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O'Leary Reviews Cardinal Schonborn's Chance or Purpose?

I am often asked what to make of Christoph Cardinal Schonborn's new book Chance or Purpose?

Luckily, I can now point people to Denyse O'Leary's spot-on review.

Among the many highlights, O'Leary notes that

Schonborn focuses on knowing design not through empirical evidence but through natural reason. Yet if Darwinism is correct, true reason may not exist. Second, if Schonborn wants to oppose the fatuous conclusions of evolutionary psychology then he needs to oppose the supposed facts on which it is based. (Francis Collins makes the same mistake regarding altruism in The Language of God. He argues for Darwinian evolution and then argues against evolutionary explanations of altruism. Apparently he thinks the miraculous powers of natural selection can build the entire human body--including the brain--but do not affect our behavioral traits like altruism. He takes back his reductionism when it suits him, i.e., when he wants to support his religion or even his own thoughts, as if they were exempt from the Darwinian process. But I digress.) O'Leary notes that one cannot accept reductionist, Darwinian explanations of nature and then take reductionism back at will. Third and most enjoyably, she writes of Schonborn, who accepts methodolocial naturalism but says it has limits:

So, what are the limitations, precisely? Specifically what segment of reality doesn't the method show, and why not?

Actually, Darwin was not simply trying to get rid of intervention, he was trying to get rid of design in nature as well. And why not take him at his word?

On this point, I think Schonborn simply misunderstands Darwin. If Darwin and his heirs succeed, Schonborn's own views can be accounted for by brain glitches.


There is only one place where I think O'Leary could have hit a little harder, and that is Schonborn's much-touted distinction between "evolution" and "evolutionism."

He speaks as though physical scenarios have no logical relationship with metaphysical realities. Like Alister McGrath, he seems to think that Darwinian evolution is equally compatible with theism or atheism.

I find this absurd. One cannot, at will, take the physical facts of an origins scenario and then divorce it from any natural logical implications. Clearly if there is no intelligence involved in evolution then one metaphysic is implied and others ruled out and vice versa.

It is especially surprising to me that a Cardinal would maintain such a proposition, for Catholicism has long supported Natural Law thinking where, they say, certain facts of nature imply a certain moral order.

Or again, many Catholic intellectuals are anxious to decry Descartes's sharp spirit-matter dualism. They say Descartes led us astray by separating two substances which are not easily separated. In this view, human beings are a union of the two substances. Thus
it is odd that a Catholic intellectual like Schonborn would so easily split the entire world such that something as foundational as origins scenarios (a physical reality) can be so easily divorced from metaphysical interpretations.