July 9, 2005

News flash: Catholics believe in God.

It's front-page news, apparently, that the theory of evolution as accepted by the Catholic Church actually envisions a role for God.


Nick said...

I saw this at the Starbucks this morning while I was waiting line and I actually started to laugh out loud. Do the people at the NY Times really find this such a shock? They sure wrote the article as if they did.

Why do all articles like this after to be written as if its breaking news?

Pastor_Jeff said...

Two related problems with typical science reporting are the lazy and inaccurate use of terms and a resultant confusion of categories. The article uses "evolution" to mean both natural selection (an observable biological process) and atheistic materialism (a philosophical worldview). Christians are are then criticized and ridiculed for rejecting "evolution" when what most question is really materialism, a worldview incompatible with their own.

The problem isn't just with the NYT or the left. Does anybody seriously try to portray fairly what other people believe?

gs said...

The cardinal is quoted verbatim that "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true...", and he is paraphrased as saying that "evolution is just one of many theories." Many theories?

This sounds better than sharia, for sure. It's probably better overall than the 'dictatorship of relativism' that Benedict XVI warns about. But I'm not at all sure that it's the voice of human progress.

Schoenborn's Times op-ed can be reached from the article that Ann links to. He writes about "scientific claims like neo-Darwinism and the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science". Um, yeah. That must be it. I can just visualize the crisis atmosphere in biology and physics departments: frenzied people asking each other, "How can we avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science?", and desperately concocting neo-Darwinian evolution and the multiverse hypothesis.

I'm untroubled that the Catholic Church envisions a role for God in evolution. What worries me is the role they might be envisioning for themselves.

Pastor Jeff: I wrote the above before seeing your comment. It's not the rejection of materialism which troubles me, it's the manner of the rejection.

Pastor_Jeff said...


I don't have access to the OpEd piece. What is it in the Cardinal's manner of rejecting atheistic materialism that troubles you?

Slac said...

American Catholics and conservative evangelical Christians have been a potent united front in opposing abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia, but had parted company on the death penalty and the teaching of evolution. Cardinal Schönborn's essay and comments are an indication that the church may now enter the debate over evolution more forcefully on the side of those who oppose the teaching of evolution alone.

The Times is interpreting this as an alliance with the Protestant-right. That's the news. Of course, there is no explicit "alliance."

There was never any conflict with teaching evolution in my Catholic school in any way. As long as God's will is satisfied and He gets the credit for creation - no big deal. I used to laugh at Protestants for making a big stupid deal out of it. Now I'll probably be laughing at Catholics.

gs said...

Pastor Jeff, registering with the Times might enable you to access Schoenborn's op-ed.

The op-ed does not render unto Newton the things that are Newton's and unto God the things that are God's. (Of course, regarding the original form of that saying, it didn't take very long for the Church to start meddling with Caesar's stuff.)

Consider the quote in my previous comment. First, the multiverse hypothesis is a speculative hypothesis, and it is not mainstream physics as far as I know. By combining it with established mainstream biology like Darwinian evolution, Schoenborn is either demonstrating ignorance or being a weasel. Second, neo-Darwinism was not "invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science"; it was formulated as a parsimonious description (maybe not the right word) of the detailed fossil record and subsequent data from molecular biology.

Two conflated quotes from the op-ed: "in the modern era, the Catholic Church is in the odd position of standing in firm defense of reason...Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of "chance and necessity" are not scientific at all, but, as John Paul put it, an abdication of human intelligence." (Herr Kardinal of the Hapsburg capital, the shades of Galileo and Bruno thank you for the defense of reason, for much is at stake.) What qualifies this guy to tell me whether a scientific theory is really scientific? His claim to be so qualified is a big part of my problem with him. He talks a lot about 'reason' and never mentions the nitty-gritty empiricism of traditional science.

Pastor Jeff, I suspect I've given an incompletely satisfactory response to your question. It might have been better to paraphrase what I think Schoenborn might have said. Right this minute, time does not permit that because, unfortunately, my writing is very slow.

Roger Sweeny said...

Pastor Jeff,

I was able to get both articles by registering. If you can't, send me an email and I'll send you a copy.

Roger Sweeny said...

I think there really is something important going on here, a lot more than "Catholics believe in God." Alex Tabarrok brought up something similar at Marginal Revolution last June 20.

Thiests believe there is a God who created the universe. But they also believe that it is possible to have a personal relationship with that God. Among other things, God listens to and answers prayers, though He/She often doesn't give you the answer you want. God can be a presence in any person's life. But it is very hard to believe that and also believe that God let everything evolve to the way it is today.

It IS possible and the story would go something like this: Thirteen billion years God created the universe in the Big Bang and established its laws. But then for the next 12 billion, 999 million, and several hundred thousand years, He/She stood on the sidelines and waited. Then, when humanoids became sufficiently intelligent and sufficiently conscious, He/She infused them with souls and began to take an active interest in them. He/She communicated with them and changed their lives, indeed changed the history of the human race. He/She continues to do this today, but in ways that it is impossible for humans to predict ("The Lord works in mysterious ways.")

Tabarrok thinks that while this is logically possible, it is nonsensical: "It makes no sense to assume a god that intervenes to answer prayer but who never has done any genetic engineering." Cardinal Schoenborn seems to agree. While fundamentalist Protestant churches have often had problems accepting evolution, the Catholic Church is usually considered to have accepted it. But the Cardinal seems to have the same problem Tabarrok has. No, he says, God has not absented Himself all those years; He has indeed done genetic engineering all along the way.

gs said...

An omnipotent God--Kipling's 'veiled and secret Power' comes to mind--can perform genetic engineering undetectably, cloaked by chance and chaos.

Michael Stiber said...

To access NY Times articles without registering, go to the New York Times Link Generator. They also have a "bookmarklet" you can drag to your browser's bookmark bar to click on when the NYT asks for registration.

It IS possible and the story would go something like this: Thirteen billion years God created the universe in the Big Bang and established its laws. But then for the next 12 billion, 999 million, and several hundred thousand years, He/She stood on the sidelines and waited. Then, when humanoids became sufficiently intelligent...

Kinda like making a bank shot in pool, right? But, of course, much more difficult. In fact, you'd probably have to be all-powerful and maybe all-knowing to do that...

Ann Althouse said...

Michael: My link is already a "link generator" link. I always use it for my links when it works (which is not always).

Roger Sweeny said...

I fear I have not done Tabarrok's idea justice, so let me try again, Tabarrok distinguishes between deists and theists.

Deists believe that there is something that is somehow responsible for the universe. But it doesn't have anything to do with the day-to-day happenings in that universe.

Theists believe in a capital-G God who is very concerned about what happens every day. God can light the way to the path your life should take. God can be comforter, and an "ever-present help in times of trouble." God listens to and answers prayer.

So people say that God created the universe and its laws and then let history unfold. He/She did not interfere. But recently (almost certainly since the time of Abraham, perhaps earlier), God has intervened a lot, and in fact is now available to anyone who will open his/her heart to Him/Her.

Tabarrok says that such people are deists for 99.99-plus percent of the history of the universe, and theists for the remainder. He finds this incongruous. So does Cardinal Schoenborn.

Roger Sweeny said...

Next to last paragraph should begin "Some people." Sorry.

Slocum said...

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.

Actually, this is actually a pretty complete rejection of Darwin, not just 'neo-Darwinism'. The idea of species changing over eons was around well before Darwin and Wallace. What Darwin and Wallace proposed was a mechanism by which this could occur--namely variation and natural selection. Leaving the process out omits what is most important about the theory.

And for his troubles, Schönborn still arrives at a position that strikes me as theologically incoherent. If God did all that planning, all that genetic and biomechanical engineering, then why did he bother with those billions of years of creation and extinction? Or all that apparent trial-and-error involving soulless creatures of no consequence before getting around to creating humans? Why not just proceed with the special creation straightaway? It takes long periods of time for complex life forms to evolve via variation and natural selection, but very little time should be required for an all powerful designer with a plan to snap his fingers.

Ann Althouse said...

Slocum: I imagine there are about ten theological answers to your question, e.g.:

--billions of years are a snap of the fingers to God,

--who are you to dare to contemplate the motivations of God?

--He wanted to create a world in which people would not be able to discern that He had created it, so that faith would be necessary to know Him.

gs said...

Even if his position is incoherent scientifically and, per Slocum, theologically, Schoenborn is obviously not a fool. He couldn't have reached his place in the power structure while being stupid. So: why? Is the Catholic Church positioning itself to oppose modern biology?

Given the potential for both wonders and horrors, I hope the biological revolution unfolds in open societies with respect for ethics and human rights. The work will get done.

Pastor_Jeff said...

While man is the highest of God's creation, we are not the center. Creation doesn't exist for us, but God. The Bible is full of reminders that God is glorified by all creation. The rest of creation is hardly "of no consequence." Little time is required for God to do anything, but that doesn't mean it's the best way - and we see that pattern repeated over and over in the Bible.

I'm not at all sure that the Catholic Church "opposes modern biology" because they oppose atheistic materialism. That seems like a non sequitur. If you're speaking about embryonic stem cell research, I think precisely what the Catholic Church is trying to do is help create a society of ethics and human rights - especially rights for what the Church sees as the most vulnerable and defenseless members of the human community. I share their concern, especially in the face of attitudes that seem to say "Damn the ethical concerns, full research ahead."

gs said...

Pastor_Jeff, I have nothing to add to my four previous comments. Please note that my preceding comment does not claim that the Catholic Church opposes modern biology. A question, i.e. speculation, whether the Church is positioning itself for such opposition is significantly weaker than an assertion. Time will tell.