Triangulating Evolution vs. ID
I should resolve not to read any more of these “debates” over Intelligent Design and Evolution. Fact is, both sides drive me crazy; they drive the same mistake to different ends of the field and stamp their feet, insisting that the other side is stupid, lazy or dishonest. Listen: this is no way to try and come to grips with an opponent. You need to be sure you have grasped his argument before proceeding to attempt to dismantle it.
From where I stand, both sides have too much riding on this to hear one another, never mind the third postion that I think is the best, most sophisticated and nuanced of the bunch.
John Allen at The National Catholic Reporter has as good and concise a summary as I’ve seen:
Since we live in a sound-bite culture, let’s get straight to the bottom line: Benedict XVI is not a “creationist.” He does not believe in a strictly literal reading of the Book of Genesis, nor has he ever made any reference to teaching “creation science” in schools. A member of the prestigious secular French Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques (inducted in 1993 along with then-Czech President Vaclav Havel as one of only twelve foreign nationals), Pope Benedict has no desire to launch a crusade against modern science.
Nor is Benedict XVI really an advocate of “intelligent design” in the American sense, since intelligent design theorists typically assert that data from biology and other empirical sciences, by itself, requires the hypothesis of a designer. Benedict may have some sympathy for this view; he has questioned the evidence for “macro-evolution,” meaning the transition from one species to another on the basis of random mutation and natural selection. Ultimately, however, he sees this as a debate for scientists to resolve. His concern cuts deeper, to the modern tendency to convert evolution into “a universal theory concerning all reality” that excludes God, and therefore rationality, as the basis of existence. In contrast, Benedict insists upon the fundamental conviction of Christian faith: “In principio erat Verbum – at the beginning of all things stands the creative power of reason.”
Benedict is clear this is a question which “can no longer be decided by arguments from natural science.”
With respect to Pope John Paul II’s famous 1996 formula that evolution is “more than a hypothesis,” therefore, it’s meaningless to ask whether Benedict XVI agrees or disagrees. Ever the professor, he would insist upon clarifying what precisely is meant by “evolution,” whether it’s being evaluated on a scientific or philosophical basis, and so on.
What does seem clear, however, is that Benedict worries that with its seeming nihil obtstat for the theory of evolution, the church may inadvertently have accelerated the diffusion of a worldview which holds that it’s pointless to ask questions which can’t be settled by laboratory experiments, and that chance and meaninglessness are the ultimate laws of the universe. In that sense, one suspects Benedict would affirm that evolution is indeed “more than a hypothesis” — for better, and for worse.