Creation and Evolution – A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo
Ignatius Press, 2008
During the sermon at his inauguration Mass, Pope Benedict XVI remarked that “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.” However, that does not mean that Benedict thinks the theory of evolution is entirely incorrect. At the annual meeting of his former students in 2006, the topic of Creation and Evolution was discussed in detail. This book is a record of the presentations and the discussions from that meeting. Cardinal Schonborn, the archbishop of Vienna who has made public comments on evolution, wrote the Foreword and gave one of the presentations.
If you are looking for a scientific critique of the problems with the theory of evolution, you are not going to find much here. All those involved in the discussions are willing to accept many of the tenets of modern science – billions of years, man from ape, everything from the first life, etc. What they are unwilling to accept is the atheistic nature of the theory; that God was unnecessary. The overall goal of the discussions seems to be an attempt to inject God into the theory of evolution. It does not seem to dawn on them that the theory of evolution was introduced explicitly to keep the necessity of God out of scientific debate.
All of the presentations and discussions are highly philosophical in nature. As with most discussions on evolution, hard facts such as experimental data are not generally considered in any way other than as evidence to support the theory. The first presentation does admit, however, that Mendel actually deduced the correct mechanism for heredity, whereas Darwin did not. Unfortunately, it attempts to support the mechanism of evolution with a computer program modeling natural selection. It does not seem to occur to evolutionists that computer models are designed by intelligent beings.
The second presentation tries to reconcile common descent with intelligent design. It does actually give a reasonable critique of Occam’s razor (the idea that the simplest explanation must be the correct one). The weakness in the presentation is the unquestioned acceptance of common descent. Nowhere does anyone mention the Biblical account of creation with each animal made according to its kind; never mind six days.
The third presentation strives to somehow find cause and purpose in evolution, which would make it more palatable. The last presentation by Cardinal Schonborn is basically an attempt to get God back into the scientific discussion. He does mention the major critiques of evolution, such as the non-existence of transitional forms. On the other hand, he says that we should not be over-hasty about trying to point out “intelligent design” everywhere.
The discussion section is a record of the debate among the participants concerning the presentations. The comments of the Pope are perhaps the most revealing. He says “I have always been of the opinion that overhasty attempts at harmonization are usually not very durable.” Obviously, he wants to harmonize science and the faith.
The Pope also mentions the well-known comment by the late John Paul II, “The theory of evolution is more than a hypothesis.” Benedict says that it is important to interpret this comment correctly. As with many statements from the Vatican in the last fifty years or so, the interpretation is elusive. Benedict does say that the theory of evolution is still not a complete, scientifically verified theory. He points out the problem of the leaps in evolution and the rarity of positive mutations in particular. The appendix seems like yet another argument for keeping God in the discussion without being dogmatic about it.
I suppose that this book is a good record of where much of the Church stands today regarding the theory of evolution. It is clear that a theory that attempts to explain everything without reference to God will never be acceptable to the Church. However, those attempting to inject God into the theory of evolution seem oblivious to the fact that the theory was explicitly designed to explain nature without reference to the supernatural.
The Pope is aware of problems with the theory of evolution but he does not want the Church to be divorced from the scientific community. However, he should appreciate the fact that much of the scientific community wants nothing to do with the Church. Any reconciliation between science and faith will have to involve admission from the scientific community that there is a God and that some things are not within the reach of natural science. It is futile to expect that those holding a dogmatic belief in a godless theory of evolution will ever come to terms with a Catholic understanding of creation. It would be good for churchmen to understand the Catholic view of creation and the weaknesses of evolutionary theory before attempting reconciliation between the two.