Intelligent Design and the Catholic Church: An Exchange


Intelligent Design and the Roman Catholic Church: An Exchange

from Uncommon Descent, William Dembski's Intelligent Design Blog

September 13, 2006

The Catholic Church: And two and one half understandings of ID by Denyse O'Leary

I will blog on the Catholic Church's position in more detail later, when I get a chance to get all my links together, but for now:

There are currently two and one half understandings of ID:

1. The specific ideas of biochemist Michael Behe and mathematician Bill Dembski (irreducible complexity and specified complexity) may provide evidence of a level of information in life forms that cannot be explained by the chance interactions of physical laws.

Behe's or Dembski's thesis may be correct. Or may not. Even if both are incorrect, correct theses may arise from another quarter.

Surely, the Catholic Church was never going to throw its institutional weight behind either of these theses, as I have pointed out in at least one earlier post. Why should it? Such theses stand or fall in their own arenas in their own good time. The Church has learned at least that much in the age of science.

2. The universe and life forms show evidence of intelligent design in principle. That is not something the Catholic Church can oppose. The entire Bible depends on that idea. Jews and Muslims agree with it, and so did key Greek philosophers, as indeed have most philosophers throughout history. (They disagreed about what, who, how, where, when, and why, but few disagreed about the fact of design until fairly recently.)

For a while, Darwinism looked like it might provide a creation story for post-Enlightenment atheism.... but maybe not.

½. Oh yes, the half idea. The Western media, desperately co-dependent with materialism, have in mind some monster that is a hybrid between the two ideas above. Thus, if the Catholic Church says that Darwin's theory of evolution does not account for the key elements of the human story, that means that the Catholic Church thinks that Behe or Dembski are, specifically, right -- or that evolution doesn't happen. Or that the earth was created in 144 hours. Or that Jerry Falwell and Jim Dobson should rule. Or something. Anything that ends up over the mast in the evening edition.

Hey, the sky ain't falling, folks. All that is happening is that the Catholic Church is reasserting the traditional Christian position that the universe and life forms show detectible evidence of intelligent design, as in “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord.” Why would anyone expect it to do anything else?

Filed under: Intelligent Design — O'Leary @ 2:26 pm


I enjoy your blogs on the Church's position, but don't forget the explicit reference to intelligent design at Vatican Council I in 1869-70 (see chapter 2, "On Revelation" paragraph 1, and the canons 1-5 on "God the Creator of all things").

“The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason.....” (cf. Romans 1:19-20). http://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/V1.HTM

This is dogma according to Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, a standard orthodox source (see especially pages 79-95, etc). We don't have to be unsure or guess what the Catholic Church's stand is. A source like Ott (or Denzinger) lays it all out, and he did this in the 1950s well before the rise of the "Intelligent Design" movement. The question is whether the (lower case) intelligent design endorsed by the Church can be equated with the supposed "scientific" program of the Discovery Institute. Ken Miller (author of Finding Darwin's God), Jack Krebs (president of Kansas Citizens For Science), myself, and the International Theological Commission statement endorsed by former Cardinal Ratzinger say No.

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Comment by P — September 13, 2006 @ 7:46 pm


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Excellent point about the First Vatican Council. The Catholic Church will always be committed to the empirical detection of intelligence activity, and God's activity, in nature.

<< Ken Miller, Jack Krebs, myself, and the International Theological Commission statement endorsed by former Cardinal Ratzinger say No. >>

Reason, logic, and the facts say otherwise. This statement concerning the ITC betrays your ignorance of the ITC and Ratzinger's work. I have heard this fallacious argument in so many online venues that I am now impelled to respond and slay this ridiculous contention. Please consider the following quotation from the ITC document:

“A growing body of scientific critics of neo-Darwinism point to evidence of design (e.g., biological structures that exhibit specified complexity) that, in their view, cannot be explained in terms of a purely contingent process and that neo-Darwinians have ignored or misinterpreted.”

Source: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/ rc_con_cfaith_doc_20040723_communion-stewardship_en.html

Did we catch that? It is clear to anyone with their ear in this debate that the ITC is speaking of Dembski's specified complexity. Ratzinger signed off on a document that cites Dembski's Specified Complexity in an implied affirmative. Please follow the link and read the context for clarity and distinctions.

You have not read the document thoroughly, or you forgot what the document discloses. If you claim that the ITC document says "no" to ID (a la Dembski, Behe, etc.) it is time to reevaluate your conclusions. You need to reread the document, or read it for the first time, instead of counting on others to do the reading for you. Additionally, based on his own words in other venues, Ratzinger supports both of the major claims of ID: cosmological and biological design detectable by logic and empirical means.

It seems like you have parroted what others have been saying. Parroting what other ignorant people say is not compelling to the informed minds here at Uncommon Descent. It's not even cute. In fact, it is dangerous now that I see you are a Catholic apologist. What say you?

Comment by Inquisitive Brain — September 14, 2006 @ 8:57 am


Inq Brain: “You have not read the document thoroughly, or you forgot what the document discloses.”

I guess we both can't read then. The statement does mention the "critics of neo-Darwinism" but then says those critics are wrong since:

“But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence. Divine causality and created causality radically differ in kind and not only in degree. Thus, even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God's providential plan for creation.”

That seems to say "No" to the scientific program advanced by the "critics of neo-Darwinism." Evolution by natural selection is a truly contingent natural process that falls within God's Providence. To be fair, the statement also says:

“In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science.”

I have heard Ken Miller, Jack Krebs, and Eugenie Scott all agree with this: whether evolution is "guided" (e.g. by God as in theistic evolution) is a philosophical or theological position that is outside of science. That's what the statement is saying above. The ITC statement is nicely formatted on my site. I think I know what it says, the important paragraphs are 62 to 70.

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Thank you for the reply. Apologies for the delay in my response to your reply; tailgating and college football are of a higher priority than typing up comments on blogs. (No offense intended, Bill and Denyse, and friends.)

It is nice to dialogue with someone who is reasonable and willing to listen to what others have to say. These attributes can be rare in the ID debate. Apologies for the length of this reply. Because of the huge amounts of bias and conflation that float around (especially in the mainstream media), there are many distinctions that must be drawn out in order to render an accurate analysis of the ITC document and Ratzinger's position on ID.

I am relieved to hear that you have read Communion and Stewardship, but I am also partially distressed at the same time. From what you have disclosed thus far, it seems to me that you may have misinterpreted this issue on two levels: (1) What the ITC document says, and (2) What Ratzinger has stated about nature, his interpretation of the scientific evidence, and the ID project.

#1. What I see as your misinterpretations of the ITC document: I disagree that the document says "No" to the ID-Dembski-Behe-Discovery Institute, et al project. Let's go back and look at how the doc mentions Dembski:

“The current scientific debate about the mechanisms at work in evolution requires theological comment insofar as it sometimes implies a misunderstanding of the nature of divine causality. Many neo-Darwinian scientists, as well as some of their critics, have concluded that, if evolution is a radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation, then there can be no place in it for divine providential causality. A growing body of scientific critics of neo-Darwinism point to evidence of design (e.g., biological structures that exhibit specified complexity) that, in their view, cannot be explained in terms of a purely contingent process and that neo-Darwinians have ignored or misinterpreted. The nub of this currently lively disagreement involves scientific observation and generalization concerning whether the available data support inferences of design or chance, and cannot be settled by theology.”

Notice that: The ITC brings Specified Complexity into the discussion in order to rebut the idea that "there can be no place in [evolution] for divine providential causality." Loosely, the document says, "Some conclude that 'if neo-Darwinism, then purely contingent,' while others conclude that 'if evidence of design in Specified Complexity, then not purely contingent.'" This is either an explicit or implicit affirmation of Dembski's claim that only intelligence can bring about Specified Complexity, ergo only intelligence can bring about the design of biological structures. Of course, the Catholic Church holds that the designing cause of the cosmos and life is God, based on logic, reason, philosophy, and theology, in addition to the observable evidence. In so doing, Ratzinger and the Catholic Church make wider claims than does intelligent design. ID modestly posits intelligent cause, instead of the omnipotent God of the Catholic Church. More on this next.

If this statement is not an implicit or explicit affirmation of detecting design through observable evidence, then what is it?

You said:

<< I have heard Ken Miller, Jack Krebs, and Eugenie Scott all agree with this: whether evolution is "guided" (e.g. by God as in theistic evolution) is a philosophical or theological position that is outside of science. That's what the statement is saying above. >>

It sounds like there is controversy among the Darwinians as to whether this is true; since Dawkins, Provine, Dennett, and other atheists disagree.

I mostly agree with this position, but I would add a crucial distinction. My clarifier would be that, "Whether evolution is guided by the Christian God is a philosophical or theological position that is outside of science." However, I would also say, "Whether evolution is guided by intelligence is a position that can be supported or unsupported based on observable evidence, thereby falling within the realm of science, not theology." The distinction here is: observable scientific evidence ergo omnipotent God, vs. observable scientific evidence ergo design. In my understanding of ID claims, science operating alone can do the second, but not the first.

It would seem to me that the ITC agrees with me on this point, since they say, "The nub of this currently lively disagreement involves scientific observation and generalization concerning whether the available data support inferences of design or chance, and cannot be settled by theology." Notice that this disagreement of "whether the available data support inferences of design or chance" is not hinging on theology, but on "scientific observation." As I read the ITC document, they are saying that it is, in principle, possible to make empirical observations and infer intentional design. More on this next.

Notice they say that "whether the available data support inferences of design or chance, and cannot be settled by theology." This statement assumes that the data of scientific observation CAN deny or "support inferences of design or chance." If the entire scientific debate over intelligent design could be boiled down to one issue, this is the one. Simply stated: "Can science infer design from observable evidence regarding the development of the cosmos and life?" In assuming that the observable evidence is, in principle, capable of inferring design, the Catholic Church is absolutely committed to the intelligent design side of the issue. (cf. Romans chapter 1, verses 20 and 21)

In your reply you bring out the statement that says, "the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God's providential plan for creation." The ITC is saying that God can use contingent processes, not that detecting design is impossible. How does this seem to say "No" to inferring design from the observable evidence regarding the development of the cosmos and life? To my mind, this statement merely invokes a possibility, not a necessary or strong conclusion on the part of the ITC and Ratzinger.

Also, in the Holy Father's first homily, he stated:

“We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.”

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2005/documents/ hf_ben-xvi_hom_20050424_inizio-pontificato_en.html

This statement would negate the idea that man resulted from a purely contingent process, would it not? Also, how does he know man did not result from contingent processes that are meaningless and blind? We'll see later in my reply here that it is from the observational scientific evidence.

Based on my knowledge, no ID proponent states that designers cannot establish apparently stochastic processes. (Someone please correct me if I am wrong.) Rolling a pair of dice is a very nicely designed process, which is clearly contingent. According to most philosophical systems, my person is contingent, since I am not necessary in any ultimate or absolute sense.

Nor do ID proponents claim that designers never establish apparently stochastic processes. Based on Dembski's formulations, if a designer used a stochastic process to bring about all of the diversity of life, we would never be able to conclude design based on the observable evidence. Yet, what is at stake when ID proponents argue against Neo-Darwinism is this exact point: Does the scientific evidence indicate that the mechanism bringing about biological change is a purely contingent process? Many scientists who would not be caught dead with the likes of ID proponents agree with the ID community that the evidence claimed to support the idea that all genetic changes came about through a chance process must be examined with an opened mind, and subsequently rejected.

In fact, Dembski has pointed out that the ID research program in a nutshell is "teasing apart" the effects of chance, necessity, and design. If an ID researcher is looking into the design of the cosmos, they must admit that there are, in fact, what strongly appear to be chance processes. If an ID researcher is looking into the design of life, they must admit that there are, in fact, what strongly appear to be chance processes. Some ID theorists grant that random mutation and non-random death (natural selection) can accomplish some biological change, like what has been called devolution and microevolution.

But again, the ITC is not saying that God did, in fact, use only contingency-based processes. Only that it is possible that they were used. And again, how does this statement from the ITC doc "seem" to say "No" to inferring design from the observable evidence regarding the development of the cosmos and life? As I see it, your "No" conclusion is a non-sequitor at best, a red herring at worst. If this ITC document seems to have said "No" to ID, I sure would like to know how. I could say more on the ITC document, but we will trudge forward into other statements by Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.

#2. What I see as your possible misinterpretations of statements that Ratzinger/Benedict has made about nature, his view of the scientific evidence, and the ID project. I have pulled quotes here from Ratzinger relevant to the ID/evolution debate....

“Our science, which ultimately makes it possible to work with the energies of nature, presupposes the trustworthy, intelligent structure of matter.....the 'design' of creation.” http://silentplanet.wordpress.com/2006/04/19/ pope-benedict-xvi-on-intelligent-design

I'm not sure how one could read this statement to mean that Ratzinger is saying No to ID. Any thoughts here?

“In the beginning, the creative word — this word that created everything and created this intelligent project that is the cosmos — is also love.” http://www.suntimes.com/output/religion/ cst-nws-pope13.html

Notice that creation is an "intelligent project," not an "accident" or even a "chance-based process progressively seeking order." Again, I'm not sure how one could read this statement to mean that Ratzinger is saying no to ID.

From a Ratzinger book titled, In the Beginning :

“Now let us go directly to the question of evolution and its mechanisms. Microbiology and biochemistry have brought revolutionary insights here....In so doing they brought us to the awareness that an organism and a machine have many points in common. For both of them realize a project, a thought-out and considered plan, which is itself coherent and logical. Their functioning presupposes a precisely thought-through and therefore reasonable design.”

He uses the same man-made machine / biological machine induction that Behe makes in Darwin's Black Box. This connection between Ratzinger's thought and Behe's thought seems undeniable. If it is deniable, please explain how.

“Such mistakes can add up, and from the adding up of mistakes something new can arise. Now an astonishing conclusion follows: It was in this way that the whole world of living creatures, and human beings themselves, came into existence. We are the product of 'haphazard mistakes.' What response shall we make to this view? It is the affair of the natural sciences to explain how the tree of life in particular continues to grow and how new branches shoot out from it. This is not a matter for faith. But we must have the audacity to say that the great projects of the living creation are not the products of chance and error. Nor are they the products of a selective process to which divine predicates can be attributed in illogical, unscientific, and even mythic fashion. The great projects of the living creation point to a creating Reason and show us a creating Intelligence, and they do so more luminously and radiantly today than ever before....” http://www.biblicalcatholic.com/apologetics/p81.htm

Ratzinger draws these conclusions from the observable scientific evidence of microbiology and biochemistry, not from theology. Also note that he directly denies that we are strictly a product of random chance, or of an unguided process. Many anti-ID individuals claim that criticizing evolution amounts to a disingenuous ID tactic, and that invoking the "superfluous" difference between microevolution and macroevolution is creationist propaganda. If that be the case, then count the Pope in.

In a Nov 27, 1999 lecture delivered at the Sorbonne titled “The Truth of Christianity,” published in his 2003 book Truth and Tolerance, he states:

“No one will be able to cast serious doubt upon the scientific evidence for micro-evolutionary processes,” he wrote. “R. Junker and S. Scherer, in their 'critical reader' on evolution, have this to say: 'Many examples of such developmental steps [micro-evolutionary processes] are known to us from natural processes of variation and development. The research done on them by evolutionary biologists produced significant knowledge of the adaptive capacity of living systems, which seems marvelous.' ...The problem emerges at the point of transition from micro- to macro-evolution, on which point Szathmáry and Maynard Smith, both convinced supporters of an all-embracing theory of evolution, nonetheless declare that: 'There is no theoretical basis for believing that evolutionary lines become more complex with time; and there is also no empirical evidence that this happens.' ” http://www.zenit.org/english/ visualizza.phtml?sid=75841

I also understand that in his book Truth and Tolerance, Ratzinger criticizes the idea that the explanation for the cosmos and life is purely chance-based, and favors an intentionality-based explanation. I have not read the whole book yet, but I plan on reading it soon. Of course, I do not know everything. I probably have missed something and would be delighted to hear your thoughts and sources. Furthermore, I could be misinterpreting what the ITC and Ratzinger are saying, but if they seem to have said "No" to ID, I sure would like to know how.

Comment by Inquisitive Brain — September 17, 2006 @ 6:52 pm


Inq Brain, I'll post this exchange on my apologetics site. Thanks for the reply. The Pope indeed supports "intelligent design" in the lower-case form, and other portions of his writings support evolution. We are explicit who that Designer is. This is a philosophical or theological issue, not a scientific one.

The Wikipedia article I helped edit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_and_the_Roman_Catholic_Church

or the longer version on my site: Theistic Evolution and the Roman Catholic Church

P


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