Neo-Darwinism not atheistic

Biologist Kenneth Miller weighs in on Cardinal Schonborn’s essay:

Cardinal Schönborn also errs in his implicit support of the “intelligent design” movement in the United States. The neo-creationists of intelligent design, unlike Popes Benedict and John Paul, argue against evolution on every level, claiming that a “designer” has repeatedly intervened to directly produce the complex forms of living things. This view stands in sharp contradiction to the words of a 2004 International Theological Commission document cited by the Cardinal. In reality, this document carries a ringing endorsement of the “widely accepted scientific account” of life’s emergence and evolution, describes the descent of all forms of life from a common ancestor as “virtually certain,” and echoes John Paul II’s observation of the “mounting support” for evolution from many fields of study.

More important, the same document makes a critical statement on how we should interpret scientific studies of the complexity of life: “whether the available data support inferences of design or chance . . cannot be settled by theology. But it is important to note that, according to the Catholic understanding of divine causality, true contingency in the created order is not incompatible with a purposeful divine providence.” [Editor’s note: Miller defines “contingent” as “apparently random or unpredictable, like the roll of dice.”] Right there, in plain view, is the essence of compatibility between evolution and Catholic theology. “Contingency in the created order,” the very essence of evolution, is not at all incompatible with the will of God. The official Church document reemphasizes this point by stating that “even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God’s providential plan for creation.” And evolution, as Stephen Jay Gould emphasized brilliantly in his writings, is truly a contingent natural process.


I think the question boils down to whether anything is actually “random” or whether God has His finger on everything. I note that Miller’s definition of “contingency” includes the word “apparently”–so we have the statement that “true apparent randomness in the created order is not incompatible with Catholic theology.” This is quite different from a statement that “true randomness in the created order … .”

I also think the statement about how the available data can be interpreted not being settled by theology is more a realization that there is a realm of inquiry open to science and another realm of inquiry open to theology, and the interpretation of scientific data correctly belongs to science. But I haven’t spent a lot of time on this latter thought; it is rather half-baked.

  • Liberian

Yeah Kenneth Miller is a good guy, claims to be an orthodox Catholic and an orthodox Darwinist. He is a thorn in the side of the Intelligent Design people. A biologist from Brown Univ.

The article originally appeared on his Evolution home page

I would also recommend not only his book Finding Darwin’s God, but Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA (edited by Dembski and Ruse) where he and others (like Michael Behe) contribute essays from various perspectives.

Of course here is my transcript and audio of the 1997 Firing Line Debate with Miller, Ruse, Scott, Lynn vs. Johnson, Behe, Buckley, Berlinski

Miller has been debating creationists since early on in his career. He took on Duane Gish and Henry Morris (of Institute for Creation Research) a couple of times in the early 1980s (the hey day of “creation-science”).

Phil P

Remember, the real problem with Intelligent Design is that it tries to make scientific what are actually philosophical and theological speculations on scientific observations. In other words, it’s not pure science as most of its proponents assert.

There is nothing wrong with Intelligent Design from a theological standpoint, but it is incorrect to claim that it’s science. More properly it should be regarded as a theological viewpoint that is highly compatible with our scientific understanding.

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