by Denyse O'Leary
The Catholic Church's full, official, teaching authority (the Magisterium ) says very little about evolution. It gives only general guidelines as to how to interpret the Bible's teachings about Creation. But those guidelines do say that nothing can contradict the Nicene Creed, or the doctrine that God created everything ex nihilo, or that sin entered the world through our first parents, or that God Himself creates the human soul. While that would certainly contradict the beliefs of most Darwinian evolutionists, the controversy is relatively new in Catholic terms, being only about 150 years old. The issue will likely be debated for decades or centuries before the Church actually pronounces on it, if at all.
That said, there are many opinions, and Cardinal Schoenborn's is certainly an important one. What then does he say?
Throughout Chance or Purpose?, he distinguishes a scientific interest in how life evolved from an ideological attempt to interpret the whole of life via the theory of evolution, which he calls "evolutionism." He systematically attempts to distance himself from the latter, but in doing so, he calls attention to the obvious difficulty: Anyone familiar with the development of the controversy over evolution in North America will recognize that the whole point of the promotion of evolution to the public and especially to students in school today is precisely to entrench evolutionism, in the Cardinal's sense.
It is obvious why that must be so. Few actually care why the trilobite vanished yet the nautilus blunders on - unless these creatures' differing fates demonstrate something beyond themselves. To the committed evolutionist, they do indeed. They demonstrate the essentially and entirely animal nature of humans.
So, if the Cardinal really means what he says, then - irrespective of how evolution happened - he is actually on the side of the creationists and the ID people, however he may mistrust or deplore them, and against the evolutionists, however he may join them in praising Darwin. Indeed, if the Church really believes that we have "first parents" through whom sin entered the world (whose names are traditionally given as Adam and Eve) and that each human has a soul, then the whole Church is on that side too.
But the Cardinal writes like a man who is in no position to simply say so and be done with it. Indeed, it is not always easy to tell who he has in view when he is looking over his shoulder. Early in his book, he avers,
"There is no doubt that Darwin's principal work was a stroke of genius, and it remains one of the truly great works in the history of ideas. With an incredible gift for observation, and a great deal of hard work and prodigious mental powers, he produced this seminal book which is among the most influential works in the history of ideas." (p. 26)
But for what reason is Darwin's work so highly regarded? Darwin argued that the differential survival of stronger life forms over weaker ones is a vast creative force that births the entire variety of life that we see around us. The evidence for his idea, which has now morphed into a dogma, has always been limited to a few minor transitions, rather than the major ones that would truly support the theory. Darwinian evolution, in that sense, resembles Marxist economics. It survives on its strength as an organizing ideology, not on its true explanatory power. So why precisely does Cardinal Schoenborn hold Darwin's theory to be a stroke of genius?
Again, Schoenborn talks about the importance of "reason" as a guide to truth (p. 30). In so doing, he seems entirely unaware that one of the most important Darwinian projects in recent years has been to demonstrate that reason, in his terms, does not exist. As Francis Crick writes in The Astonishing Hypothesis, "Our highly developed brains, after all, were not evolved under the pressure of discovering scientific truths but only to enable us to be clever enough to survive and leave descendants."
Similarly, Harvard cognitive scientist Steve Pinker asks, "Why do people believe that there are dangerous implications of the idea that the mind is a product of the brain, that the brain is organized in part by the genome, and that the genome was shaped by natural selection?", and then seemingly answers his own question, "Our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. Sometimes the truth is adaptive, but sometimes it is not."
Similarly, in arguing for his extravagant cosmology of multiple universes, respected cosmologist Max Tegmark cheerily announces that we are all evolved from lower life forms, and most of us are not adapted to comprehend the truth. He explains: "Evolution provided us with intuition for the everyday physics that had survival value for our distant ancestors, so whenever we venture beyond the everyday world, we should expect it to seem bizarre."
Of course Schoenborn is quite right to hold, in contradiction to these fatuous and self-serving claims, that the mind and its reasoning powers really exist. But his proposed distinction between evolution and "evolutionism" will not avail him in doing so. What evolution means today, for all practical purposes, is principally the content of claims such as these. Take them away, and evolution is nothing more than the public exposition of the remains of the long-departed trilobite and learned speculation on the sex life of the vanished tyrannosaur. Not really the stuff of serious public controversy, at any rate.
A similar problem arises when the Cardinal discusses Darwin's rejection of "intervention" in nature.
Next: Part Two: Why is it called "intelligent design" instead of "intelligent intervention"?
Note: References for the three quotations above are: Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis, p. 262 Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, p. 305, Max Tegmark, Parallel Universes.
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 Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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