Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Unfolding Catholic understanding of Evolution: Benedict XVI speaks to the Pontifical Academy

Pope Benedict XVI last October 31 addressed the Pontifical Academy of Science which is beginning its commemoration of the 150th year of publication Darwin's "Origin of Species". The Academy is meeting on " Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life".

The Pope builds upon similar addresses and encyclicals of popes Pius XII and John Paul II who declared that there is no conflict between science and the faith even in prickly topics such as biological evolution.

Benedict's important insight is expressed in

"This genesis was not seen as a creation, but rather a mutation or transformation; it involved a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence."

He also reiterates the original idea of science in understanding nature

"To “evolve” literally means “to unroll a scroll”, that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose “writing” and meaning, we “read” according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos"

Since science is the first child of theology, it is not surprising that Benedict goes back to this original sense and invokes Galileo. Galileo is one of the first members of the Academia Lincei which became the Pontifical Academy.

Here I detect that Benedict is a bit veering to intelligent design

"Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences and undeniable finalities: in the inorganic world, between microstructure and macrostructure; in the organic and animal world, between structure and function; and in the spiritual world, between knowledge of the truth and the aspiration to freedom. Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the cosmos. "

But I think that this is just classic Catholic view restated. Intelligent design says that you don't need Darwinism to explain the observed complexity.

In the end Benedict distinguishes between living and spiritual beings. This is capax Dei or the capacity for God. This is an Augustinian idea. But what separates naturalism and theism is the fact the nature has a reason to be.

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