Faith and Reason: December 2005 Archives

Cardinal Schonborn on Evolution and Creation


Monika and any other German-speakers may want to check out the homepage of the Archdiocese of Vienna.

For English speakers, the page includes the first two installments (1, 2) of a series of catecheses by Cardinal Schonborn on evolution and creation. (Link via Amy Welborn.)

If you remember, Cardinal Schonborn was the one who kicked off the crapstorm of controversy on evolution and creation over the summer with his Op-Ed in the New York Times.

Excerpt from the second catechesis:

Now there is another misunderstanding that is constantly found in the ongoing discussion, and I have to deal with it right here at the beginning. I refer to what is called "creationism.” Nowadays the belief in a creator is automatically run together with "creationism.” But in fact to believe in a creator is not the same as trying to understand the six days of creation literally, as six chronological days, and as trying to prove scientifically, with whatever means available, that the earth is 6000 years old. These attempts of certain Christians at taking the Bible absolutely literally, as if it made chronological and scientific statements - I have met defenders of this position who honestly strive to find scientific arguments for it - is called "fundamentalism.” Or more exactly, within American Protestantism this view of the Christian faith originally called itself fundamentalism. Starting from the belief that the Bible is inspired by God, so that every word in it is immediately inspired by Him, the six days of creation are taken in a strict literal way. It is understandable that in the United States many people, using not only kinds of polemics but lawsuits as well, vehemently resist the teaching of creationism in the schools. But it is an entirely different matter when certain people would like to see the schools deal with the critical questions that have been raised with regard to Darwinism; they have a reasonable and legitimate concern.

The Catholic position on this is clear. St. Thomas says that "one should not try to defend the Christian faith with arguments that are so patently opposed to reason that the faith is made to look ridiculous.” It is simply nonsense to say that the world is only 6000 years old. To try to prove this scientifically is what St. Thomas calls provoking the irrisio infidelium, the scorn of the unbelievers. It is not right to use such false arguments and to expose the faith to the scorn of unbelievers. This should suffice on the subject of "creationism” and "fundamentalism” for the entire remainder of this catechesis; what we want to say about it should be so clear that we do not have to return to the subject.

And now to our main subject: what does the Christian faith say about "God the creator” and about creation? The classical Catholic teaching, as we find it explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or more compactly presented in the Compendium of the Catechism, contains four basic elements.

Check out the whole thing.

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More evolution


The evolutionist denial of a Creator God seems to go something like this:

An immaterial force active in the evolution of life on earth is not scientifically observable.

Therefore, such a force must not exist.

There is a hidden premise here, and that is:

Any immaterial force active in the evolution of life on earth would be scientifically observable.

The error is in that hidden premise. From the perspective of the Christian, it is ridiculous. It boils down to a scientist saying. "I can't see the invisible." To which a believer might reply, "Duh!"

The scientist must respect the bounds of his profession. He can only present facts about the material realities, no more. To take those facts and attempt to draw conclusions about beliefs that concern the immaterial is a misapplication. This is not to say that science and faith don't communicate. The knowledge of the scientist teaches the faithful more about the mechanisms of creation, sometimes challenging faith and in the end strengthening it. Similarly, the theologian can teach the scientist more about the meaning of creation, challenging the moral and ethical assumptions of the scientist.

The problem is that frequently the two don't listen to each other. The scientist can ignore the ethical warnings that come from faith, resulting the assaults on human dignity we see in the field of biotechnology. Similarly, the Christian can ignore the facts produced by empirical observation of the created world, resulting in an overly literal reading of Scriptural texts whose deepest, truest and most consequential meanings are spiritual and moral, not geological or biological.

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The problem with Darwinists

| | Comments (2)

Right here.

Eminent biologist E.O. Wilson argues that evolution has completely shot down the notion of a Creator God. Not just, mind you, that evolution is true, but that the fruits of certain lines of scientific inquiry prove that there could not possibly be a plan to the evolution of life on this planet.

Many Christians believe the world evolved on the material level in the way Wilson describes. They also believe that this evolution was initiated and guided by a loving and infinitely good immaterial God who created the world, and who exists outside of time and works in ways nobody - scientist nor theologian - can precisely describe from this side of eternity. They further believe that just as theology can neither prove nor disprove the mechanisms of the laws of natural selection or random variation, science can neither prove nor disprove the truth of God's purpose in His creation or about man as center and steward of this creation. They do however, believe that anybody can look at the beauty and goodness of the world and reasonably conclude that there is a Creator.

To suggest what Wilson does - that science has conquered God - is to misunderstand God. There is no scientific discovery - short of an archaeological finding of the bones of Jesus - that can alter the faith of these Christians.

Ultimately, Wilson does not and cannot ever prove his theory that evolution was unplanned, unguided and meaningless. There is no mechanism for peering empirically into the immaterial.

How then, can the Christian have faith in this God despite the apparent randomness of the evolution of life? The answer is that millions have experienced God in prayer. This experiential evidence is something that can never be seen, measured or tested. It simply exists, and those who have entered into this mystery possess a knowledge of God.

Those who have this knowledge gained through prayerful experience know that as creator of the laws that the scientists study, God cannot be contradicted by those laws, and so the knowledge gained by the natural sciences will ultimately always be reconcilable with the revelation of God we have publicly through Scripture, through the authoritative teachings of the Church throughout the centuries, and privately through prayer.

A biologist simply cannot contradict this knowledge, and any attempts to use the laws of nature to do so - as I said before - misunderstands God.

I am not a huge proponent of Intelligent Design, mostly because I agree with John Derbyshire that it's not science. On the other hand, it's an understandable reaction to scientists like Wilson claiming that evolution defeats revealed faith. A believing Christian can easily see that this is not true, and evolution then becomes an enemy in a sense.

I don't claim to speak for all Christians, I know there are young-earth Christians out there, just as there are still geo-centrists. I believe they err in reading Scripture literally. In the end, the believer must understand that God is the author of scientific laws, and so they can never contradict Him.

For their part, scientists who are non-believers must respect the faith of Christians and understand that the existence of the Christian God is not something which can be empirically proven.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Faith and Reason category from December 2005.

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