apparently been settled. See the story for details. )
Blog policy note: This blog does not intentionally accept fully anonymous Comments, Comments with language unsuited to an intellectual discussion, URLs posted without comment, or defamatory statements. Defamatory statement: A statement that would be actionable if anyone took the author seriously. For example, someone may say “O’Leary is a crummy journalist”; that’s a matter of opinion and I don’t know who would care. But if they say, “O’Leary was convicted of grand theft auto in 1983,” well that’s just plain false, and probably actionable, if the author were taken seriously. Also, due to time constraints, the moderator rarely responds to comments, and usually only about blog service issues.
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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Darwinism vs. Catholicism on meaning and purpose of life

In case anyone is wondering whether Darwinism truly insists that there is no design, purpose, or creator, consider the following key thoughts by Darwinian thinkers:

The functional design of organisms and their features would seem to argue for the existence of a designer. It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent. . . . Darwin’s theory encountered opposition in religious circles, not so much because he proposed the evolutionary origin of living things (which had been proposed many times before, even by Christian theologians) but because his mechanism, natural selection, excluded God as the explanation accounting for the obvious design.
Francisco Ayala, former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

The real core of Darwinism . . . is the theory of natural selection. This theory is so important for the Darwinian because it permits the explanation of adaptation, the design of the natural theologian, by natural means, instead of by divine intervention. (Mayr, E., "Foreword," in Ruse M., "Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies," [1982], Addison-Wesley: Reading MA, 1983, Third Printing, pp.xi-xii)

Ernst Mayr Ernst Mayr, evolutionary biologist

"Darwin's theory uses the same invisible hand, but formed into a fist as a battering ram to eliminate Paley's God from nature. The very features that Paley used to infer not only God's existence, but also his goodness, are, for Darwin, but spin-offs of the only real action in nature-the endless struggle among organisms for reproductive success, and the endless hecatombs of failure." (Gould S.J., "Darwin and Paley Meet the Invisible Hand," in "Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History," Jonathan Cape: London, 1993, pp.149-150)

Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist

Clearly, Darwinism means the opposite of what the Catholic Church teaches about whether or not there is any meaning or purpose in the origin and development of life. The intelligent design controversy has never been about how old the Earth is, but about whether there is detectible evidence of design in the universe and life forms.

The Darwinists may be right in what they say, but who knows? For many years, any other story than theirs has been banned from science classrooms. As the "Privileged Planet" controversy shows (see the Blog service note at the end of this page), that's not about evidence.

To his credit, one person who clearly understood the difference between the Roman Catholic Church's understanding of evolution and the typical Darwinist's is ultra-Darwinist Richard Dawkins. Here is an item I wrote last year on the subject, that may never have been published by the B.C. Catholic. So, for convenience, I am reproducing it here. You will find Dawkins's attack on John Paul II in the article below:

So the Pope supports “evolution”? — Check it out!

by Denyse O’Leary

For several years now, the Christian schools started by British car dealer Sir Peter Vardy in underprivileged parts of Britain have rankled the progressive education establishment. Sir Peter insists on a disciplined approach to learning. His students perform better than students in free-and-easy schools. Sir Peter’s sin (embarrassing the education establishment) had to be punished, but given that he was mostly popular with parents, the establishment was not sure how to punish him.

Finally, the establishment got something on Sir Peter: His schools allow students to question Darwinian evolution, the religion of Britain’s smart set.

Darwinian evolution (Darwinism) is a theory whose express purpose is to explain how the whole of life, including ourselves, can arise without any design whatsoever. As arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins puts it, “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Dawkins is said to be Britain’s number one public intellectual, and he regularly attacks the Vardy schools.

In a Guardian article ridiculing the schools, journalist Tim Adams launched what he hoped would be a serious assault on their credibility: “Even the Pope,” he announced, “accepts Darwinian theory as truth.”

Now, if that were true, it would obviously be very bad news for the Catholic Church. But does the Pope really support Darwinian evolution?

Here’s what John Paul II actually said: In 1996, speaking to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he acknowledged that the theory of evolution was “more than a hypothesis” and that there were significant arguments in its favour. So the media rushed to report that he supported Darwinism, the specific theory of evolution that Dawkins describes above (blind, pitiless indifference).

But in reality, John Paul II went on to note that there are materialist, reductionist, and spiritualist interpretations of evolution. The materialist interpretations were, he said,“incompatible with the truth about man” and not able to “ground the dignity of the person.”

Basically, that means he does not agree with Darwinian evolution, because the whole point of Darwinian evolution is to deny special significance to man by saying that material nature is all there is.

John Paul II has made a number of other statements that make clear that any evolutionary theory that does not understand human beings as having a spiritual nature as well as a physical nature is simply wrong.

If any further evidence were needed that the Pope is no friend of Darwin, note that Dawkins has described John Paul II’s views as “fundamentally” antievolutionary, and as “obscurantist, disingenuous doublethink.” Hardly what you’d expect if John Paul II were smoothing the path for Dawkins and other Darwinists.

The question is not whether life forms change over time or how old the Earth is. The Pope was content to leave those matters to specialists. The question is whether the processes are blind, purposeless, and unguided. That is what Darwinism teaches. It is entirely at odds with a Catholic view, which assumes that God guides the processes of life.

If you have children in a Catholic school system, you might want to find out what they are taught about evolution. Are the teachers instilling Darwinism while reassuring parents that “the Pope supports evolution”? They might be.

While researching By Design or by Chance?, an overview of the intelligent design controversy, I was struck by how much our popular culture simply accepts Darwinism in an unthinking way, even though it is under serious assault right now on factual grounds.

One Toronto teacher taught Darwinian evolution for about 24 years at a Catholic school before he read a book by Catholic biochemist Mike Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (Free Press, 1996), in which Behe explains why Darwinism just cannot be true and why intelligent design explains life better. The teacher then began to encourage his students to think critically about Darwinism. (Note: That teacher will be teaching a course at the University of Toronto on intelligent design theory in the spring of 2006. If you are interested and live within driving distance of Toronto, you may wish to consider signing up.)

Today, when so many ideas contend for a place in our lives, we must be clear what our faith is, and what it isn’t. What the Church means by evolution is not what Charles Darwin meant, and there is no such thing as Catholic Darwinism. If you are a Catholic, you can accept evolution as a process guided by God, but you cannot be a Darwinist, as many intellectuals today are.

In other words, you are not the result of an unguided process. Take heart, however crazy life seems, there is a reason for your existence and you were meant to be here.

Excerpts from what Pope John Paul II has said about evolution:

- If we analyze man in the depth of his being, we see that he differs more from the world of nature than he resembles it. Also anthropology and philosophy proceed in this direction, when they try to analyze and understand man's intelligence. freedom, conscience and spirituality. (1978)

- The evolution of living beings, of which science seeks to determine the stages and to discern the mechanism, presents an internal finality which arouses admiration. This finality which directs beings in a direction for which they are not responsible or in charge, obliges one to suppose a Mind which is its inventor, its creator. (1985)

- It is therefore clear that the truth of faith about creation is radically opposed to the theories of materialistic philosophy, which view the cosmos as the result of an evolution of matter reducible to pure chance and necessity. (1986)

- ... theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person. (1996)

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