.- In light of a recent firestorm over a New York Times editorial by Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schonborn discussing the Church’s stance on evolution, Dr. Michael Behe, professor at Lehigh University and one of the nations leading scholars on intelligent design told CNA that he thinks the Cardinal’s piece was a “much needed clarification” of the often misrepresented Church teaching. Dr. Behe says he disagrees with critics who say that Cardinal Schonborn’s article was a break from the thinking of Pope John Paul II, who taught that many aspects of evolution are not in conflict with the Catholic Church.
Instead, Behe told CNA, “it’s a much needed clarification.”
“For years,“ he said, “Darwinists have been spinning John Paul’s words to their own benefit…interpreting it in ways he did not mean.”
While noting John Paul was certainly open to certain aspects of evolution like common ancestry, the professor said he was not, “open to the idea that evolution is random and unguided.”
Dr. Behe even alluded to Pope John Paul’s 1996 letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in which he famously said that evolution may be more than just a theory.
Behe said that nothing is really wrong with the letter, but many evolution advocates frequently opt to pick and choose “headline-grabbing phrases”, from the document and ignore the rest.
In his article, Cardinal Schonborn stressed that “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.”Confusion of words
Dr. Behe noted that one of the major problems in the evolution debate, and a tremendous source of misunderstanding of the Church’s position, is that many see the ideas of intelligent design and creationism as synonymous, which, he says, they are not.
Creationism, he clarified, is the literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis which suggests seven 24-hour days and an earth which is less than 10,000 years old. He said that this mode of thought starts with the Bible, and seeks to back it up in nature.
“The Catholic Church,” he noted, “has never [definitively] taught that.”
Intelligent design, on the other hand, Behe said, starts with the facts of nature, and seeks to understand what caused them.
In this context, the Church can reasonably accept evolution on certain terms as John Paul and Cardinal Schonborn agree, and as Washington DC’s Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said earlier this week, “as long as there is room for a creator.”
Cardinal Schonborn chose to look beyond the 1996 letter of the late John Paul II, and quoted a portion of a 1985 general audience, in which he said: “To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements and such marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us.”
“In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be to abdicate human intelligence, which would thus refuse to think and to seek a solution for its problems."