Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

Evolution News and Views
Faith and Science NEWS

Nature's Editors Warn Pope Francis

An editorial in Nature picks up on the good question of what stance Pope Francis, who has a degree in chemistry, will take in relationship to scientific questions of interest ("A pope for today").

We know little about Bergoglio's views on scientific issues, which he has hardly written about. The hordes of scientists among the Church's 1.2 billion baptized members would like to hear more. And his chemistry degree in itself says little about the Pope's attitudes to science. But what is clear is that, contrary to widespread belief, the modern Catholic Church is science-friendly and Pope Francis will no doubt continue, and perhaps deepen, that tradition. The Church's strong support for Darwinian evolution, for example, contrasts sharply with the backwards unscientific belief in creationism of many US evangelicals and lawmakers -- a concept that Pope Benedict XVI rightly criticized in 2007 as "absurd." Priests also gave us Mendelian genetics and contributed to the theory of the Big Bang.
This amounts to a warning to Francis, from the premier English-language science journal, not to disappoint enlightened opinion especially on evolution. In this context, note the often-invoked meme that simplistically and erroneously casts the Catholic Church as pro-Darwinian. Of course the editors never tell you, of the many meanings of "evolution" and even "Darwinian," exactly which they have in mind. See Part III, "Catholics and Evolution," in our book God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards.

Beyond this, what is the 2007 comment by Pope Benedict that Nature refers to? What exactly is "absurd" in his view?

Here's the full quote (emphasis added):

But the big problem is that if God does not exist, and if God is not the Creator of one's own life, then life is simply a work of evolution, without anything else, and has no meaning in and of itself. But I, instead, seek to find meaning in this existence.

I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a very bitter debate between so-called creationism and evolutionism, presented as if they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator cannot consider evolution and those who affirm evolution must exclude God. This juxtaposition is an absurdity, because there are many scientific proofs supporting evolution as a reality, which we must recognize and which enrich our understanding of life. But the doctrine of evolution does not answer all questions, and above all does not answer the greatest philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how is it that it took a path that arrived ultimately at man?

This seems very important to me, and I wanted to say this to Ratisbona in my lesson, that yes, one must look at these facts [of evolution], but one must also see that they are not sufficient to explain all of reality. They are not sufficient, and man, through man's reason, can see that man's reason is not the product of irrationality, but that reason -- the reason of the Creator -- precedes all, and that we are, in fact, a reflection of the reason of the Creator. We are [beings of] thought and will, and thus, there is a sense that something precedes me, which I must discover and follow and which ultimately gives significance to my life.

It seems to me that this is the main point: to discover, that my being is the product of rationality, is thought-out, has a purpose, and that my great mission is to discover this purpose, to live it and to contribute a new element to the grand cosmic harmony conceived by the Creator.

Do you see what he's saying? Nothing that an exponent of intelligent design who is also a religious believer would disagree with. What Benedict called "absurd" is the false dilemma of having to choose between recognizing that life has changed in form over vast stretches of time, on one hand, and recognizing on the other hand that, as Pope Francis puts it, there is a "plan inscribed in nature" -- as if one excluded the other, as if there were no alternative that explains evolution as reflecting purpose and design as, in fact, intelligent design theory does.

The folks who want to make us think there's no alternative are the Darwinian propagandists. It's their absurdity, not that of "US evangelicals and lawmakers," that Benedict criticized. And rightly so. He's very clear that the mere observation that life has an evolutionary past doesn't explain everything. It's incomplete. If it did explain everything, that would give you an existence without meaning: "then life is simply a work of evolution, without anything else, and has no meaning in and of itself. But I, instead, seek to find meaning in this existence."

Look, I'm not a Catholic or a Christian of any kind, so I have no personal stake in this. But it is irritating to me that the science and popular media alike can't seem to grasp these simple points. It's revealing of, at best, a stubbornly insistent superficiality, even on the part of Nature's learned editors.