Preposterous Universe

Wednesday, July 13, 2005
The Cosmologist vs. The Cardinal

If you want something done, why not go to the top? That seems to be Lawrence Krauss's strategy -- he's collaborated with two biologists to write a letter to the Pope asking him to clarify the Church's stance on evolution.

This of course is in response to a New York Times editorial by Cardinal Christof Schönborn, in which he attempts to set straight anyone who might have thought that the Catholic Church was perfectly comfortable with evolution as understood by scientists. He doesn't mince words, making it clear that Catholics should believe in what is now called "intelligent design":
Ever since 1996, when Pope John Paul II said that evolution (a term he did not define) was "more than just a hypothesis," defenders of neo-Darwinian dogma have often invoked the supposed acceptance - or at least acquiescence - of the Roman Catholic Church when they defend their theory as somehow compatible with Christian faith.

But this is not true. The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things.

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.
I especially like that last sentence. We certainly wouldn't want any sneaky ideology to get in the way of our purely scientific understanding of nature, would we?

As PZ says (and even the Times seems to have noticed), the Cardinal is simply repeating the party line of the Discovery Institute. Lawrence and his friends (Francisco J. Ayala and Kenneth R. Miller) are asking the Pope to reaffirm what most people thought was the case, that the Church had fully accepted the scientific theory of the development of life.

It's hardly surprising that the Church might favor design over natural selection. The idea that God had something to do with the origin and nature of humanity is one that it would be difficult to give up on from a religious perspective. The letter from the scientsts to the Pope stresses "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." I wish Lawrence and his friends well, but I don't think they'll ultimately succeed; the fact is that there is such a divide, and all the Papal edicts in the world won't make it go away.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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