Papal Perplexment

August 12th, 2005

An article in Science magazine discusses recent developments with regards to the view of evolution by the Catholic church. Last week Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, made the statement in the New York Times that he did not believe that the church could abide by the views of neo-Darwinism. I’m guessing that neo-Darwinism refers to the evolution of organisms over time due to random genetic mutation (of which Darwin had no concept when writing On the Origin of Species).

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Even though the Pope in 1996 declared that “evolutionary theory is compatible with Catholic doctrine”, the new Pope, Benedict, has not officially stated his position on the matter. As a result, what the church believes may no longer be so clear. According to Schönborn’s spokesperson, he believes that he is stating the opinion of the church, even go so far as to say the papal pronouncement of ’96 was “vague and unimportant”, returning to comments made before a general audience in 1985 made by the then Pope to support his views. Even if the Pope’s words of 1985 truly reflected his views on evolution as opposed to the act of creation, I wonder if over the course of 11 years the Pope might not have altered his point of view in light of scientific developments. Is the Pope allowed to do that? Obviously not in the mind of Schönborn.

Scientists have been clamoring since the article was released for the Pope to make an official statement rejecting Schönborn’s ideas. However, the only voice from the Vatican has been that of the chief astronomer, George Coyne, who rebuts the archbishop in no uncertain terms. His article is a refreshing voice among the bulk of anti-scientific rhetoric appearing these days from the religious sector. I believe it may actually represent the majority view as opposed to the vocal minority.

He states, “Science is completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications that may be drawn from its conclusions. Those conclusions are always subject to improvement. That is why science is such an interesting adventure and scientists curiously interesting creatures.”

Well said, I say.

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