by Denyse O'Leary
Cardinal Schoenborn quite properly stresses the traditional Christian view that God did not wind up the universe and just let it go, like an elastic band. He remains actively involved.
Yet Schoenborn or his amanuensis also makes clear that intervention was "quite rightly" rejected by Darwin. (P. 29) Why quite rightly?
Obviously, there are good reasons for rejecting divine intervention as an explanation for specific events. But which events? Why? God does not intervene to make the moistened seed sprout, but did he intervene to produce life? The human mind? The soul? Revelations given to the prophets and the saints? For that matter, does the human soul exist in a literal sense, or is that merely our way of saying that people matter to each other in some way? The growing controversy turns specifically on issues like this. And it is on issues like this that Chance or Purpose? provides no clear answers, unfortunately.
Here is a specific example: On page 43, the Cardinal defends methodological naturalism - the view that science should proceed as though atheistic materialism is true. Acknowledging that some call it "methodological atheism," he indicates that he himself sees it as "a straightforward method of natural science." Yet a few sentences later, he says that God can, for example, "heal a cancerous growth in sovereign fashion." In that case, the "straightforward method of natural science" will hardly appear straightforward to the oncologist.
Now, medical doctors are much more skeptical of Darwinism than university scientists. Familiarity with the very real world that the Cardinal describes is doubtless one reason for their skepticism. Indeed, the oncologist will hardly mind being puzzled if she can confirm that the patient is in remission. But then why is the Cardinal so anxious to defend the worldview that underlies the "evolutionism" he so deplores?
Tellingly, he writes,
Darwin, in his most famous book, argued against having recourse to individual acts of creation so as to explain the variety of species. He wanted to work out as much of a "natural explanation" for the origin of species as possible. Even if Darwin had the impression of committing a "murder" here, because he believed he had in some sense to overcome his inherited religious beliefs, this kind of notion is entirely legitimate. The method of natural science looks for natural causes, and it tries to explain situations as completely as possible by natural causes. ... The danger lies, however, in people forgetting the limitations of this method. It shows a narrow segment of reality with great clarity, but we should not regard it as being the whole of reality.
So, what are the limitations, precisely? Specifically what segment of reality doesn't the method show, and why not?
Actually, Darwin was not simply trying to get rid of intervention, he was trying to get rid of design in nature as well. And why not take him at his word?
On this point, I think Schoenborn simply misunderstands Darwin. If Darwin and his heirs succeed, Schoenborn's own views can be accounted for by brain glitches. Darwin knew very well what was at stake, and that was precisely the "horrid doubt" despite which he decided to proceed. Against the horrid doubt Schoenborn offers no clear defense. Indeed, one scans Schoenborn's (and surely whoever he should share the credit with's?) book in vain for any awareness that the horrid doubt is a central point of the controversy.
So, in the end we must ask, is design in nature one of the natural causes or is it not? If so, then intelligent design is correct. If not, then Darwin's interpretation (or one very much like it) is correct.
If there is design, there may also be intervention, but if there is no design, then there is no intervention.
Next: Part Three: What Cardinal Schoenborn doesn't like about intelligent design
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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