Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Creation and Evolution 3

The book Creation and Evolution (Ignatius Press, 2008), a record of a meeting of Pope Benedict XVI with former graduate and post-graduate students in 2006, was released May 28. The group has been meeting annually for years to discuss various subjects, but this is the first to be presented in book form. The book was compiled by Stephen Horn, SDS and Siegfried Wiedenhofer. This review continues from a previous entry (to see all of them, click CR-EV REVIEW label at bottom of post). The numbers in parentheses are page numbers for your reference.

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn presented "Fides, Ratio, Scientia; the Debate about Evolution" (84). He reflects on the great scientist Isaac Newton who always saw the divine in the beauty of nature. Newton believed God actively supported the planets in their orbits and produced the great variety of natural things. The Cardinal relates the reaction to his July 2005 article in the New York Times to the passion all humans feel about life's meaning.

Schönborn asserts that Darwin's theory has left the level of science and become an ideology of materialism. He believes that "the decisive question...is found...on the level of natural philosophy" (91). He feels the debate is oversimplified to "creationists" vs. evolutionists. Here he defines creationists as those who literally believe in a 6-day creation. He states that Catholics allow that the Creator could have used the instrument of evolution. However, he wonders whether "evolutionism (as an ideological concept) is compatible with belief in a Creator" (92).

The Cardinal notes that many scientists and scholars these days feel theology is either incompatible with evolution or separate from it. Many are satisfied with what is called methodological materialism, which says that scientists should experiment and theorize as though there is no supernatural element in nature. Schönborn calls this "methodological option" an "intellectual act" (93). It excludes God from nature which is antithetical to theology. Theology proclaims the Lord can be seen from what is made.

Cardinal Schönborn states, "Development of scientific theory is an intellectual process" (93). Human activity is goal-oriented, including investigations of science. And goals speak of purpose. Observation of nature sees order and design, but who recognizes it? He argues that philosophy and reason can recognize design. Using the metaphor of language, he points out that scientific objectivism "mistakes the letter for the text" (102).

He asks why, with its obvious shortcomings, evolution remains so well established. He answers, "Because so far there is no better theory." Yet evolutionary theory is a worldview (103). Anyone who thinks we were created (by God) also acknowledges a Creator who makes claims on us. We go from there to accepting ethical responsibilities.

Another reason for preference of evolution is observation of the long times and cruelties involved in our world's formation and nature. The answer here lies in accepting God's wisdom that gives meaning though we don't understand it all. His conclusion is that "The cross is the key to God's plan and counsel" (105).

I greatly admire Cardinal Schönborn for bringing this discussion between religion and science into the open. He has been a leader of the Catholic Church and I enjoy reading his thoughts and thinking about his arguments. After this article appeared in the New York Times, he had several articles in the periodical, First Things, debating various persons, notably physicist Stephen Barr.

My impression of the Cardinal's arguments at that time have been reinforced by his presentation in this book. He presents the tensions between the modern science mindset and religion in general as one of philosophy. My opinion is that these differences stem from theology and I believe the Cardinal himself mixes theology in with his arguments. It can be hard to separate them, since philosophy relates to reason and how do we correctly evaluate and describe faith without an effort of reason? But the Cardinal's presentation in the end appeals to the cross, resurrection and God's wisdom as answers to the ultimate questions--those of meaning and purpose. This is theology, and what he can't reach with his philosophy arguments is that the problem is really about faith. For example, in the Intelligent Design movement there are many people who see design but do not accept God as the Creator. They think another intelligence or aliens of some different makeup than ours (they themselves being naturalistically evolved) have designed us. Can Aristotle or Plato change the minds of these people? Perhaps if all of us saw things as the Cardinal would wish to teach, but I'm afraid in our era he would (and does) meet minds closed to his arguments.

As for the appearance of life as we know it, there is a much better fit with the facts than naturalistic evolotion: that we were created. It's just that evolution is the only naturalistic theory to which non-believers can cling.

I will review the discussion part of the book in the next entry.

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