Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Catholic Church and Evolution revisited

According to an article in the NY Times, Pope Benedict and other prominent Catholics have laid out their position on evolution and God in a book that appears to be a product of the Pope's recent evolution seminar. From what I see the Pope has not endorsed "intelligent design" and continues the Church's long standing acceptance of evolution as a scientific theory and acceptance of what is commonly called theistic evolution.

That said, the Pope seems to have bought into a common misunderstanding about evolution. He is reported to have said:

"Though he did not reject evolution, he noted in the remarks quoted from the book that science could not completely prove evolution because it could not be duplicated in the laboratory."

Granted every instance of evolution cannot be duplicated in the laboratory, but the basic mechanisms of how evolution operates are routinely investigated in laboratory or other controlled situations including field experiments.

Benedict is also quoted in an article in The Catholic News:

"The process itself is rational despite the mistakes and confusion as it goes through a narrow corridor choosing a few positive mutations and using low probability,"

"This ... inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science ... where did this rationality come from?"

Here again the Pope is buying into some of the probability arguments made about the implausibility of evolution, arguments not supported by science. As noted by many scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Ken Miller, and most recently by Sean Carroll, the probabilities involved only are daunting if you think all the parts, say in an adaptation such as the eye, or all the amino acids in a complex protein, have to come together randomly all at once.

The Pope's thinking here is getting at teleological questions and causality and he clearly understands that these are outside the domain of science, something the intelligent design advocates with their scary sounding references to materialism fail to grasp.

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