Saturday, April 21, 2007

Catholics and Evolution...from the Economist

The Economist has a special report on the debate in some quarters about creation vs evolution. Of particular interests to Catholics is the report on the split within the Church about evolution. On the one hand are scientists such as Father George Coyne, who insist that natural phenomena (such as evolution) have natural causes, and others in the Church hierarchy who believe that Coyne and other Catholic scientists have gone too far in accepting the scientific viewpoint. Pope Benedict is portrayed as trying to carefully navigate these two points of view, accepting the empirical viewpoint of science but insisting that is an incomplete description of human origins.

According to the article, evolution skeptics, such as Father Joseph Fessio, in the Catholic Church argue that there are 3 ways to learn about reality-empirical science, direct revelation from God and natural philosophy which attempts to use reason to discern the hand of God in the universe. I was particularly interested in the split between Roman Catholic thinkers and Orthodox Christian thinkers on natural philosophy, the Orthodox insisting that mystical communion with God is not comparable to the results of reason.

Here I find myself much more attuned to the Orthodox position. For me natural philosophy leads to the temptation to reduce God to a scientific formula which seems to me the very antithesis of what faith is ultimately supposed to be about. That sort of reduction also leads to the temptation to try to let theology do the job of science(i.e. turning the Bible into a science book) and we historically know the outcome of that tact-religion only looses credibility.

By the way there is an interesting defense of the compatibility between Orthodox Christianity and evolution by Fr. Andrey Kuraev. The article defends his belief in the consistency of evolution with Orthodox Christianity. He argues for instance:

"The very essence of the process of the unfolding of Creation remains the same regardless of the speed with which it happens. The view of some, that if we extend the process of Creation in time, "God will become unnecessary" is as naive as that of others who think that creation in anything more than six regular days diminishes the glory of the Creator. We must only remember that nothing stood in the way or limited the creative action, and everything happened according to the will of the Creator. We do not know whether this will consisted in creating the world in one moment, or in six days, or six thousand years, or billions. For "who can number . . . the days of eternity?" (Sirach 1:2)."

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