Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Pope and Darwin: Why Benedict XVI wants to talk about evolution

The Pope and Darwin: Why Benedict XVI wants to talk about evolution, but won't tread into the U.S. battle over intelligent design,

[Graphic: Castel Gandolfo]

TIME, Jeff Israely/Rome, Aug. 31, 2006 .... [See also ABC News & New York Times] Headline writers (even TIME's) might be tempted to advertise a grudge match between the Holy Father and the high priest of natural selection. [There always has been a "grudge match" between Darwin's theory of "natural selection" and Christianity. That is because Darwin's theory of the natural selection of random (in the sense of undirected) variations was based on the premise that either: 1) God did not exist (Materialism); or 2) if God did exist, He never intervened supernaturally in life's history (Naturalism). Darwin himself said that he "would give absolutely nothing for the theory of Natural Selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent" (my emphasis):

"If I were convinced that I required such additions to the theory of natural selection, I would reject it as rubbish ... I would give absolutely nothing for the theory of Natural Selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent." (Darwin, C.R., Letter to C. Lyell, October 11, 1859, in Darwin F., ed., "The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," [1898], Basic Books: New York NY, Vol. II., 1959, reprint, pp.6-7)

But look again. Our title promises the Pope AND Darwin, not the Pope VS. Darwin. Benedict XVI will indeed be hosting a scholarly powwow this weekend at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, to debate evolution and creation. [This is highly significant that: 1) a Pope is even going to "debate evolution and creation" (my emphasis); and 2) that the story was evidently leaked to the media.]

But don't expect the Catholic Church to start disputing Darwin's basic findings, [It never was "Darwin's" actual "basic findings" that were a problem for Christianity, but the materialistic spin that Darwin (and Darwinists after him) put on those findings.] which Pope John Paul II in 1996 called "more than a hypothesis." [This is misleading. First, Pope John Paul II did not even mention "Darwin" or "natural selection" in his 1996 message to the to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on evolution:

"Taking into account the scientific research of the era, and also the proper requirements of theology, the encyclical Humani Generis treated the doctrine of `evolutionism' as a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and serious study, alongside the opposite hypothesis. Pius XII added two methodological conditions for this study: one could not adopt this opinion as if it were a certain and demonstrable doctrine, and one could not totally set aside the teaching Revelation on the relevant questions. He also set out the conditions on which this opinion would be compatible with the Christian faith-a point to which I shall return. Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. .... The theory ... is constantly being tested against the facts; when it can no longer explain these facts, it shows its limits and its lack of usefulness, and it must be revised. ... And to tell the truth, rather than speaking about the theory of evolution, it is more accurate to speak of the theories of evolution. The use of the plural is required here-in part because of the diversity of explanations regarding the mechanism of evolution, and in part because of the diversity of philosophies involved. There are materialist and reductionist theories, as well as spiritualist theories. .... Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God ... (Humani Generis) As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person." (Pope John Paul II, "Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:on Evolution," The Vatican, October 22, 1996)

As can be seen above, Pope John Paul II said that "evolution" (not Darwinism) was "more than an hypothesis." And he then qualified that by saying "it is more accurate to speak of the theories of evolution"(my emphasis), and mentioning "materialist and reductionist theories, as well as spiritualist theories," so he was not just referring to Darwin's theory.

And the then Pope specifically rejected "the theories of evolution which ... regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter" as "incompatible with" the Roman Catholic view of "the truth about man." Since Darwinism, being a materialist theory of evolution, denies that there is a non-material spirit in man, and regards the mind as both "emerging from the forces of living matter" and as "a simple epiphenomenon of that matter":

"The notebooks prove that Darwin was interested in philosophy and aware of its implications. He knew that the primary feature distinguishing his theory from all other evolutionary doctrines was its uncompromising philosophical materialism. Other evolutionists spoke of vital forces, directed history, organic striving, and the essential irreducibilty of mind-a panoply of concepts that traditional Christianity could accept in compromise, for they permitted a Christian God to work by evolution instead of creation. Darwin spoke only of random variation and natural selection. In the notebooks Darwin resolutely applied his materialistic theory of evolution to all phenomena of life, including what he termed `the citadel itself' - the human mind. And if mind has no real existence beyond the brain, can God be anything more than an illusion invented by an illusion? In one of his transmutation notebooks, he wrote: `Love of the deity effect of organization, oh you materialist!...' [Darwin, C.R., "C Notebook," February 1838, p.166] " (Gould, S.J., "Darwin's Delay," in "Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History," [1978], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, pp.24-25.

it follows that Pope John Paul II rejected Darwin's theory of evolution.

So it is either ignorance, self-delusion or dishonesty for evolutionists to quote in isolation Pope John Paul II's statement that "evolution" was "more than an hypothesis," without also quoting his rejection of "theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter" which includes Darwinian evolution!

Moreover, advocates of the teaching in U.S. schools of intelligent design - which holds that nature is so complex that it must be God's doing - should not count on any imminent Holy See document or papal pronouncement to help boost their cause. [Here are two falsehoods in support of evolution. First, the ID movement does not "advocate... of the teaching in U.S. schools of intelligent design" but rather that "teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution":

"When two groups of experts disagree about a controversial subject that intersects the public school curriculum students should learn about both perspectives. In such cases teachers should not teach as true only one competing view, just the Republican or Democratic view of the New Deal in a history class, for example. Instead, teachers should describe competing views to students and explain the arguments for and against these views as made by their chief proponents. Educators call this `teaching the controversy.' Recently, while speaking to the Ohio State Board of Education, I suggested this approach as a way forward for Ohio in its increasingly contentious dispute about how to teach theories of biological origin, and about whether or not to introduce the theory of intelligent design alongside Darwinism in the Ohio biology curriculum. I also proposed a compromise involving three main provisions: (1) First, I suggested-- speaking as an advocate of the theory of intelligent design--that Ohio not require students to know the scientific evidence and arguments for the theory of intelligent design, at least not yet. (2) Instead, I proposed that Ohio teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution. Teachers should teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory. And Ohio should test students for their understanding of those arguments, not for their assent to a point of view. (3) Finally, I argued that the state board should permit, but not require, teachers to tell students about the arguments of scientists, like Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, who advocate the competing theory of intelligent design." (Meyer, S.C., "Teach the Controversy," Cincinnati Enquirer, March 30, 2002. Discovery Institute - Center for Science and Culture: Seattle WA)

Second, "intelligent design" does not hold "that nature is so complex that it must be God's doing" (my emphasis). Unlike Natural Theology, ID makes no claim that the designer must be God. All ID claims is that there is empirically detectable evidence for design in nature:

"Design theory-also called design or the design argument-is the view that nature shows tangible signs of having been designed by a preexisting intelligence. It has been around, in one form or another, since the time of ancient Greece. ... Following the triumph of Darwin's theory, design theory was all but banished from biology. Since the 1980s, however, advances in biology have convinced a new generation of scholars that Darwin's theory was inadequate to account for the sheer complexity of living things. These scholars-chemists, biologists, mathematicians and philosophers of science-began to reconsider design theory. They formulated a new view of design that avoids the pitfalls of previous versions. Called intelligent design (ID), to distinguish it from earlier versions of design theory (as well as from the naturalistic use of the term design), this new approach is more modest than its predecessors. Rather than trying to infer God's existence or character from the natural world, it simply claims `that intelligent causes are necessary to explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology and that these causes are empirically detectable' [Dembski W.A., "Intelligent Design," InterVarsity: Downer's Grove IL, 1999, p.106]." (Hartwig M., "What is Intelligent Design? ," Frequently Asked Questions about Intelligent Design, Access Research Network, 2003)

This weekend's private retreat is an annual gathering of the Pope's former theology students to freely discuss one topic of interest, without the aim of reaching any set conclusion. Evolution appears to be very much on the pontiff's mind. Indeed, as per my previous post, Pope takes a close look at intelligent design, as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict even wrote a book that critiqued evolution and supported intelligent design Here is a quote by ID theorist Michael Behe which cites the same quotes from then Cardinal Ratzinger's book that "the great projects of the living creation are not the products of chance and error" but "point to a creating Reason and show us a creating Intelligence" and "the human being is indeed a divine project" (my emphasis). That is, "unlike" Darwinism represented by "Professor Dawkins, Ratzinger says that nature does appear to exhibit purpose and design" (my emphasis) :

"What has the progress of science told us about the ultimate nature of the universe and life? Well, of course, there are a lot of opinions on the subject, but I think we can break them down into two opposite sides. The first side can perhaps be represented by Richard Dawkins, professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University. Professor Dawkins has stated that: `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 pointless indifference.' [Dawkins, R., "River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life," Phoenix: London, 1996, p.155] Certainly a dreary view, but a seriously proposed one. The second point of view can be represented by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, an advisor to Pope John Paul II. About ten years ago Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a little book entitled In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall. In the book Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: `Let us go directly to the question of evolution and its mechanisms. Microbiology and biochemistry have brought revolutionary insights here.... It is the affair of the natural sciences to explain how the tree of life in particular continues to grow and how new branches shoot out from it. This is not a matter for faith. But we must have the audacity to say that the great projects of the living creation are not the products of chance and error.... [They] point to a creating Reason and show us a creating Intelligence, and they do so more luminously and radiantly today than ever before. Thus we can say today with a new certitude and joyousness that the human being is indeed a divine project, which only the creating Intelligence was strong and great and audacious enough to conceive of. Human beings are not a mistake but something willed.' [Ratzinger J., "In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall," Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1986, pp.54-56] I would like to make three points about the Cardinal's argument. First, unlike Professor Dawkins, Ratzinger says that nature does appear to exhibit purpose and design. Secondly, to support the argument he points to physical evidence- the `great products of the living creation', which `point to a creating Reason'. Not to philosophical, or theological, or scriptural arguments, but to tangible structures. Thirdly, Ratzinger cites the science of biochemistry-the study of the molecular foundation of life-as having particular relevance to his conclusion." (Behe, M.J., "Evidence for Design at the Foundation of Life," in Behe, M.J., Dembski, W.A. & Meyer, S.C., "Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe: Papers Presented at a Conference Sponsored by the Wethersfield Institute New York City, September 25, 1999," Ignatius Press: San Francisco CA, 2000, pp.113-115)

It is a "natural selection" of its own that this was the singular subject chosen by the Pope and his disciples for three days of lectures and discussion. Some conservative Catholics do indeed have growing doubts about the teaching of Darwin, which they say is now used to explain the very meaning of human existence. The issue of evolution has been on this pope's agenda from Day One, as Benedict proclaimed at his installation mass: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God." [Agreed. These last comments are so opposite to the previous ones that they seem to have been written by a different person. Perhaps an editor?]

These concerns echo those expressed by backers of intelligent design, who include a mix of mostly Protestants and Roman Catholics. The ID advocates take pains to distinguish themselves from old-school "creationists," arguing instead that evolution has simply elbowed out any other explanation for how we or the world was created. Darwin, they worry, has become "Darwinism" - natural science transformed into dogmatic philosophy. [Again agreed. I expect that Pope Benedict will build on and strengthen his predecessor's and his own distinction between "evolution" - the empirical scientific theory and "evolutionism" (including Darwinism) - the materialist-naturalist philosophy.

I also expect he will make a strong affirmation of design, which is not to say that he will explicitly endorse ID (Catholicism has its own rich tradition of design arguments going back to Aquinas). However, any Roman Catholic theologian/philosopher who then attacked design might find himself asked to please explain why he is going against official Church policy!]

Still, the heart of the battle in the U.S. is not about theology or philosophy. It's about location. Proponents say ID should be taught in biology class at public schools, and this is a debate that Benedict will almost certainly avoid. [Again, this is simply false that "Proponents say ID should be taught in biology class at public schools." ID is opposed to mandating the teaching of ID in schools. See the Discovery Institute's criticism of the Dover Board and again on "Teach the Controversy."]

The ID proponents have found intellectual allies in the highest reaches of the Catholic hiearchy. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the influential Archbishop of Vienna, wrote an opinion piece last year in the New York Times that was favorable to the theory of intelligent design. Three months later, the pope entered the fray personally, when he used the words "intelligent project" to describe the universe's creation. Not surprisingly Schönborn, who was a star student in the early 1970s of then professor of theology Father Joseph Ratzinger, will give the equivalent of the keynote address this weekend at the Castel Gandolfo get-together. ...[This is also very significant! As I said in my previous post on this, if Pope Benedict did come out in favour of design in nature (it would not have to be specifically in support of ID) and ruled that anti-design theories of evolution like Darwinism were incompatible with the Roman Catholic Church's position, it would give an enormous boost to ID and cut the ground right out from under the anti-IDists who presume to speak for Roman Catholicism, like Ken Miller, John Haught, and George Coyne (although the latter has already had a foretaste of the new Pope's policy)!]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
Genesis 1:4. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.