by Denyse O'Leary
Recently, Fr. Martin Hilbert of the Toronto Oratory wrote an excellent overview in Touchstone Magazine setting out the details of how and why the Catholic Church started to distance itself from Darwinism. Fr. Hilbert's clear exposition is indispensable if you want to understand why the Catholic Church has started to make clear that it does not support Darwinian evolution, the only kind permitted to be taught in schools. For decades, opinionators have piously affirmed that the Catholic Church has long accepted an evolutionary worldview, but - stated in that form, without qualification - such a statement is either a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation.
Fr. Hilbert writes,
The church does not pretend to give scientific answers to biological questions. But it does point out that some Darwinist claims are mere materialist metaphysics pretending to be science, because it knows that were it to remain silent on a truthâ€”the nature of manâ€”that has been entrusted to it by God, that truth would soon disappear, only to be replaced by the ever-changing dogmas of a materialist science.
He reviews the history of teachings on the subject, from 1950 to the present, noting that the Church has always cautioned that evolution, if it occurs, is purposeful, and that human beings are endowed by God with a spiritual nature, created directly by God.
(While many pundits ignored these key qualifications, and insisted that "The Catholic Church supports evolution," key Darwinist Richard Dawkins knew better. The qualifications cut the heart out of Darwinism.)
Fr. Hilbert explains,
Recently the topic of evolution and the church became newsworthy again. First, Benedict XVI chose to mention evolution in the homily of his inaugural Mass as pope: "Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."
It was as though he were directly responding to a Darwinist dogma put most clearly in the widely read Meaning of Evolution : "Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind." That the new pope should mention the theory in such an important context shows that he thinks that it can be taken to have a tremendous (and pernicious) influence on man's understanding of himself and his relation to God.
Indeed, several months after that homily, Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn, a close associate of the Pope, reiterated the point in an op-ed in The New York Times:
Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense â€” an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection â€” is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.
This was a shot across the bow of the Darwinists and was treated as such, with much huffing and puffing, and hurry, scurry, and worry about a supposed new divide between faith and science. (In the context, the opinionators made it obvious that faith is permitted to exist as a pleasant illusion in a universe that looks for all the world like a meaningless, material entity. Any bold move to reaffirm traditional Christian teaching about the universe in a serious way is treated as an assault on science.)
Physicist Stephen Barr responded to Hilbert's analysis in First Things , conceding much that he says. Barr argues however that,
Whatever one thinks of Darwinism as science, it is very hard to prove (I would say impossible) that as a mere theory of biology it conflicts with Catholic teaching. The great John Henry Newman had it right when he stated in 1868, "The theory of Darwin, true or not, is not necessarily atheistic; on the contrary, it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of divine providence and skill. Larger than the ideas of some, I would add, but not necessarily larger than those of St. Thomas.
It is a quibble to discuss what Darwinism would be if it were treated as a mere theory of biology. It has never been that. It is the creation story of materialism, and the Pope is as well aware of that as anyone. (If Darwinism were treated as a mere theory of biology, it might be confirmed for small changes and disconfirmed for large ones, but the present climate gives little grounds for hope for any reasonable valuation of the evidence.)
If anything, Barr's response shows the great need that many academics have to bend over backwards to protect and defend Darwinism as far as possible, perhaps out of a prudent fear of the sort of onslaught that Richard Sternberg or Guillermo Gonzalez endured.
The American mainstream media (MSM) gave a great deal of weight to the criticism of the Pope's statement, offered by their fave Vatican astronomer George Coyne,
In the universe, as known by science, there are essentially three processes at work: chance, necessity and the fertility of the universe. The classical question as to whether the human being came about by chance, and so has no need of God, or by necessity, and so through the action of a designer God, is no longer valid. And so any attempt to answer it is doomed to failure. The fertility of the universe, now well established by science, is an essential ingredient, and the meaning of chance and necessity must be seen in light of that fertility.
"The fertility of the universe," if not a new concept altogether, seems to mean simply the combination of chance and necessity, which is precisely what the Darwinists believe and the Catholic church disbelieves.
Both Hilbert and Barr dismiss Coyne's perspective in their writings linked above:
... he claims that science is neutral with regard to religion, but then blatantly contradicts himself when he says that the results of modern science make it necessary to adjust our concepts of divine omniscience and omnipotence. Coyne is neither a careful reader of texts, nor a coherent philosopher.
The Rev. George Coyne, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory, has a penchant for theologically risque statements. In a recent talk he asked, about life's origins, "Do we need God to explain this? Very succinctly, my answer is no." Well, very succinctly, that is absurd. Of course we need God to explain it. Nothing would exist without God, and there would be no laws of nature without a divine Lawgiver. Looking more closely, it appears that Coyne did not mean to deny these elementary truths of the faith but only that we shouldn't use God to supplant the natural "secondary causes" that scientists study. Nevertheless, his formulation was needlessly (and therefore, in this context, inexcusably) provocative, and not all of Coyne's statements can be given benign interpretations.
Fr. Coyne is at his most passionate when he talks about SETI, the search for extraterrestrial life:
"The universe is so vast that it would be madness to think that we're an exception," said Coyne in an interview with the Milan newspaper "Corriere della Sera", underlining that "each day new data is amassed" which leads to the possibility of life forms different from those found on Earth. "The more we study the stars, the more aware we become of our own ignorance," he adds. (2002)
But why madness? It's been many decades now, and the ETs have not returned our calls. Maybe we are just not faithful enough or patient enough or imaginative enough, but by now skepticism would hardly be the outcome of madness. If the ETs were human, they would have been declared dead by statute a long time ago.
Coyne carries comparatively little weight at the Vatican, despite the attention that mainstream American legacy media give to his views.
Guy Consolmagno, also a Vatican astronomer, weighed in as well, mainly reassuring everyone that there can never be evidence for design in nature because, after all, it is all design (the opposite of Coyne's view, as far as one can see), and anyway God loves us.
Consolmagno has also recently insisted that six-day creationists are "pagans".
Back in the United States, Darwinist Catholic biochemist Ken Miller (who is upset by recent developments at the Vatican) and intelligent design Catholic biochemist Michael Behe continue to debate such specific issues as whether Darwinism could produce the bacterial flagellum.
Meanwhile, the Vatican is now selling holy cards in many languages at souvenir stands throughout Rome, featuring a key portion from Benedict XVI's first homily, including the sentence: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is a thought of God." Hundreds of thousands of visitors take them home to destinations throughout the world.
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).
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