Discovery Institute: I told you so!

Via Pharyngula and Gibberish, I've learned that it would appear that Cardinal Schönborn, the Cardinal who stirred up such a storm by seeming to embrace intelligent design creationism in July, has recanted his previous apparent support:
A senior Roman Catholic cardinal seen as a champion of intelligent design against Darwin’s explanation of life has described the theory of evolution as “one of the very great works of intellectual history.”

Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said he could believe both in divine creation and in evolution because one was a question of religion and the other of science, two realms that complemented rather than contradicted each other.

Schoenborn’s view, presented in a lecture published by his office on Tuesday, tempered earlier statements that seemed to ally the Roman Catholic Church with U.S. conservatives campaigning against the teaching of evolution in public schools.
He continued:
“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,” Schoenborn declared in a lecture in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna on Sunday. “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.”

Science studies what is observable, and scientists overstep the boundaries of their discipline when they conclude evolution proves there was no creator, said the cardinal, 60, a top Church doctrinal expert and close associate of Pope Benedict XVI.

“It is fully reasonable to assume some sense or design even if the scientific method demands restrictions that shut out this question,” said the cardinal.
Particularly interesting is that Shönborn appears to be saying what most scientists have been saying all along: Science is limited to studying what is observable and measurable. If it can't be measured or somehow observed, science has little to say about it. Whether or not God exists is outside its purview, and evolutionary theory does not preclude the existence of a God. And he's right. Barring the appearance of God with a host of heavenly angels in an undeniable display of power that can't be explained by naturalistic phenomenon, science can never prove or disprove whether God exists.

So, to the Discovery Institute, Michael Behe, and all the other "intelligent design" creationism advocates who thought that Schönborn's statement would give you more respectability or that it suggested that you might be getting a powerful new ally in your never-ending fight to give your brand of religion-based pseudoscience the imprimatur of science and get it taught in public schools without having to do the actual heavy lifting of producing, oh, actual evidence to get scientists to take you seriously, I say:

I hate to say I told you so when I told you that his remarks meant little or nothing with regards to the official position of the Church regarding evolution or any impending change thereof, but I told you so. (Oh, who am I kidding? I love to tell you "I told you so.")

Cardinal Shönborn's position was never really a significant departure from long-standing Church doctrine with respect to the acceptance of the science of evolution as being compatible with Church teachings, as laid down by Pius XII fifty years ago and reinforced by John Paul II. As I said before:
As a Catholic myself (albeit the stereotypical lapsed one), I wouldn’t worry that much about this editorial if I were you. ID advocates are reading far more into than is probably there and crowing about it way more than is justified. The Catholic Church has, ever since Pius XII reconciled the Church with evolution 50 years ago, has always preached a sort of “theistic” evolution that’s not all that different from intelligent design.
In essence, the Catholic Church has generally taken the view that evolution and faith are not incompatible and that God used evolution as the process that would inevitably lead to the creation of plants, animals, and humans. It's usually left the science behind evolution to biologists and the teaching of science to those trained in biology. (Perhaps its encounter with Galileo finally taught it something, even if it took a few hundred years for the lesson to sink in.) Indeed, in Catholic high schools, you will find evolution taught as science in science classes and A.P. biology classes with nary a whisper about God or design (although certainly you will hear mentions of them them in catechism classes), and in pulpits you will occasionally hear a priest mention evolution. However, unless things have changed since I stopped going to Mass regularly, I've yet to see one mention a "designer's" influence on creation as anything other than a matter of faith and belief.
The Catholic Church's view of evolution has for a long time been in essence a bit of a mix between intelligent design and theistic evolution. The difference between the Catholic Church and the fundamentalists presently pushing ID and trying to get it taught as "science" that is a valid alternative to the current theory of evolution is that the Catholic Church seems to have become somewhat better at recognizing the line between religion and faith and, at least for the last 50 years or so, has not insisted on trying to blur that line. Whatever others may think of the Catholic Church or its doctrines, in the realm of science at least, it seems to have taken the lessons of its persecution of Galileo to heart. This "retraction" (which really isn't a retraction) by Cardinal Shönborn shows how little the DI and its fellow travellers understand the Catholic Chuch. As I have said before, there does not have to be an inherent incompatibility between belief and accepting evolution as valid science, and Cardinal Shönborn appears to agree.


  1. Barring the appearance of God with a host of heavenly angels in an undeniable display of power that can't be explained by naturalistic phenomenon, science can never prove or disprove whether God exists.

    What the Theory of Evolution shows, though, is that God isn't necessary to the development of life on Earth, and that's what the fundamentalists can't stand.

  2. on the other hand... Cambridge Univ. Press is teaching the controversy?

  3. As a practicing Catholic, I'm glad to see you posting on this. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a good article on the Church and Science; I recommend it to anyone who tells me how anti-science the RCC is.

    However, may I suggest to you that what you think you know about the Galileo case is not accurate? For your reference, another CE article on Galileo, which you might find interesting. Obviously, this is the story from the Catholic view, but I find the number and diversity of original sources cited to be compelling. I would be very interested to hear what you have to say about Galileo after you have a chance to read it, if you choose to do so.

  4. "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science." Cardinal Schonborn in the New York Times early this year.

    The purpose of this op ed which was mediated by the Discovery Institute, appeared to be to slapdown an earlier NY Times op ed by Lawrence Krauss stating that the RC Church had no problem with evolution.

    In response Krauss, Francisco Ayalla and Kenneth Miller wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict asking for urgent clarification of the official Church position.

    The Cardinal's new response is prudent. For a brief and awful moment a Galilean atavism appeared to resurface from the Church genotype.

  5. Amen. (practicing Catholic here . . .)

  6. Just plowed through part of the article on Church and Science linked to above "There has never been a general progress of all sciences" claims the author. Really? "The demand for unlimited freedom in science is unreasonable and unjust, because it leads to licence and rebellion." Sorry? "Anti-Christian science leads to Atheism." I beg your pardon?!

    This CE article is hogwash from beginning to end and conveys, rather sadly, the confusion, fear and contempt felt by somebody confronted by an idea infinitely more productive, and much deeper, than his one.

    The article on Galileo is likewise disingenuous "the Church has not interfered with physical science" claims the author, apparently unable to link the church's house-arrest of Galileo to the notion of 'interference'. Actually, the Galileo article is worth reading just to get a feel for how much some people still want to justify the crimes of their religious predecessors. A far more worthwhile page on Galileo's trial lives at the The University of Missouri, Kansas. Oh, yes, the Catholic Church finally admitted that Galileo was right in 1992. That's 13 years ago.

  7. Please reference the following link containing several usefull quotes from Shoenborn, JPII etc. I think you will understand more clearly the Catholic view of evolution.

    Make sure you don't mis-represent Catholicism.

    If you have not alreadydone so, please look into the works of author Roy Varghese. He is recognized for his brilliance in reconsiling God and science, without detracting from either.

    Finally, let me direct you to a quote from champion atheist Sir Anthony Flew, who has come to some remarkable conclusions after a liftime of philosophical thought and study.

    "It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design."


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