"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Pope Is Asked To Address Evolution

The N.Y. Times reports today:

Three scientists, two of them Roman Catholic biologists, have asked Pope Benedict XVI to clarify the church's position on evolution in light of recent statements by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, an influential theologian, that the modern theory of evolution may be incompatible with Catholic faith. The scientists asked the pope to reaffirm earlier statements on the subject by Pope John Paul II and others "that scientific rationality and the church's commitment to divine purpose and meaning in the universe were not incompatible." It is crucial, their letter says, "that in these difficult and contentious times the Catholic Church not build a new divide, long ago eradicated, between the scientific method and religious belief."

Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University, wrote the letter on behalf of himself and the two biologists, Dr. Francisco J. Ayala of the University of California, Irvine, a former Dominican priest, and Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University, a Roman Catholic who has written on the reconciliation of science and faith. Cardinal Schönborn's remarks, which appeared Thursday in
an essay on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, were prompted in part by an essay Dr. Krauss wrote in Science Times in May on the compatibility of religion and evolution. The Vatican press office, contacted Tuesday, had no comment on Cardinal Schönborn's article.

Personally, I believe today's article misrepresents Cardinal Schoenborn's stance on evolution. When you read the Cardinal's op-ed piece, what he in fact insists on is that the "neo-Darwinian" view that animals evolved as a result of "an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection" is unacceptable for Christians. He rightly states that the Church teaches that the hand of the living God directed the emergence of life on earth, no matter how long it took. Our world shows the marks of divine design, not mere random chance. It strikes me that practically any Christian would have to agree with that. Surely the fact that God created heaven and earth and is the Lord of life is not negotiable for Christians, no matter how liberal they are--isn't it? Benedict XVI has already put it beautifully himself: "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."


Blogger Caelius said...

Correct on the theology, Randall, and as far as the theology goes, I don't see anything wrong with the Cardinal's position. Whatever teaching the Church makes about origins must assert our conscious and intentional creation by God.

However, biology as a discourse cannot comprehend divine agency, since the means of divine agency in creating biological life (and then us in His Image) is written very deeply into the physical laws of the universe. As far as biology can exert itself, evolution happens by natural selection, an apparently random process that is mediated by the physical evolution of the Earth as a planet.

I recommend to you Stephen Jay Gould's Full House, which argues quite convincingly that we are random beings and thus demonstrates the limits of biology as discourse rather than the limits of evolutionary theory. Or more generally, science should tell us how and theology why. I think theology answers the higher question. Don't you?

10:36 AM  
Blogger texanglican said...

I suppose I am too much of a Thomist to be happy with the kind of how/why dichotymy you propose, Caelius. Truth is a unity. What is true for theology must be true for genuine science as well, when properly understood. Though depending upon one's viewpoint it is sometimes difficult to discern the unity. One of my undergrad majors at Rice (many moons ago) was anthropology, and it took me a fair amount of effort to reconcile what I knew to be true about paoleoanthropology and the fossil record with what faith taught me through Scripture and Sacred Tradition after my conversion experience in grad school. But difficult as it may be to understand sometimes, the Truth that sets one free is ultimately One.We must be careful not to allow the professional biological academy to pidgeonhole faith as something that can only be trotted out on Sunday morning, but "serious" understandings about Nature must be based strictly upon materialist assumptions.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Caelius said...

"What is true for theology must be true for genuine science as well."

Your understanding of the unity of truth in this case is mistaken, because it implies that certain truth claims are contradictory when they are not. You and Richard Dawkins are in the same boat, because whereas Dawkins sees the apparent randomness of evolution by natural selection (under the materialistic assumptions of the natural sciences) as proof that humans were not created by God (and who is this God fellow anyway?), you say that the existence of God (and the consequences of your theology) contradict the apparent randomness of evolution by natural selection. I really don't see one contradicting the other. But while Dawkins is unconvincing, you may have a better explanation of the contradiction.

To give you a different example that will seem less personal, I once challenged Questioning Christian's denial of Christ's bodily resurrection on two grounds.

1. The Incarnation of the Son of God is (was) a unique event. Science cannot validly say anything of truth about a phenomenon that is by any definition non-reproducible. The resurrection of the dead doesn't count as reproducibility (since the world as we know it ends at about the same time).

2. Bodily resurrection of one human being doesn't violate the laws of nature. Thermodynamics and quantum mechanics as we understand them do not say that such an event is impossible just incredibly improbable.

Genuine science cannot comprehend many of the truths theology provides. But what worries me about your position is that you want theology to mix itself with those things more base than itself and (if it's not careful) see its truths in the wrong places. This will spread false opinion. Truth, you may recall, is not only called by some among the Fathers a unity but also a hierarchy. (Though Aquinas may not agree with me. I don't remember.) But I don't think recognizing truth as a hierarchy pigeonholes anything for Sunday morning, provided you seek that which is higher before that which is lower.

I believe design (from a standpoint of Aristotelian causality) ultimately and essentially cosmological rather than biological. And I believe genuine science and theology will support this.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Francesco said...

I wish to recommend a book which has a few essays published by Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal. Entitled "In the beginning..." and published by Eerdmans, it is short but crucial in this debate.

I do think, in my humble opinion, that St. Ireneus' dictum "c'est le Tout qui est la verite'" is essential in understanding that Truth has to be in unity; biological truth cannot contradict revealed Truth. A dialogue of sorts must exist between the two.

7:41 AM  

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