August 5th, 2005


Theological Notebook: Allen speaks to Schönborn

John Allen in his The Word From Rome column this week, follows up his previous story on Cardincal Schönborn's essay on evolution by speaking to the Cardinal himself for some follow-up:
Two weeks ago, I reported on reaction to a July 7 op/ed piece in The New York Times by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, in which the cardinal argued that evolution, understood as an unguided, random process, is incompatible with the Catholic faith.

No doubt as Schönborn intended, the article generated wide debate. To some scientists, who had been impressed with Pope John Paul II's 1996 statement that evolution is "more than a hypothesis," the Schönborn piece seemed a step back.

For example, Sir Martin Rees, an eminent British astronomer and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Science, told me July 22: "I was dismayed by the content and tone of the article by Cardinal Schönborn. I very much hope that the Pontifical Academy can dissociate itself from such sentiments."

Other observers, however, were gratified by Schönborn's piece, given that evolution has often been used to justify atheism, immanentism and Deism -- all inimical to orthodox Christianity.

Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University, a Catholic and author of Darwin's Black Box, one of the leading challenges to evolution on scientific grounds, told me: "It seems to me that the cardinal said pretty much everything that needed to be said."

I quoted scientists and theologians who argued that in thinking about the church and evolution, it's important to distinguish between scientific language and philosophical/theological language. Properly speaking, when a scientist refers to evolution as "random," it means that empirically, evolution's outcome is unpredictable; for a philosopher, however, "random" may mean "without purpose or design."

The church, many of these experts said, can accept the former but certainly not the latter.
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