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Finding Design in Nature

(Last edited: quarta, 30 novembro 2005, 10:10 )
July 7, 2005
Finding Design in Nature


EVER since 1996, when Pope John Paul II said that evolution (a term he did not define) was "more than just a hypothesis," defenders of neo-Darwinian dogma have often invoked the supposed acceptance - or at least acquiescence - of the Roman Catholic Church when they defend their theory as somehow compatible with Christian faith.

But this is not true. The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things.

Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.

Consider the real teaching of our beloved John Paul. While his rather vague and unimportant 1996 letter about evolution is always and everywhere cited, we see no one discussing these comments from a 1985 general audience that represents his robust teaching on nature:

"All the observations concerning the development of life lead to a similar conclusion. The evolution of living beings, of which science seeks to determine the stages and to discern the mechanism, presents an internal finality which arouses admiration. This finality which directs beings in a direction for which they are not responsible or in charge, obliges one to suppose a Mind which is its inventor, its creator."

He went on: "To all these indications of the existence of God the Creator, some oppose the power of chance or of the proper mechanisms of matter. To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements and such marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us. In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be to abdicate human intelligence, which would thus refuse to think and to seek a solution for its problems."

Note that in this quotation the word "finality" is a philosophical term synonymous with final cause, purpose or design. In comments at another general audience a year later, John Paul concludes, "It is clear that the truth of faith about creation is radically opposed to the theories of materialistic philosophy. These view the cosmos as the result of an evolution of matter reducible to pure chance and necessity."

Naturally, the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church agrees: "Human intelligence is surely already capable of finding a response to the question of origins. The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason." It adds: "We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance."

In an unfortunate new twist on this old controversy, neo-Darwinists recently have sought to portray our new pope, Benedict XVI, as a satisfied evolutionist. They have quoted a sentence about common ancestry from a 2004 document of the International Theological Commission, pointed out that Benedict was at the time head of the commission, and concluded that the Catholic Church has no problem with the notion of "evolution" as used by mainstream biologists - that is, synonymous with neo-Darwinism.

The commission's document, however, reaffirms the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church about the reality of design in nature. Commenting on the widespread abuse of John Paul's 1996 letter on evolution, the commission cautions that "the letter cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe."

Furthermore, according to the commission, "An unguided evolutionary process - one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence - simply cannot exist."

Indeed, in the homily at his installation just a few weeks ago, Benedict proclaimed: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."

Throughout history the church has defended the truths of faith given by Jesus Christ. But in the modern era, the Catholic Church is in the odd position of standing in firm defense of reason as well. In the 19th century, the First Vatican Council taught a world newly enthralled by the "death of God" that by the use of reason alone mankind could come to know the reality of the Uncaused Cause, the First Mover, the God of the philosophers.

Now at the beginning of the 21st century, faced with scientific claims like neo-Darwinism and the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science, the Catholic Church will again defend human reason by proclaiming that the immanent design evident in nature is real. Scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of "chance and necessity" are not scientific at all, but, as John Paul put it, an abdication of human intelligence.

Christoph Sch–nborn, the Roman Catholic cardinal archbishop of Vienna, was the lead editor of the official 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Entry link: Finding Design in Nature

Francis Wheen's top 10 modern delusions

(Last edited: domingo, 29 janeiro 2006, 5:47 )
Francis Wheen's top 10 modern delusions,6109,1140156,00.html

Francis Wheen is a journalist and author of several books, including a highly acclaimed biography of Karl Marx. His collected journalism, Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies, won the George Orwell prize in 2003.
Francis Wheen's new book, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions, is published by Fourth Estate.

Buy How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World at

1. "God is on our side"
George W Bush thinks so, as do Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden and an alarmingly high percentage of other important figures in today's world. After September 11 2001 Blair claimed that religion was the solution not the problem, since "Jews, Muslims and Christians are all children of Abraham" - unaware that the example of Abraham was also cited by Mohammed Atta, hijacker of the one of the planes that shattered the New York skyline. RH Tawney wrote in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism that "modern social theory, like modern political theory, developed only when society was given a naturalistic instead of a religious explanation". In which case modern social and political theory would now seem to be dead.

2. The market is rational
Financial sophisticates in the 21st century smile at the madness of the South Sea Bubble or the absurdity of the Dutch tulip craze. Yet only a few years ago they scrambled and jostled to buy shares in dotcom companies which had no earnings at all nor any prospect of ever turning a profit. To justify this apparent insanity, they maintained that such a revolutionary business as the internet required a new business model in which balance sheets were irrelevant. In short, they thought they had repealed the laws of financial gravity - until they came crashing down to earth.

3. There is no such thing as reality
Hence the inverted commas which postmodernists invariably place round the word. They see everything from history to quantum physics as a text, subject to the "infinite play of signification". But if all notions of truth and falsity cease to have any validity, how can one combat bogus ideas - or indeed outright lies? There is, for instance, a mass of carefully empirical research on the Nazi extermination of the Jews. As Professor Richard Evans points out, "To regard it as fictional, unreal or no nearer to historical reality than, say, the work of the 'revisionists' who deny that Auschwitz ever happened at all, is simply wrong. Here is an issue where evidence really counts, and can be used to establish the essential facts. Auschwitz was not a discourse."

4. We mustn't be "judgmental"
In 2002 the Guardian revealed that Christian fundamentalists had taken control of a state-funded school in Gateshead and were striving to "show the superiority" of creationist beliefs in their classes. When Jenny Tonge MP asked Tony Blair if he was happy that the Book of Genesis was now being promoted as the most reliable biology textbook, he replied: "Yes. . . In the end a more diverse school system will deliver better results for our children." This is the enfeebling consequence of unthinking cultural and intellectual relativism. If some schools start teaching that the moon is made of Swiss cheese or that the stars are God's daisy chain, no doubt that too will be officially welcomed as a healthy sign of educational diversity.

5. Laissez-faire capitalism is the prerequisite for trade and prosperity
The International Monetary Fund may say so, as it imposes Thatcher-style solutions all over the world, but its own figures tell a different story. Its report on The World Economy in the 20th Century", published in 2000, includes a graph - printed very small, perhaps in the hope that no one would notice - which shows that the pre-Thatcherite period between 1950 and 1973 was by far the most successful of the century. This was an era characterised by capital controls, fixed exchange rates, strong trade unions, a large public sector and a general acceptance of government's role in demand management. The average annual growth in "per capita real GDP" throughout the world was 2.9% - precisely twice as high as the average rate in the two decades since then.

6. Astrology and similar delusions are "harmless fun"
Those who say this never explain what is either funny or harmless in promoting a con-trick which preys on ignorance and anxiety. Yet even the Observer, Britain's most venerable and enlightened Sunday newspaper, now has a horoscope page.

7. Thin air is solid
Charles Leadbeater's book Living on Thin Air (1999), a starry-eyed guide to the "weightless economy", was described by Peter Mandelson as "a blueprint for what a radical modernising project will entail in years to come". The dustjacket also carried a tribute from Tony Blair, hailing Leadbeater as "an extraordinarily interesting thinker" whose book "raises criticial questions for Britain's future". Three years later, after the pricking of the dotcom bubble, industry secretary Patricia Hewitt admitted that "industrial policy in [Labour's] first term of office was mistaken, placing too much emphasis on the dotcom economy at the expense of Britain's manufacturing base...The idea of Living on Thin Air was so much hot air." Tactfully, she forgot to mention that the chief hot-air salesman had been her own leader.

8. Sentimental hysteria is a sign of emotional maturity
The psychotherapist Susie Orbach interpreted the 'floral revolution' outside Kensington Palace after Princess Diana's death as proof that we were "growing up as a nation". Will Hutton, radical social democrat and republican, said that the collective genuflection before a dead aristocrat showed that the British were "freeing ourselves from the reins of the past". The assumption is that emotional populism represents a new kind of collective politics. In fact, it is nothing more than narcissism in disguise.

9. America's economic success is entirely due to private enterprise
In the 19th century, the American government promoted the formation of a national economy, the building of railroads and the development of the telegraph. More recently, the internet was created by the Pentagon. American agriculture is heavily subsidised and protected, as are the steel industry and many other sectors of the world's biggest "free-market economy". At times of economic slowdown, even under presidents who denigrate the role of government, the US will increase its deficit to finance expansionary fiscal and monetary policies. But its leaders get very cross indeed if any developing country tries to follow this example.

10. "It could be you. . ."
This was the advertising slogan for the National Lottery, that monument to imbecility, which was introduced (fittingly enough) by John Major. And millions of British adults apparently believed it, even though the odds on winning the jackpot are 13m to one. It could be you. . . but it bloody well won't be.
Entry link: Francis Wheen's top 10 modern delusions