Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Intelligent Design- Religion & Politics

Back on 7 July 2005, Christoph Cardinal Schonborn the archbishop of Vienna and one of the main editors of the 'Catechism of the Catholic Church,' promulgated in 1992, published an op-ed piece in the New York Times on Catholic teaching and Intelligent Design. I found this editorial and the ensuing discussion intriguing. Now, before silly stereotypes kick-in: I accept evolution as the best scientific explanation for all life on our planet, including human life. I recognize the limits of faith and reason, as well as the legitimate domain of each and where they overlap, namely in the synthesis each of us constructs to make sense of the world. It is easy to see that Intelligent Design is a philosophical/theological theory, not a scientific theory and, hence, should not be taught alongside evolution in any school's science cirricula. Cardinal Schonborn's piece, therefore, presents a great opportunity to discuss the relationship between religion and science.

What caused me to initially write on Cardinal Schoborn's article was a short piece in The New Republic's TNR.commentary in the 25 July 2005 issue of that publication by Keelin McDonell. What began as a letter to the editor of The New Republic (one of the best publications going) ends life as a rant of sorts on my newly established blog. So, with no further delays . . .

In his 25 July 205 TNR.commentary piece Keelin McDonell engages in a misreading of Christoph Cardinal Schonborn’s 7 July 2005 New York Times op-ed piece regarding the Catholic Church and Darwinian evolution. He misreads a brief, but crucial sentence from the Cardinal’s editorial:

“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.”

McDonell states that “it is slippery logic to assume that a science that proclaims ‘random variation’ necessarily eliminates God from the equation.” Isn’t the point of Cardinal Schonborn’s editorial to show that while evolution is not at odds with Catholic faith, it cannot be accepted as “an unguided, unplanned process of random variation”? Indeed, if one accepts evolution as such a process, what kind of God is there room for?

With his statement “many religious people- including many Catholics- believe that divine planning is located at a macro level,” McDonell seems to be suggesting a form of deism, which Catholics certainly reject. It is no exaggeration to suggest that, according to Catholic teaching, God created human beings because it was not possible to create other gods (one of the attributes of God being uncreatedness). Therefore, human beings constitute the apex of creation. Put simply, humanity is the goal towards which creation, via evolutionary processes, strove. It is therefore incompatible with Christian faith to limit God to McDonell’s macro-planner. All of this before the Incarnation is considered.

McDonell also puts too much stress on the term “random,” which he rips out of context by severing it from “unguided” and “unplanned.” Oversimplifying slightly, randomness, in mathematical terms, simply means unpredictability. So, while Catholics can accept variations in life on earth as random in the sense of being unpredictable, no variations can be considered by Catholics as unguided and unplanned. Biologists and other scientists work hard to explain how life on earth originated and evolved. However, it is beyond the competency of science to tell us why, to paraphrase Heidegger, there are things rather than no things. Just as it does not fall within the provenance of theology to explain how life on earth came to be. Theology, which is a synthetic activity, relies on both philosophy and science, along with revelation, in seeking to expound precisely the why of existence. McDonell also seems to indicate that Cardinal Schonborn rejects the Darwinian principle of natural selection, which he most certainly does not, just as he does not reject randomness as unpredictability, but only as unguided and unplanned. Cardinal Schonborn’s article is a clarification of Catholic teaching vis-à-vis evolution and not a rejection of evolutionary explanations, which remain the very best scientific explanations for life of planet earth.

More to follow.

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