intelligent design and the Vatican


According to the Reuters report "Intelligent design" not science: Vatican paper, the Vatican is not endorsing intelligent design.  At least, that is the overall feel of the article.
 
However, a few things should be noted:
  1. The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, wrote this article.  It is not (necessarily) directly from the Pope or his direct advisors.  It is most definitely not an infallible pronouncement from the See of Peter.
  2. "Intelligent design" was rejected, not as a plausible explanation, but as not being scientific.

These may seem like hair-splitting points, but a hair can make all the difference in the balancing act called politics.

Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Schoenborn both stated that humans were part of an intelligent project designed by God.  This does not mean that a literal reading of the Creation account in Genesis is absolute scientific fact.  What it means is that God created the Universe, including all the laws that govern this universe, which we observe in action and discover how to quantify (and better understand, if not explain) by science.

On the other hand, the rejection of ID as not being scientific does not (as the article suggests) mean that the Vatican is endorsing evolution as an explanation for everything either.  Pope John Paul II’s statement in 1996 stated that evolution is a valid, plausible theory to explain the myriad, yet subtle, differences among and within species, including the multitude of similarities between the human body and the bodies of other forms of life on this planet.  However, as Cardinal Schoenborn warned, just because the theory of evolution might explain one thing, it does not mean that it explains all things – in his own words (based on the Reuters article), some Darwinists concluded that it proved God did not exist and could "explain everything from the Big Bang to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony."

This is precisely the problem that G. K. Chesterton had with the theory of evolution: not that the theory was wrong, but that it could be carried too far:

"Many a sensible modern man must have abandoned Christianity under the pressure of three such converging convictions as these:  first, that men, with their shape, structure, and sexuality, are, after all, very much like beasts, a mere variety of the animal kingdom; second, that primeval religion arose in ignorance and fear; third, that priests have blighted societies with bitterness and gloom. Those three anti-Christian arguments are very different; but they are all quite logical and legitimate; and they all converge.  The only objection to them (I discover) is that they are all untrue.  If you leave off looking at books about beasts and men, if you begin to look at beasts and men then (if you have any humour or imagination, any sense of the frantic or the farcical) you will observe that the startling thing is not how like man is to the brutes, but how unlike he is.  It is the monstrous scale of his divergence that requires an explanation.  That man and brute are like is, in a sense, a truism; but that being so like they should then be so insanely unlike, that is the shock and the enigma.  That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or carve mutton.  People talk of barbaric architecture and debased art.  But elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory even in a rococo style; camels do not paint even bad pictures, though equipped with the material of many camel’s-hair brushes.  Certain modern dreamers say that ants and bees have a society superior to ours.  They have, indeed, a civilization; but that very truth only reminds us that it is an inferior civilization.  Who ever found an ant-hill decorated with the statues of celebrated ants? Who has seen a bee-hive carved with the images of gorgeous queens of old?  No; the chasm between man and other creatures may have a natural explanation, but it is a chasm.  We talk of wild animals; but man is the only wild animal.  It is man that has broken out.  All other animals are tame animals; following the rugged respectability of the tribe or type.  All other animals are domestic animals; man alone is ever undomestic, either as a profligate or a monk.  So that this first superficial reason for materialism is, if anything, a reason for its opposite; it is exactly where biology leaves off that all religion begins." [Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith, "Chapter IX: Authority and the Adventurer"]

The danger that the Church is warning us away from, by denouncing ID as "not scientific" is that same danger that she ran into herself during "The Age of Reason" – combining religion and science so that they are one and the same is about as ridiculous (and as dangerous) as combining your left and right eyes together into one "good" eye.  Truth is binocular – it takes faith and reason to view it fully and properly.  Using one as the other leads to trouble.

An example of carrying faith too far into science (or science too far into faith) is how the geocentric theory of the universe was used to state that Man is the center and purpose of Creation.  Using a scientific theory as a proof of a religious conclusion calls that conclusion into question when the original claim is rejected, as was the problem with Galileo advocating the heliocentric theory (itself a better understanding of science, yet still a wrong theory, as relativity would show) – it was felt this might be a challenge to the primacy of Man.  Man is, indeed, the pinnacle of material creation, but not because the Earth is the center of the Universe, but rather because God became Man – the only thing in the material world that God felt the need to become.  Scientific reasoning has nothing to do with it.

God does not have to be inserted into science by religious mandate, because He is already there, by virtue of His having created it.  Yes, He designed the Universe, but God does not fit into any mathematical equation or scientific theory, because that is not the realm of the natural sciences – it is the realm of theology, where religion meets philosophy, the mother of science.

Evolution may or may not be true.  The truth of evolution has no bearing on the fact that, at some point in history, God breathed a human soul into some material (be it sculpted dust or evolved ape) and said, "Thou art man," and found it very good.

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