Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dulles on Evolution in First Things

Cardinal Dulles has a piece in the October issue of First Things dealing with the topic of evolution. The cardinal's piece is better than the ones they've published in the past by Cardinal Schönborn and by the occasional explicit Intelligent Design apologist. However he still seems a bit over-focused on the "neo-Darwinian" bogeyman. The term has gained a set of meanings in some religions circles which is, I think, increasingly divorced from the meaning of the term when used in debate between scientists.

I find it disappointing that FT and particularly Dulles and Schönborn (who are certainly brilliant men in their own rights) seem so bent on dipping into the scientific debate over neo-Darwinian theories with a set of philosophical baggage which, frankly, a lot of the scientists they're trying to address simply don't understand (or don't see the relevance of to science).

What I think is a much more fruitful direction is that which Stephen M. Barr has taken both in the pages of FT and also in his book Modern Physics, Ancient Faith in regards to talking about the position of science in human knowledge as a whole, rather than trying to make sure that science per se "leaves room for God". I recall reading in a piece by Frank Sheed that one of the questions that invariably interested audiences of the Catholic Evidence Guild was, "Why is there anything?" While science provides some very solid answers to questions along the lines of "How do things work?", it is singularly ill suited to provide compelling answers to the question of "Why is there anything" and "What does the universe mean."

When Dulles says, "Christian Darwinists run the risk of conceding too much to their atheistic colleagues. They may be over-inclined to grant that the whole process of emergence takes place without the involvement of any higher agency. Theologians must ask whether it is acceptable to banish God from his creation in this ­fashion." I'm concerned that he's failing to sufficiently context (if I may abuse the English language by turning that into a verb) science as an intentionally limited field.

The cardinal gets into this a bit near the end of his piece, as when he quotes Justin Barrett:
Justin Barrett, an evolutionary psychologist now at Oxford, is also a practicing Christian. He believes that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good God crafted human beings to be in loving relationship with him and with one another. “Why wouldn’t God,” he asks, “design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Even if these mental phenomena can be explained scientifically, the psychological explanation does not mean that we should stop believing. “Suppose that science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me,” he writes. “Should I then stop believing that she does?”
This, I think, is rather more the right track, and I could have wished that he'd spent his entire article talking more along these lines, rather than examining what he sees as the different schools of religious thought within Darwinism.

1 comment:

John Farrell said...

Excellent post, and I agree completely. Still, as I wrote in a recent post--FT is far better than NRO or TAS when it comes to their science coverage.