Perhaps the high point for the IDC (intelligent design creationism) movement in recent times was the New York Times op-ed essay on July 7, 2005 by the supposedly influential Roman Catholic Cardinal Schonborn, where he seemed to advocate the IDC position about the alleged weaknesses of Darwinian natural selection. He said “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.” He even went so far to say that Pope John Paul II’s statement saying that evolution “was more than just a hypothesis” could be ignored.
At that time, this op-ed caused a stir as it seemed like the Roman Catholic Church was setting itself up for another epic confrontation reminiscent of the one that it had with Galileo about Copernican theory. I suggested then that the cardinal’s stance was probably a trial balloon, perhaps initiated by the new Pope Benedict XVI, to see what the reaction might be. The reaction was swift and not good, even from within the Catholic Church.
The Catholic World News reports that:
The director of the Vatican Observatory has lashed out at proponents of the theory of Intelligent Design, the Italian news service ANSA reports.
“Intelligent design isn’t science, even if it pretends to be,” said Father George Coyne. He said that if the theory is introduced in schools, it should be taught in religion classes, not science classes.
In another story news story:
The Vatican has issued a stout defence of Charles Darwin, voicing strong criticism of Christian fundamentalists who reject his theory of evolution and interpret the biblical account of creation literally.
Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the Genesis description of how God created the universe and Darwin’s theory of evolution were “perfectly compatible” if the Bible were read correctly.
His statement was a clear attack on creationist campaigners in the US, who see evolution and the Genesis account as mutually exclusive.
“The fundamentalists want to give a scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim,” he said at a Vatican press conference. He said the real message in Genesis was that “the universe didn’t make itself and had a creator”.
This idea was part of theology, Cardinal Poupard emphasised, while the precise details of how creation and the development of the species came about belonged to a different realm – science. Cardinal Poupard said that it was important for Catholic believers to know how science saw things so as to “understand things better”.
His statements were interpreted in Italy as a rejection of the “intelligent design” view, which says the universe is so complex that some higher being must have designed every detail.
Further support for evolution came from Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican project STOQ, or Science, Theology and Ontological Quest who reaffirmed John Paul’s 1996 statement that evolution was “more than just a hypothesis.”
“A hypothesis asks whether something is true or false,” he said. “(Evolution) is more than a hypothesis because there is proof.”
He was asked about comments made in July by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who dismissed in a New York Times article the 1996 statement by John Paul as “rather vague and unimportant” and seemed to back intelligent design.
Basti concurred that John Paul’s 1996 letter “is not a very clear expression from a definition point of view,” but he said evolution was assuming ever more authority as scientific proof develops.
[I]n a lecture given at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna on Sunday, Schoenborn said that it was possible he had not expressed himself clearly.
“Such misunderstandings can be cleared up,” he said, according to a Reuters report.
The 60-year-old cardinal now says that there need not be an inherent conflict between divine creation and evolution. He says that one is a matter for religion, the other for science, and that the two disciplines are complementary.
Schoenborn said: “Without a doubt, Darwin pulled off quite a feat with his main work and it remains one of the very great works of intellectual history. I see no problem combining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, under one condition – that the limits of a scientific theory are respected.”
He explained that in his view, those limits would be overstepped if scientists claimed that evolution proves that there could be no creator. Since science has never made any such claim on evolution’s behalf, it looks like it’s still OK by the Vatican.
But Pope Benedict XVI is still not giving up this fight. On November 11, 2005 it is reported: “Pope Benedict XVI has waded into the evolution debate in the United States, saying the universe was made by an “intelligent project” and criticizing those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order.”
But the Pope seems to be missing the point. People are free to believe in any kind of designer they wish. However the practice of science is based on methodological naturalism, which rules out using any supernatural mechanisms in any scientific study of any natural phenomenon.
POST SCRIPT: Too considerate?
A woman tried to open a door to step outside to smoke a cigarette. The catch is that the door was on a plane which was flying from Hong Kong to Brisbane, Australia. She was arrested.