Wednesday, July 13, 2005

what i don't understand about darwinism and intelligent design

Last Thursday, Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna wrote a letter in the New York Times describing the Church teaching on evolution. On Saturday, an article came out describing how dismayed and angry scientists were about this redefinition of the Church's teaching.

But is it really the science the Catholic Church has a problem with? Or is it certain beliefs that many scientists accept? From Cardinal Schonborn's letter, it sounds to me that his problem is not with evolution, but with, as he quotes Pope John Paul saying, "theories of materialistic philosophy." Which brings me to my problems with neo-Darwinism and intelligent design (ID). I'm not about to claim that these aren't science. It's just that they aren't science as I am familiar with it. As a physics student (and not a cosmologist), I'm familiar with science that says, "These processes occur in nature (or in a laboratory), and this is how they occur." I think that Cardinal Schonborn and the Church teachings are pretty clear in saying that there is no disagreement with evolution as a process that occurs in nature. That is simply a question of science, pure and simple.

The evolution debates remind me not so much of the science debates that I'm used to hearing, but rather a debate that we had once in history class. We were studying ancient empires and using the Bible as a source. I don't remember the exact passage we were reading, but it was a passage in the Old Testament where God works a miracle. Our professor said, "Now, we know that the miracle didn't actually occur, so we need to find out as historians what really happened." When someone spoke up to challenge this, the professor said something along the lines of, "well, spiritually, you can believe what you like, but right now we are approaching the text historically and rationally, so we can dismiss the possiblility of miracles." Obviously, I was rather dissatisfied with his answer. It seemed like a cop out. I understand, of course, that it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to tell whether a miracle actually occurred, but I don't see how you can make the assumption that it didn't happen. If there is a God, and He does work miracles, then He works miracles whether you are studying history or science or theology.

This is what the evolution debate feels like to me. My gut instinct is to say that people are not debating processes that occur, they are debating history. They are not asking, "does evolution occur?" They are asking, "Did evolution occur completely through random processes to make us what we are today?" To answer that question definitively one way or the other requires faith as well as science.

This idea, I think, is at the root of any argument that claims intelligent design is not science. Often I agree with these claims. But the New York Times article of last week shows me that whether or not ID is science, we need it in the scientific community. The New York Times article puts Cardinal Schonborn's letter and Church teachings at odds with science. It quotes a Christian biologist as saying, "There is a deep and growing chasm between the scientific and the spiritual world views. To the extent that the cardinal's essay makes believing scientists less and less comfortable inhabiting the middle ground, it is unfortunate. It makes me uneasy." But the Cardinal's letter, as I said above, is not at odds with evolution as a process. It is at odds with the philosophical beliefs that stem from neo-Darwinism, which seeks to answer the question, "Did evolution occur completely through random processes to make us what we are today?" If ID is not science, then neither is this assumption that all evolutionary processes occurred completely randomly. If the non-science of materialism stemming from neo-Darwinism is alive and well in the scientific community, then ID should be equally present. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the question posed above is entirely in the realm of science. But you cannot have it both ways. You cannot have neo-Darwinian materialism standing in the realm of science while ID is in the realm of theology.

After saying all this, I freely admit that I know very little about biology, evolution, or intelligent design, and I wouldn't be surprised if there are more than a few things wrong with what I said above. Helpful comments are certainly welcome.

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