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Darwin’s Divisions

From the June issue of Touchstone, an article on recent statements about evolution, etc. from various Catholic luminaries:

In a telephone interview given after the Times article appeared, Schönborn said that although his article had not been vetted by the Vatican, he had spoken with Ratzinger a few weeks before his elevation to the papacy about what he perceived to be misrepresentations of the church’s views on evolution, and the future pope had encouraged him to work to set the record straight.

In the interview, Schönborn admitted that he was angered by those who taught that neo-Darwinian evolution was compatible with the Catholic faith. “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.”


If the cardinal was angry at the misrepresentations of John Paul’s and Benedict’s thought, the head of the Vatican Observatory, Father George Coyne, S.J., was livid at the cardinal’s intervention. In an essay, “God’s chance creation,” published in the English Catholic magazine The Tablet in early August, he accused the cardinal of muddying the already “murky waters of the rapport between the Church and science” by attacking the “best of modern science.”

Coyne conjured up the ghost of the Galileo case as an example of what he meant by incompetent handling of the relation between the church and science. In the case of evolution, he thought that Communion and Stewardship was a step in the right direction. Schönborn’s piece, on the other hand, put the church on a collision course with science once again.


To work towards avoiding unnecessary antagonism is laudable, but there are two serious problems with Coyne’s analysis. First, he is wrong in thinking that Schönborn’s op-ed piece was at odds with John Paul II and the International Theological Commission. Second, he claims that science is neutral with regard to religion, but then blatantly contradicts himself when he says that the results of modern science make it necessary to adjust our concepts of divine omniscience and omnipotence. Coyne is neither a careful reader of texts, nor a coherent philosopher.

At First Things, Stephen Barr elaborates on and responds to Hilbert’s piece.

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Peter Nixon

posted June 2, 2006 at 12:46 pm

I think I’m more comfortable with Barr’s comments than with Hilbert’s, which I think draw too stark a division between faith and reason.
I don’t have any problem with the idea that the results of scientific investigation may lead to new theological insights, or lead us to revise ones we once held. Truth is one, and the claims of faith and reason should not ultimately contradict one another. For centuries, a significant number of Christians believed that the first chapters of Genesis were a historical account. The findings of modern science demanded that we revise those views. The task of theology is to carry out that revision in ways that preserve the concord between those truths that we know by faith and those we know by reason.
Where this really gets tricky–as this debate makes clear–is the place of God in biological evolution. If random mutations and and natural selection can explain evolution, what is the role for God? I’ve seen various answers to this question, none of which I find completely satisfactory. I’m willing to let ID proponents test their theories alongside those of more traditional scientists and see where the weight of evidence lies.
What I don’t want to do, though, is place an inordinate amount of faith in a particular scientific theory that may ultimately be falsified by future discoveries. That’s as true for ID as it is for neo-Darwinism.

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