Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Oh Those Neo-Darwinists

Thank you to Slate's Explainer for "What Catholics Think of Evolution" because it linked to this nonsense by Christoph Schonborn, the Roman Catholic cardinal archbishop of Vienna, printed on July 7th by the NYTs. According to Cardinal Schonborn:
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.
So what's your evidence Cardinal?
Consider the real teaching of our beloved John Paul. While his rather vague and unimportant 1996 letter about evolution is always and everywhere cited, we see no one discussing these comments from a 1985 general audience that represents his robust teaching on nature:

"All the observations concerning the development of life lead to a similar conclusion. The evolution of living beings, of which science seeks to determine the stages and to discern the mechanism, presents an internal finality which arouses admiration. This finality which directs beings in a direction for which they are not responsible or in charge, obliges one to suppose a Mind which is its inventor, its creator."

He went on: "To all these indications of the existence of God the Creator, some oppose the power of chance or of the proper mechanisms of matter. To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements and such marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us. In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be to abdicate human intelligence, which would thus refuse to think and to seek a solution for its problems."

Note that in this quotation the word "finality" is a philosophical term synonymous with final cause, purpose or design. In comments at another general audience a year later, John Paul concludes, "It is clear that the truth of faith about creation is radically opposed to the theories of materialistic philosophy. These view the cosmos as the result of an evolution of matter reducible to pure chance and necessity."

Naturally, the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church agrees: "Human intelligence is surely already capable of finding a response to the question of origins. The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason." It adds: "We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance."
So Cardinal Schonborn has, shockingly, the Pope and the Catechism of the Catholic Church on his side, but no empirical evidence of any kind to back him up. His best attempt to show evidence of design in nature again goes back to Church teaching and not empirical evidence such as DNA or the fossil record showing the succession of single cell life-forms all the way to us humans.
Throughout history the church has defended the truths of faith given by Jesus Christ. But in the modern era, the Catholic Church is in the odd position of standing in firm defense of reason as well. In the 19th century, the First Vatican Council taught a world newly enthralled by the "death of God" that by the use of reason alone mankind could come to know the reality of the Uncaused Cause, the First Mover, the God of the philosophers.
Although the Cardinal never provides one ounce of evidence for his belief in creative design besides appeals to authority that most people don't even recognize, he has the chutzpah to conclude:
Now at the beginning of the 21st century, faced with scientific claims like neo-Darwinism and the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science, the Catholic Church will again defend human reason by proclaiming that the immanent design evident in nature is real. Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of "chance and necessity" are not scientific at all, but, as John Paul put it, an abdication of human intelligence.
The funny thing about the Cardinal's piece is that he does grant "[e]volution in the sense of common ancestry might be true," which naturally throws away the whole of Genesis as merely a myth, a story. This is why he has to appeal to the Pope, the Catechism, and "overwhelming evidence," which he never cites, besides the guy in the funny hat and his book of Q&As.

For those of you who still don't believe evolution is a fact, I'll leave you with these two links, both of the same name, "Evolution is a Fact and a Theory." One is by the late preeminent biologist, Stephen Jay Gould, and the other is by Laurence Moran from the Talk.Origins Archive. Compare these essays to the Cardinal's and ask yourself who's engaged in sophistry at the expense of evidence.