Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cardinal Schonborn, Design

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, as I mentioned in the previous entry, wrote an article in the New York Times July 7, 2005 about design and evolution called "Finding Design in Nature." He pointed out differences between the idea that evolution has occurred from common biological ancestry and the current mindset of neo-Darwinism which dictates that all evolution must be random and unguided. He sees an “overwhelming evidence for design in biology.” He brings up Pope John Paul II’s teachings concerning the directionality of nature which leads to the conclusion that a Mind has created it. It is worth reading Schönborn’s short article which is linked here.

The letter created quite a stir after publication. It prompted the article by George Coyne which is discussed in my May 30 entry. Many Christians like Coyne feel that God created the world through the randomness of nature. They present to us the best of both worlds—we happily join the ranks of modern science while we wink knowingly that God did it. They defend the theory of evolution and some chastise those who think otherwise.

Perhaps they are worried that if we say "God did it" and it is proven otherwise, we look ignorant to the rest of the world and deflate others in the hope there really is a God. They keep bringing up Newton, who said God adjusted planets' orbits, and then later came Laplace who proved the planets could orbit on their own by physical law. As I've written before, Newton is still considered one of the greatest scientists in history and not everyone stopped believing in God after Laplace. What's more, the new discoveries of the fine-tuning of the universe (see link on right to Anthropic Principle) have brought full circle our appreciation of God's handiwork in the heavens. So, new discoveries don't always answer all the questions--they can bring on more of them.

But in my opinion a major problem here is that the concept of randomness is misunderstood, or at least understood differently by different people. This is a pervasive problem and I have seen evidence of it throughout the ranks of scientists such as physicists and geneticists, much less philosophers and theologians. I concede it is a difficult problem to overcome because science is complicated and so is God. Who is to give the final word on what is true? Yet, undaunted, I would like to try to find common understanding so everyone can communicate and think as clearly as possible about the complex questions we face in biology and elsewhere. So, I use here the meaning of "random" as a term understood by laypersons as "happening by chance."

I will capitalize the word RANDOM and make bold some other words along the way for emphasis.

1. I am going to assume atoms and molecules do not have minds of their own as to what other atoms and molecules they attach to in chemical reactions. There are those who would not give me that, but I think most people will agree and that at least gives us a start.

2. Since atoms and molecules don't have minds of their own, they move and react with other atoms and molecules according to physical and chemical laws. They have energy, motion, and their reactions depend on and/or cause energy exchanges, but all these movements and combinations so far, I hope we agree, are RANDOM.

3. Our first wrench in the machine is quantum physics (don't give up here--you don't have to know quantum physics to read this). In quantum physics, particles act in a way we did not at first expect (when it was discovered). However, though we don't expect how they react in our old (classical) understandings, scientists have worked out new ways to understand and expect their movements. Even in quantum physics, particles act in certain ways that can be predicted to behave within certain limits. Their movements can be predicted and understood under physical laws. Quantum mechanics itself was discovered from principles of probability and is in part based on it. If particles consistently appear or react outside certain limits, we no longer have findings that agree with current physical laws.

Many refer to the mysteries of quantum physics and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle as their proof that there can be randomness in nature and yet non-randomness by God at the same time. But quantum physics does not change the overall randomness of the atom and molecule movements and their reactions with each other. We are still dealing with RANDOM. If God intervenes at this level to make certain atoms connect with others or certain specific molecules to react and stay bonded with others, the structure is NO LONGER RANDOM.

4. So, when we talk about DNA or proteins being in specific order, we can still talk about probabilities that atoms or molecules will connect in these specific orders. The subject of probability in this event will be in my next entry.

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