Monday, July 18, 2005

the mystery behind the science

On July 7 the NY Times ran an OpEd piece by Christoph Schönborn, cardinal archbishop of Vienna, regarding the position of the Catholic Church on the topic of evolution. As if that wasn't strange enough, there was an extensive follow-up article published on the Times' front page two days later. Finally, on July 13, another note appeared citing petitions made to Pope Benedict in recent days asking him to express himself directly on the issue of compatibility between scientific theories of evolution and Catholic theology.

Since the early 20th century, the question of the evolution of the species has been a litmus test is the hands of fundamentalist Christians who hold the Biblical story of creation to be a literal rendering of the birth of the universe and the gift of life. In the strict 'creationist' version, there is no room for biological evolution. Faith and science are at a stand off.

The Catholic Church has consistently affirmed that there can be no insurmountable chasm between science and faith if both modes of knowing seek the truth and recognize their mutual dependence in the quest. Science has its own specific realm of competence: the rational understanding of the natural world. Faith is understanding of an entirely different kind. Faith goes beyond science in search of the absolute, the final answer, the beginning and end of all things, the ultimate meaning of all that is... with revelation as its starting point.

In a nutshell, Cardinal Schönborn states that Catholicism does not blindly accept any scientific theory of evolution. There is, in fact, not one theory, but many variations on the theme. Schönborn rejects the idea, present in some neo-darwinian scripts, of an unguided, random process dependent solely on the mechanism of natural selection.

The Times articles seek to place the Cardinal's remarks on one side or the other of the evolutionist-creationist debate, in essence stating that Schönborn's essay signifies a sudden about face of the Church's supposed endorsement of evolution.

The press routinely has trouble with nuance, but the NY Times is especially hackish in its handling of Catholic teaching. That's what makes us exorcist types such avid readers...

Simply stated, there is no overt conflict with Catholic theology - the science of revelation - if a given theory of biological evolution or genetic relation between species avoids overstepping its limits. There are, after all, Catholic scientists that are not innerly torn between conflicting allegiances... between the Bible and the laboratory. A scientific theory is not necessarily an atheistic theory.

A scientific hypothesis that does not rule out the possibility of a Creator, that does not postulate the origen of life as a purely chemical fluke with no greater design than the chaotic churning of the primal puddle and that does not reduce man's spiritual nature to a consequence of mere biological survival will likely survive the scrutiny of theologians.

A scientific theory that does express itself on God, the origen of life and the human soul is no longer scientific. It has become ideology. There is a die hard positivistic lobby in the academia that would like nothing better than to banish spirit and mystery from our universe. But what is spiritual and, therefore, mysterious, falls outside the limits of science.

I saw that new documentary movie, March of the Penguins, this afternoon. There must have been 50 or 60 people at the matinee, but the silence was total. Five dozen people barely breathing. It was THAT incredible.

All the unfathomable drama of life, death, need, loss, community and quest is exquisitely captured and portrayed in a documentary about emperor penguins. Spirit and mystery. The penguins reflect it and thrive on it.

Need we be so blind?