Catholics and Evolution: Interview with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn
Are Christian values compatible with Darwinism? A Catholic leader sets out his views on evolution and intelligent design.
BY: Interview by Tom Heneghan
There is almost a ban on debate. Critics of evolution theory are discriminated against and discredited from the start. What I would like to see in schools is a critical, open, and positive spirit so that we don't make a dogma of evolution theory but we say, "Here is a theory. A lot speaks for it in many points, but there are points where it has no answer." Of course, one should not claim to teach evolution [while] actually teaching the ideology of evolutionism. If one does it, this must be clearly stated.
Is the Christian view an alternative to Darwin?
Christian teaching about evolution is not an alternative to evolution theory. Evolution theory is a scientific thesis, while the teaching about creation is a tenet of faith. I think, as do many other people, that both are open to each other and that they should not put each other in question. There is not a wall of separation between them. I don't expect the Biblical teaching about creation should be presented as a rival scientific theory to evolution theory.
People have tried to box me into a corner by setting up an either-or proposition--it's either evolution or intelligent design--that I don't accept. Evolution, intelligent design, and Christian teaching on creation are not all on the same level. For me, the whole question of intelligent design is primarily a question of reason. The argument that the whole complexity of life can be explained as mere random process is unreasonable in my opinion. No person who experiences such complexity would say that it created itself. That's the point. The second step is to ask--OK, which intelligence [created this]? As a believer, I naturally think it is the intelligence of the Creator. And 90 percent of humanity thinks that too.
Why do you say this is a question of reason and not of belief?
For 30 years, I've heard from the pope, from Professor [Joseph] Ratzinger [Benedict's name before he assumed the papacy] that the church has the task in these times of defending reason. It must defend reason against a reductionism that in the end, ideologically speaking, is a kind of materialism.
What do you think of the Discovery Institute and its work promoting intelligent design?
I think they do interesting work that deserves attention. What bothers me is the unbelievable aggression unleashed by the questions that the Discovery Institute asks. Why do scientists have to react so aggressively?
Does God belong in biology class?
The question of the Creator belongs in religion class. The question of the "intelligent project of the cosmos," as the pope put it, naturally belongs in with science. The questions that great scientists like Einstein and Heisenberg asked are questions that go beyond materialism. In the end, it's a question about intelligence. Is intelligence the product of matter? Is the information that intelligence shapes a product of matter? This is clearly a question that can quickly turn ideological or philosophical. So that belongs in school.
You also criticize neo-Darwinism in modern economic thinking.
The "survival of the fittest" model has become the guiding pattern for free-market economics. But life functions roughly 80 percent in a synergistic and symbiotic way and 20 percent as a struggle. Darwin singled out one aspect, the survival of the fittest. That certainly exists, but it's by far not the whole of nature. Most things in nature function through synergies and cooperation. That's also the way it works in the economy. In Western societies we have the model of open competition in a fully deregulated free-market economy. We overlook the fact that the economy needs first of all a model of cooperation and not a model built on the survival of the fittest.
[Atheist biologist]Richard Dawkins
provided me the best proof of this. I had the honor of being denounced by him as a simpleton, but he said in the same interview that he would not like to live in a Darwinian society. Of course, I'd like to ask him how he can find a non-Darwinian society when everything is Darwinian? There must be some space for something non-Darwinian.
So your real concern in the evolution debate is actually a wider philosophical disagreement.
It's all about materialism. That's the key issue.