Sunday, August 28, 2005

Science & Theology

I have been tremendously busy this past week or so. Busy-ness explains why I haven't posted in awhile. It is a glorious Sunday morning here in SLC. The light is beginning to look like Fall due to the Northern movement of the Sun. The colors look clearer and crisper as we move into Indian Summer. All-in-all a good day to worship our Creator.

On that note (that of a Creator), I offer this link God's Chance Creation to an article by Jesuit Fr George Coyne, the astrophysicist quoted by John Allen in his 22 July column, published in the English Catholic newsweekly The Tablet . Fr Coyne's article demonstrates even further the necessity for theologians and scientists, especially those sharing the same faith, to dialogue. Theology is by its very nature a synthetic (i.e., multi-disciplinary) undertaking. Taking account of consensus views among natural, physical, and social scientists is necessary for a credible theology. If theology has "raw data" with which to work it is revelation. However, revelation, as a form of communication (i.e., a communicator, a message, and one to whom it is communicated), always stands in need of interpretation if it is to be understood. If revelation is interpreted in such a way that it either refuses to take account of "what scientists tell us" , or is articulated in a way that it cannot account for or accommodate such information, it is simply bad theology and erroneous interpretation. There is, of course, a lot more to be written on the matter. As the great French theologian of the last century, Henri de Lubac, pointed out "grace builds on nature." This axiom seems a good starting point for an ever more meaningful dialogue between theology and science.

John F. Haught, a theologian at Georgetown University, is a leader in this dialogue both in the U.S. and internationally. He has written two books that are worthy of note and highly recommended for anybody interested in faith perspectives on evolution: "God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution" and "Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution."

More soon . . .

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Didactic Dialogue on God II

Christian Believer: Faith is not based exclusively on personal experience. Once someone has an experience of faith, s/he seeks to make sense of this experience. To give it an interpretation, as it were. Language plays no small role in this interpretative quest to make sense of one's personal experience. Is an experience less real because it is personal? Subjectivist is not having personal experiences. Subjectivism is saying that one is the cause of all of one's own experiences and that self-generated experiences are our only experience- which makes any further investigation ridiculous. As a phenomenon, personal experiences are quite universal insofar as we all have them.

Dialogue Partner: "You had me with the first sentence. Faith is not based exclusively on personal experience. But then you lost me when you went on to support the 'figuring out' as based on experience. Once someone has an experience of faith, s/he seeks to make sense of this experience.

Christian Believer: One has to interpret one's personal (i.e., unique) experiences. In seeking to interpret this personal experience one begins to look outward- to interpret and to some degree verify one's faith experience. It is verified insofar as we realize that other people have such experiences too. We interpret by reflecting on our own experiences in light of the experiences of others, usually religious communities. Such reflection gives us a language, a lexicon with which to communicate the meaning of our experience. Our faith experience (our UR experience) is analogous to raw data. As with raw data obtained through experimentation and observation, the need to verify and interpret arises. Verification and interpretation are the only ways to make our experiences which, in many instances, are quite ambiguous meaningful. Language (narratives, meta-narratives, poetry, music, etc.) is what gives meaning to our experiences. By giving meaning to our experiences, our experiences are not subjective. In other words, we want and need to get them "out there" in some kind of objective, or more precisely inter- subjective, form. This is true for many reasons, but chief among these reasons is our desire for our experiences to be meaningful to ourselves. This cannot occur without others. After all, to paraphrase John Donne's "no man is an island", one person in no person.

Dialogue Partner: "I understand. Thanks. So we agree that it begins with experience? And to be clear, we're talking about experience of what is interpreted as the divine - and not simply 'experience', as in walking, breathing, changing the bed sheets..."

Christian Believer: Yes, it does begin with experience. Science begins with experience. What I experience can in no way be seen as not real. This is where the crass atheist gets confused. Perhaps the atheist has had no such experience. Or, if s/he has had such experiences, it is attributed to the enchilada sauce. But even blaming red chilis is to interpret the experience. How can the chili-blaming atheist be absolutely certain that it was not the Absolute seeking to break though her/his consciousness? You write: "We're talking about experience of what is interpreted as the divine - and not simply 'experience', as in walking, breathing, changing the bed sheets..." It depends. Some people don't divide up experience in that way. Our dear brother Thich Nhat Hahn, for instance, makes no such distinction nor did my beloved Pater Tom [Merton]. You're correct, however, most people do. In the case of people who make such divisions between divine experiences and the daily grind as it were, the answer to your implied question is "Yes."

Dialogue Partner: "Yes but it is still experiencing the divine, whether that comes in the form of a white light, burning bush or walk along the seashore. I was opposing it to experience that one does NOT link to the divine."

Christian Believer: Thanks for the clarifications. You are correct in that by my writing faith is not exclusively a personal experience, I was not "actually disagreeing as it would have seemed". I also agree when you write: "it is still experiencing the divine, whether . . ." Faith is complex. Faith begins with experience on a personal, even intimate, level. I am not certain it can be called faith (in Christian terms anyway- the actus fidei) until it is given expression and begins to acquire meaning. What sets me off in this discussion is when what I can only call crass, boiler-plate atheists insist that believers must provide them (the atheists) with empirical proof for the existence of God. It seems so obvious that belief in God begins on the level of personal experience. As I have written, personal experience, while certainly conditioned by our biology, culture, family, upbringing, experience, etc., is no less real for it being my experience. However, I cannot be content to just leave it at the level of ambiguous personal experience. This is where I seek to make sense of my personal experience and conform it to reality (i.e., what is known). Many people short-circuit this process because complexity is just too much for them, extremism and fundamentalism are the results.

Dialogue Partner: "As I was discussing with somebody else recently, *IS* the proof one can offer for belief, since empiricism is based on one's personal experience. However, I know what you're talking about and it *IS* annoying. Not for the reasons some would have, that I/we are too fragile to discusser entertain challenges to faith, but because those challenges are rooted in broad-brush, ignorant prejudice. Those challenges only workif one clings to those prejudices. We've all countered them and they've all been ignored. We've all said, 'But what you're fighting against, isn't what I believe, so either reform your argument or concede it's limitations" - and eachtime, the mighty intelligence of those who claim strength of analyticcapabilities, withers in a stunning silence. Attacking those who believe because they're afraid of death? Theyneed a cookie cutter faith that lets them live on? That's not me.That's not you. But the assertion the person making it. Attacking those who have experiences and can't prove them in a courtof law? Well do you have experiences that you can't prove in a courtof law? Again: silence. Because to address this issue....makes theargument evaporate. But the assertion the person making it. So either they're not intelligent enough to recognize this (and theyignore it because they don't see they've been bested by their ownargument) or they *DO* understand it's message and ignore it becauseignoring it allows for and feeds their need to continue theirposition. But you know what they say about someone who puts a lot of energyinto fighting something. J. Edgar Hoover comes to mind....

Me: Exactly, empirical data is sense data. As sense data it is perceived by a human perceptual apparatus and, hence, by human beings. In a word, it is experienced. In the realm of science, such experiences are described, written up and submitted for peer review. Ideally, in the case of a claimed scientific breakthrough, the write-up is such that peers can repeat the experiment and have the same experience. This inter-subjectivity is taken as verification of the results (assuming the repeat of the experiment replicated the initial results predicted). Sense data is always already interpreted, otherwise how do does one make sense of a red object? Gestalt is indicative of the almost imperceptible distinction between brain(i.e., physical organ) and mind (i.e., the synthesizing function innate to (most) human beings). Of course, in assigning meaning to the red object, we can and sometimes are mistaken. As a Christian who believes in resurrection, death is still the horizon against which I live my life and beyond which I cannot see. I want to live my life in such a way that whether there is an after-life or not, whether or not there is heaven or a hell, it will have been a good life. This desire, which is constitutive of who I am, is but one very convincing proof of the transcendent nature of human existence.

Christian Believer: To cut some critics some slack, referring back to writing: "It seems so obvious that belief in God begins on the level of personal experience." As I have written, personal experience, while certainly conditioned by our biology, culture, family, upbringing, experience, etc., is no less real for it being my experience. When people write about the tendency of Western peoples' failure to understand that there is a difference between one's understanding of the Absolute (even communal understandings) and the Absolute, he is quite convincing. I would be interested in pursuing this line of reasoning. Why? Because such failures do cause violence and smug self- satisfaction of the kind all too prevalent today in Bush's United States. It pains me to no end that so many of my fellow Christians fall for this kind un-Christian distortion of the faith. So, this seems to me a valuable avenue of discussion. I offer the Parable of the Four Blind Men Who Met an Elephant Four blind men met an elephant. "The first touched its feet and said, 'This is a building with Doric columns.' The second touched its trunk and said, 'This is a snake.' The third felt its belly and and said, 'This is the dried skin of a lion.' The last man felt its ears and said, 'This is a leaf of a palm tree.' They began to argue and finally to fight for their truth which left no room for the other man's truth." Edward Schillebeeckx, OP God the Future of Man, Sheed & Ward, 1968, pg. 66

Finally, "How can the chili-blaming atheist be absolutely certain that it was not the Absolute seeking to break though her/his consciousness?" If the answer is because there is no Absolute, no ground of existence, nothing beyond what I can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell, the chili-blaming atheist is guilty of the fallacy of begging the question. In other words, the answer is based on a pre- supposition, not empirical data (i.e., seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting). If not based on empirical evidence, this undermines her/his demand for such evidence on behalf of those who believe. In other words, a priori atheism is not defensible on its own empirical principles.

Didactic Dialogue on God

Here I post an exchange I had this past Spring with a committed unbeliever.

Non-believer: “I don't know there is no god, just as you don't know there is one. My argument also includes the notion that I don't really care if there is or there isn't a god. I do know there is no god of the bible because that story is full of crap.”

Christian Believer: Now we're getting somewhere. You are correct in that I don't know there is a God to the extent that I can give you an irrefutable empirical or logical proof that God IS. Neither can you give me an irrefutable proof, logical or empirical, that God Isn’t. This is not to say that empirical evidence cannot be interpreted in a scientifically respectable way to support the proposition God IS. Or that there aren't valid logical proofs that God IS. Making a logically valid argument a good argument (i.e., one that is also true) depends on the truthfulness of premises. Knowing, however, cannot be restricted to being empirically proven. After all, Hume, who tried to show that all knowledge-properly called- is rooted in sensory experience, has been convincingly refuted. Such a contention is far too restrictive and eliminates many things we would agree that we know. Knowledge, on a general epistemological view, consists of justified, true, beliefs. Obviously in such a schema most of the weight is put on justifying beliefs. Showing that beliefs (which constitute the radically subjective component of the schema- i.e., one can believe anything)are not at odds with how we know the world to be scientifically, goes a long way towards giving these beliefs a greater probability of being true. Getting back to the point, for the reason you mention, belief in God is called faith. There are proofs, of course, for God's existence. Now such "proofs" (I'm thinking here of Aquinas' five classical arguments and Anselm's ontological proof) are philosophical proofs, more accurately called arguments in favor of God's existence. Aquinas' V ways:

I) Argument From Motion: St. Thomas Aquinas, studying the works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, concluded from common observation that an object that is in motion (e.g. the planets, a rolling stone) is put in motion by some other object or force. From this, Aquinas believes that ultimately there must have been an UNMOVED MOVER who first put things in motion. Follow the argument this way:1) Nothing can move itself.2) If every object in motion had a mover, then the first object in motion needed a mover.3) This first mover is the Unmoved Mover.

II) Causation Of Existence: This argument deals with the issue of existence. Aquinas concluded that common sense observation tells us that no object creates itself. In other words, some previous object had to create it. Aquinas believed that ultimately there must have been an UNCAUSED FIRST CAUSE who began the chain of existence for all things. Follow the argumentthis way: 1) There exists things that are caused (created) by other things.2) Nothing can be the cause of itself (nothing can create itself.)3) There can not be an endless string of objects causing other objects to exist.4) Therefore, there must be an uncaused first cause.

III) Contingent and Necessary Objects: This Way defines two types of objects in the universe: contingent beings and necessary beings. A contingent being is an object that can not exist without a necessary being causing its existence. Aquinas believed that the existence of contingent beings would ultimately necessitate a being which must exist for all of the contingent beings to exist. This being, called a necessary being, is what we call God.Follow the argument this way:1) Contingent beings are caused.2) Not every being can be contingent.3) There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings.4) This necessary being is God.

IV) Argument From Degrees And Perfection: St. Thomas formulated this Way from a very interesting observation about the qualities of things. For example one may say that of two marble sculptures one is more beautiful than the other. So for these two objects, one has a greater degree of beauty than the next. Thisis referred to as degrees or gradation of a quality. From this fact Aquinas concluded that for any given quality (e.g. goodness, beauty, knowledge) there must be an perfect standard by which all such qualities are measured. These perfections are contained in God.

V) The Argument From Intelligent Design: The final Way that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of has to do with the observable universe and the order of nature. Aquinas states that common sense tells us that the universe works in such a way, that one can conclude that is was designed by an intelligent designer, God. In other words, all physical laws and the order of nature and life were designed and ordered by God, the intelligent designer.

St. Anselm's Ontological Argument Point By Point: 1) God is defined as the being in which none greater is possible.2) It is true that the notion of God exists in the understanding (your mind.) 3) And that God may exist in reality (God is a possible being.) 4) If God only exists in the mind, and may have existed, then God might have been greater than He is. 5) Then, God might have been greater than He is (if He existed in reality.) 6) Therefore, God is a being which a greater is possible. 7) This is not possible, for God is a being in which a greater is impossible. 8) Therefore God exists in reality as well as the mind.

The God question is so important that complacency, and suspicion are not reasonable responses. Beyond all this, most believers in the God of Israel-in addition to the sound intellectual basis for our faith, know God on an experiential level because God wants us to know Him.

Non-believer: “Yes, that is exactly what cannot be interpreted by any science available today.”

Christian Believer: And how do you know this? According to your own highly restrictive way of knowing, you would have had to be there to know whether Jesus was raised from the dead or not. Were you? There were eyewitnesses to Jesus' resurrection. Furthermore, they wrote down their testimonies, spoke of their experience, etc. So powerful was their testimony that it is believed today. Not believed only, but the resurrected and living Jesus is directly experienced by people by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is nothing but the mode of Christ's resurrection presence. Besides your argument contra Jesus' resurrection is fallacious. You argue that Jesus wasn't raised from the dead because dead people don't come back to life. This is a classic case of petitio principii, or begging the question. Begging the question consists of assuming the truth of the conclusion in the premises of an argument.

It will certainly take more than you contradicting what the witnesses who, in the words of St. John, "have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed, and have touched with our hands" (1 Jn 1:1). Peter in Acts 2:32 says: "God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this." St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 "For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time, most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me."

Non-believer: “I didn't need to be there. Dead people don't rise up. Either it's a big lie, or jesus never died in the first place, in which case, it's still a big lie. You're arguments are hollow. The witnesses were fabricated and the event documented several years later. That people believe such nonsense is understandable. The whole religion was based on that one goofy promise, that jesus rose up and you can too, just $49.95 a month.”

Christian Believer: Let me put it more straightforwardly: Science has not disproven God. Furthermore, scientific evidence, interpreted according to legitimate scientific standards, lends credence to (it does not prove) belief in God (i.e., it makes belief in God more epistemically justifiable). It is important to point out that one cannot legitimately, on the basis of science alone, arrive at sweeping metaphysical conclusions (i.e., God IS; God isn’t). Whereas, on the basis of science alone, one can eliminate certain religious beliefs from serious consideration (i.e., the earth is considerably older than 4,000 years). Certainly arguments, like those of Aquinas, must take into account what we know (beliefs that are justified and, therefore, as far as we can tell, true) through scientific discovery.

Non-Believer:: "I didn't need to be there. Dead people don't rise up."

Christian Believer: Your persistence in using an argument proven to be fallacious puts you squarely in the camp of the unreasonable who persist in their beliefs despite being proven wrong. I think discussion has to end here.

Non-Believer: Yes, that is exactly what cannot be interpreted by any science available today.

Christian Believer: Quite apart from your argument, which, if framed properly, could avoid being fallacious, is the assertion of Christians that Jesus did rise from the dead. According to Christian belief he is the first person to be resurrected. So, at least to this point, Jesus' resurrection is a unique event. So, the argument you have to make is against the eye-witness testimonies of Jesus Christ being raised from the dead. Your assertion, 2,000+ years after the written testimony, does no damage to the testimony.

Again, science is incapable of proving or disproving whether God IS. Such an assertion is properly called metaphysical for the very reason that it transcends, is over and above and outside, the scope of science.

My house of faith is built on the Rock. Faith and reason are not only compatible; they are complementary- they aid each other. Believing there is no God is just as much an act of faith as believing there is one.

Christian Believer: I wrote previously: "You are correct in that I don't know there is a God to the extent that I can give you an irrefutable empirical or logical proof that God IS. Neither can you give me an irrefutable proof, logical or empirical, that God isn’t."The fact that proving or disproving God IS is outside the scope of science is obvious and something to which I have responded. Let's look at the other assertion regarding logic. In doing so I'll stick with elementary informal logic and not belabor the point too much. The argument properly formed would go something like this:-Premise 1- Human beings die-Premise 2-Human beings once dead do not come alive again-Premise 3-Jesus was a human being (setting aside for a moment any objections that Jesus actually existed)-Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus did not rise from the dead.
Nothing formally wrong there. The response would look something like this:-Premise 1- With God nothing is impossible-Premise 2- God can raise human beings from the dead-Premise 3- In addition to being human, Jesus is also God. Conclusion- Because Jesus, in addition to being human, is God it is possible that he was raised from the dead after His crucifixion. We can trade valid logical arguments like these all day. What is important is the truthfulness of premises. Such an inquiry leads us, initially, back to the question of God's Being. Even if we were to say that human beings that did not exist cannot be raised from the dead and that Jesus did not exist. Therefore, Jesus was not raised from the dead. We are back to truthfulness of premises (i.e., proving Jesus' historical existence. This is really no problem if we take how we know other ancient figures as a starting point).

As to the assertion that there is no need to disprove God because God hasn't been proven is nothing but an instance of Descartes' method of doubt. Adherents to this method hold that nothing is to be believed unless it can be proven with certainty- that is irrefutably. Well, Descartes could prove that he existed, even if only as a mind under the influence of an evil genius. Beyond that he came up empty. Descartes, of course, did not believe that he was a mind under the influence of evil genius. But, he could not move beyond solipsism by employing his own method. In other words, he could not prove by means of his method that everything he experienced, including other people, the existence of an external world- a world independent of his own mind. Such is a recipé for evil and insanity.

Christian Believer: Of course it is a matter of faith as to whether Jesus was raised from the dead. The most compelling evidence a Christian has of Jesus' being alive is her/his personal encounter with the resurrected and living Lord. Beyond that the continuous testimony of the community of believers going all the way back to those who were eye-witnesses helps put them on solid epistemic ground. The most compelling evidence a Christian can give that s/he has encountered the resurrected and living Lord is how s/he follows Christ and is Christ-like. Of course, this something at which all disciples of Jesus fail, myself included. To cut to the chase, the grounds for Christian belief are epistemologically sound. In other words, fundamental Christian beliefs are justifiable on reasonable grounds. Reason alone, however, will never be compelling enough for a person to become a Christian.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Intelligent Design- Religion only

Finally we come to the assertion I made in my response to Leon Wieseltier about Cardinal Schonborn's opinion being just one of many opinions among faithful Catholics. Actually it is not my response at all, but John Allen's. Allen is the National Catholic Reporter's correspondent in Rome. His Word From Rome column , which is posted weekly on the National Catholic Register website and accessible for free at (if you become a frequent reader, please consider a small donation), addresses the issue nicely in two separate columns, his column of 5 August 2005 and 22 July 2005. Since I have nothing add that he doesn't cover in his comments and interviews, I encourage anybody interested to read them. To do so just click on "Archives" off the link above and you'll easily locate them. Additionally, the 22 July column links to his article published in NCRonline 26 July.

To entice you to his 5 August column here's a quote from "Sir Martin Rees, an eminent British astronomer and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Science, as saying in reply to Cardinal Schoborn: 'I was dismayed by the content and tone of the article by Cardinal Schönborn. I very much hope that the Pontifical Academy can dissociate itself from such sentiments.'" His 22 July column contains excerpts from an interview he conducted with Professor Nicola Cabibbo, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. You can also access a link to her complete interview. The 22 July column also contains a briefer interview with Jesuit Fr. George Coyne, an American astrophysicist who is the director of the Vatican observatory. Needless to say both are very critical of Cardinal Schonborn's op-ed piece.

Finally, Cardinal Schoborn's opinion is at odds with a document issued by the International Theological Commission, an adjunct of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, under the Prefecture of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger entitled, COMMUNION AND STEWARDSHIP:Human Persons Created in the Image of God.
This document is accessible in English at the following link

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Intelligent Design- Inter-religious implications & Politics

After Keelin McDonell's short blurb published in the 25 July 2005 TNR, the magazine followed up in the current (22-29 August 2005) issue (See for more. You must be a subscriber to access most, but not all, of the site). The current issue features Intelligent Design on the cover (a rather striking work of art by Shawn Barber in which God is hoisting the Earth up). One of the best takes on the hub-bub created by Cardinal Schoborn's editorial is written by Leon Wieseltier, one of the United States' best public intellectuals. Wieseltier's piece is entitled "Creations."

Let me begin by writing about those issues on which I agree with Wieseltier. I agree when he writes that "It is impossible . . . not to marvel at the complexity and the beauty of the natural order; but marveling is not thinking." I also agree that Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory, but a religious philosophy. I concur that reading the entire Bible, including Genesis, literally rather than figuratively is not only wrong-headed, but deprives the Bible of its deepest meaning. Most of all I agree with his summation that "Sanctity is not an excuse for stupidity." I agree, too, that teaching Intelligent Design as part of any school's science cirricula is unjustifiable (though very popular in our nation). Teaching Intelligent Design as science is (unsurprisingly) popular with President Bush, who sees no harm in "exposing people to different schools of thought." Of course, exposing people to different schools of thought on the origins of the universe is one thing, but teaching children Philosophy as Science is quite another. People fear evolution because they fear it is a short slide down the slippery slope to atheism and bad morals. But as Wieseltier sagely writes: "The intellectual integrity of monotheism depends upon the repudiation of [literal] readings [of Biblical texts]." He continues, "once the legitimacy of figurative readings is admitted, the fabled dissonance between science and faith, the fundamentalist melodrama, evaporates."

Getting a bit more into the heart of the argument , I part ways with Cardinal Schonborn and agree with Wieseltier regarding this assertion in the Cardinal's New York Times editorial: "Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science." Here the Cardinal gets it precisely backwards, except it is not ideology, it is faith, which, though supported by scientific facts, is a synthesis of those facts into a system of belief. So, while this, too, is an act of reason, it is not scientific in the technical sense.

Now for the critique:

Leon Wieseltier engages in yet another misreading of Christoph Cardinal Schonborn’s 7 July New York Times op-ed piece regarding the Catholic Church and Darwinian evolution. Mr. Wieseltier, like Keelin McDonell before him fails to understand what Cardinal Schonborn meant when he wrote:

“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.”

He commits a further error by investing the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna with authority normally reserved by Catholics for the Pope. This is made evident when he writes of “the Church’s unsophisticated new construction of God’s will.” Yet, it is Cardinal Schonborn’s construction at which he takes aim, not the Church’s.

Beyond attributing to the entire Catholic Church the views of one bishop, Mr. Wieseltier makes the same mistake made by Mr. McDonell, which is best summed up in McDonnell’s words: “it is slippery logic to assume that a science that proclaims ‘random variation’ necessarily eliminates God from the equation.” Mr. Wieseltier commits and compounds this error by writing, “An unplanned process may also be God’s plan.” First, unplanned processes being part of God’s plan, while not illogical, is problematic by what it implies. Second, logic aside, this is just a more complicated way to make a point Cardinal Schonborn makes. An honest reading of the editorial indicates that the author’s main point is that while evolution is not at odds with Catholic faith, it cannot ultimately be accepted as “an unguided, unplanned process of random variation.” Indeed, if a believer, be she Jewish or Christian, accepts evolution as an unguided and unplanned process this presents obvious problems for monotheism because, without resorting to biblical literalism, the door is opened to both deism and pantheism.

So, while monotheistic believers can accept variations in life on earth as random in the sense of being unpredictable, no variations can be considered by monotheistic believers to be ultimately unguided and unplanned. Wieseltier concedes as much by writing that any unplanned processes, to be part of God’s plan, must be an instrument of providence. There is no argument about the assertion that it is beyond the competency of theology to explain how life on earth came to be. However, such an assertion implies that science cannot tell us why there is life on Earth, even human life. In the end, let’s accept Cardinal Schonborn’s article for what it is: an attempt at clarifying Church teaching as it bears on evolution, which is the very best explanation for life on earth, by a respected Catholic theologian and bishop and not a rejection of evolutionary explanations. It is even less a suggestion to return to understanding the Bible literally.

I'll conclude with one last agreement with Wieseltier, a tenet I'm quite certain Cardinal Schonborn shares: Truth is never heresy, except for those who put their religion at odds with the truth.

More to follow- the response of Catholic scientists.

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.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...