With everything else that has been going on lately, I never got around to discussing Pope Benedict’s latest statements on evolution.
Here’s what Reuters had to say on the subject:
Pope Benedict, elaborating his views on evolution for the first time as Pontiff, says science has narrowed the way life’s origins are understood and Christians should take a broader approach to the question.
The Pope also says the Darwinist theory of evolution is not completely provable because mutations over hundreds of thousands of years cannot be reproduced in a laboratory.
But Benedict, whose remarks were published on Wednesday in Germany in the book “Schoepfung und Evolution” (Creation and Evolution), praised scientific progress and did not endorse creationist or “intelligent design” views about life’s origins.
A bit later we get some actual quotes:
“Science has opened up large dimensions of reason … and thus brought us new insights,” Benedict, a former theology professor, said at the closed-door seminar with his former doctoral students last September that the book documents.
“But in the joy at the extent of its discoveries, it tends to take away from us dimensions of reason that we still need. Its results lead to questions that go beyond its methodical canon and cannot be answered within it,” he said.
“The issue is reclaiming a dimension of reason we have lost,” he said, adding that the evolution debate was actually about “the great fundamental questions of philosophy – where man and the world came from and where they are going.”
The article goes on to assert that Pope Benedict defends theistic evolution, and offers quotes like this:
Benedict argued that evolution had a rationality that the theory of purely random selection could not explain.
“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,” he said.
“This … inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science … where did this rationality come from?” he asked. Answering his own question, he said it came from the “creative reason” of God.
So what are we to make of this? The first thing to note is that by all accounts Pope Benedict has not enorsed any version of creationism or ID. That, sadly, is where the good news ends. It sure looks to me that while the Pope hasn’t actually endorsed creationism, he certainly has retreated from the position of his predecssor. Pope John Paul II said the following:
In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points….Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies — which was neither planned nor sought — constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.
That is not quite the ringing endorsement that many people try to portray when defending the “science and religion coexistence” meme. Nonetheless, it’s always impressive when a religious leader takes note of evidence in favor of a scientific theory.
It is also considerably more enthusiastic than Benedict’s statement. Rather than talk of the impressive evidence in evolution’s favor, Benedict prefers instead to talk of how “the Darwinist theory of evolution” can be neither proven nor disproven.
Reading between the lines of this and other recent encounters between the Catholic Church and evolution, the conclusion seems to be this: Pope Benedict does not like evolution. But he also does not want the Church to look foolish once again by placing itself on the wrong side of a scientific question. So he walks right up to the line of accepting creationsim or ID, but does not actually cross it.
So, officially, the Church is on the right side, but one suspects they don’t have their heart in it. What is aggravating, however, is that when the Pope wades into a scientific matter he is taken seriously and treated respectfully. No one lectures him that since his training is in theology, it is perhaps improer for him to lay down the law regarding the proper interpretation of scientific theories. In this he is treated differently from Richard Dawkins, who is told to stick to his area of scientific expertise and not wade into theology, wheere he alledgedly does not know what he is talking about.
In reality, however, Dawkins speaks far more intelligently about theology than the Pope does about science. In a better world no one would care what a religious leader with no scientific training has to say about evolution. Sadly, that world is not this one.