c. 2005 Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY _ Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed creation as the driving force of the universe Wednesday (Nov. 9), describing the natural world as an “intelligent project” and rejecting scientific thought that regards the history of the universe as random and directionless.
The pope’s remarks on evolution came one day after the Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 to adopt new standards that cast doubt on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, though it was unclear whether the two developments were related.
Still, the timing was enough to make some scientists wonder whether the pope was attempting to move the church closer to advocates of “intelligent design,” who contend that nature is so complex that it must have been influenced by divine guidance.
“How many people are there today who, fooled by atheism, think and try to demonstrate that it would be scientific to think that everything is without direction and order?” Benedict said during his weekly Wednesday audience.
Benedict’s comments departed from prepared remarks that quoted St. Basil the Great, a fourth century churchman who warned of people “fooled by the atheism they carry inside them.”
In comments that echo arguments made by intelligent design advocates, the pope described the world as a product of “creative reason, the reason that has created everything, that has created this intelligent project.”
The pope’s remarks came at the same time the Vatican is hosting an international conference that aims to promote understanding between the worlds of religion and science.
The conference is part of an ongoing Vatican project inspired by Pope John Paul II’s 1992 declaration that “tragic mutual incomprehension” resulted in the church’s condemnation of Galileo, the 17th century astronomer who challenged church teaching on the nature of the universe.
Benedict’s remarks will surely be parsed for meaning by both advocates and critics of intelligent design theory, especially after a debate erupted last summer when a prominent cardinal seemed to move the church away from its traditional tolerance of evolution.
In a high-profile op-ed piece in The New York Times, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna said “evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense … is not true” and rebuffed as “rather vague and unimportant” remarks by John Paul II in 1996 that described evolution as “more than a hypothesis.”
Schonborn’s article unleashed a torrent of criticism from scientists who feared that the Catholic hierarchy was embracing a more fundamentalist view of creation, or at least one that viewed evolution with heavy doses of skepticism.
One of those scientists, Lawrence Krause of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, wrote to the pope in July seeking clarification. Krause said Wednesday that Benedict’s use of the phrase “intelligent product” was “disconcerting.”
“I’m concerned that … the impression that will be obtained by many people, and that will be used in this public relations campaign, is that `See, science is atheistic and has to be changed,”’ Krause said in an interview.
Krause, who is Catholic, said the pope’s remarks Wednesday were not “the clarification that I wanted,” but nonetheless held out the hope that “behind these remarks the pope is saying the right thing.”
“Even if you believe there was divine intelligence … that isn’t inconsistent with what we know happened in science, which is evolution,” Krause said.
Others inside the church are also concerned. Last week, Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council on Culture, warned against the “dangers of a religion that severs its links with reason and becomes prey to fundamentalism.”
Asked about Schonborn’s comments, Poupard said he believed God created the world, but added, “It’s important for the faithful to know how science views things to understand better.”
Bruce Chapman, president of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, who worked to develop Schonborn’s July 7 op-ed and is a major proponent of intelligent design, said it appears the pope was merely trying to “correct the misstatements” about church teaching on evolution.
“The traditional view of the church never contradicted micro evolution, which is change over time, but it also never embraced Darwinian evolution, which is macro evolution,” Chapman said.
MO/PH END ECKSTROM