When he gets around to addressing intelligent design, Cardinal Schoenborn says,
The never ending debate, as to whether there is something like a "design" in creation, thus goes round in circles, perhaps because nowadays, whenever people talk about "design" and a "designer," they automatically think of a "divine engineer", a kind of omniscient technician who - because he must be perfect - can, equally, only produce perfect machines. Here, in min view, lies the most profound cause of many misunderstandings - even on the part of the "intelligent design" school in the U.S.A. God is no clockmaker; he is not a constructor of machines, but a creator of natures. The world is not a mechanical clock, not some vast machine, nor even a mega-computer, but rather, as Jacque Maritain said, une republique des natures", "a republic of natures."
Now, there are two things to be said in response to this astonishing statement. First, as a matter of literal fact, our bodies are composed of hundreds of billions of machines. Indeed, biologists cannot avoid using the terminology associated with machines when describing the activities inside our cells, however they assume that the microscopic machines originated. In other words, to the extent that God is a "creator of natures," the natures he creates are composed of machines. Our billions of bodily nano-machines do not, of course, rattle or clunk, but that is because they are sophisticated, not because they are not machines.
Second, the intelligent design theorists do not call God a "divine engineer"; they argue, quite simply, that God's design in nature is detectible, rather than merely an irrational leap of faith. It is a bit difficult to figure out exactly why Cardinal Schoenborn indulges in this "slam", but it may be because the political risks of saying the obvious - that if the Bible is believable, design in nature should in fact be detectible - are simply too high at present, given the number of Catholic pundits who have built careers on alternative explanations.
But there are other risks besides the political ones. Leading up to talking about intelligent design in Chance or Purpose?, Cardinal Schoenborn gives considerable attention to a medical computer expert whose faith was severely challenged over the "muddle" that the human genetic code is supposed to be. The Cardinal responds,
One misunderstanding is widespread. It proceeds from the assumption that when God created this world, he can have created it only in complete perfection. Every failing, then, that we observe appears to weigh against the idea of a rational Creator and his intelligent plan. The "muddle" in the genetic code is just such an example.
But this raises a question that is not really addressed in any detail in Chance or Purpose? Is there in fact a muddle in the genetic code?
Here is where an intelligent design perspective could probably help Cardinal Schoenborn: All actual design in this world is at best optimal rather than perfect. That is because all actual design occurs within constraints. Life forms, including humans, are limited and mortal; we die, and others take our place. And in that forum, how are we doing? Very well indeed, it would seem. The fact that so many public intellectuals have obsessed loudly and urgently about a supposed population explosion of humans demonstrates that there is in reality no muddle of any importance in the human genome.
If one wanted to address the faith-challenged doctor's point, it would be best to begin by picking a life form that is going extinct due to muddles in its genome. But how many such examples have there ever been? Don't most life forms go extinct because their environment changes radically and they cannot adapt? And if we argue that extinction demonstrates poor design or lack of design, we must first establish that on a well-ordered planet, the brontosaur and the tyrannosaur would dominate the landscape today. As the film Jurassic Park demonstrated, that case is very far from a slam dunk.
Very well then, what theory of origins does the Cardinal wish to sponsor? Now comes the controversial part of his book.
Next: Part Four: Can the disgraced Teilhard de Chardin evolve into a pioneer of faith?
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 new book The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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