Pope asserts that evolution cannot be conclusively proved


#1

I have read elsewhere that some think Pope Benedict (or JPII) has concluded that evolution is fact. As I suspected, his true position is much more complicated. From what I’ve read about his position, I tend to agree with his analysis.

In the beginning
The debate over creation and evolution, once most conspicuous in America, is fast going global

A much more nuanced critique, not of Darwin himself but of secular world-views based on Darwin’s ideas, has been advanced by Pope Benedict XVI, the conservative Bavarian who assumed the most powerful office in the Christian world two years ago. The pope marked his 80th birthday this week by publishing a book on Jesus Christ. But for Vatican-watchers, an equally important event was the issue in German, a few days earlier, of a book in which the pontiff and several key advisers expound their views on the emergence of the universe and life. While avoiding the cruder arguments that have been used to challenge Darwin’s theories, the pope asserts that evolution cannot be conclusively proved; (emphasis mine) and that the manner in which life developed was indicative of a “divine reason” which could not be discerned by scientific methods alone.

Both in his previous role as the chief enforcer of Catholic doctrine and since his enthronement, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has made clear his profound belief that man has a unique, God-given role in the animal kingdom; and that a divine creator has an ongoing role in sustaining the universe, something far more than just “lighting the blue touch paper” for the Big Bang, the event that scientists think set the universe in motion.

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#2

Maran << I have read elsewhere that some think Pope Benedict (or JPII) has concluded that evolution is fact. As I suspected, his true position is much more complicated. >>

Once again, evolution is fact if you mean “well-confirmed observation.” Since evolution (i.e. “speciation”) has been directly observed in the lab, it is a fact. Evolution is also a theory since the mechanism (natural selection) explains thousands of pieces of data, facts, observations, etc. Evolution is both fact and theory. Macroevolution (or “common descent”) is also a fact in the sense defined by Stephen Jay Gould: “confirmed to such an extent that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.”

I’ll wait for the Pope’s latest book on the subject to be published in English. No theory in science is “proven” since “proof” is restricted to logic, mathematics, and alcohol. There are no “absolutes” in science.

From his 1980s Genesis commentary “In the Beginning…” the Pope has been quoted supporting “intelligent design” by Mike Behe, and supporting macroevolution by Ken Miller. And they are both right if you read that book.

“All of this is well and good, one might say, but is it not ultimately disproved by our scientific knowledge of how the human being evolved from the animal kingdom? Now, more reflective spirits have long been aware that there is no either-or here. We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the ‘project’ of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary – rather than mutually exclusive – realities. But let us look a little closer, because here, too, the progress of thought in the last two decades helps us to grasp anew the inner unity of creation and evolution and of faith and reason.” (“In the Beginning…” : A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, 1986, Eerdmans 1995)

I don’t think he’s changed his mind or said anything new, but I’ll wait for the book Creation and Evolution (based on the 2006 “Schulerkreis” or student circle meetings).

BTW, this Wikipedia article is looking very good.

Phil P


#3

Is evolution considered a theory or is it fact? That seems to be the dispute at this point. The creationists (the literal ones) can’t really be taken seriously at this point.


#4

I found two quotes in the article that seem to sum up the issue (for me at least)

A much more nuanced critique, not of Darwin himself but of secular world-views based on Darwin’s ideas, has been advanced by Pope Benedict XVI…

and

This camp stresses that Darwinian science should not seduce people into believing that man evolved purely as the result of a process of random selection.

The point being that any theory of evolution says nothing, and can say nothing, about the existence or non-existence of God. It can say nothing about the very existence of the matter and energy and laws of nature which are the fundamental components upon which life (and evolution) rests. And it can say nothing about the random processes which drive evolution, but which are not in the least random to an omniscient and omnipotent God.


#5

Riley << Is evolution considered a theory or is it fact? That seems to be the dispute at this point. >>

Both. Evolution is fact since it has been observed (small scale). Evolution is theory since common descent and natural selection are over-arching explanations of the known data and facts. Theories explain facts, in that sense they are higher than facts. Pope JP2 said in 1996 evolution is “more than a hypothesis” and here are some definitions:

Definition of scientific hypothesis: a proposed explanation or provisional idea whose merit is to be evaluated, and it must be both testable and falsifiable.

Definition of scientific theory: a model or framework for understanding, an established paradigm that explains all or many of the data we have, connects a wide range of phenomena, and offers valid predictions that can be tested.

You probably agree, but just clarifying once again.

Phil P


#6

The problem is one of reporting. As i understand, though I haven’t read the original text of the Pope’s release, the pope did not deny that ANY evolution had occured, but merely commented that Atheistic Evolution is not possible. Of course, we knew that God created life, possibly by creation, possibly by evolution, so this is just a clarification of JPII’s announcement that evolution is compatable with christianity does NOT include atheistic evolution.


#7

I’m glad the Pope is zeroing in an a particular problem with evolution - not the science, but a philosophical/metaphysical interpretation of it. The two are hard to separate sometimes, at least in how they’re presented.


#8

I agree. While people knowledgeable in science and philosophy know that forensic science can’t be proven to the same degree that hard science can, it is interesting that he felt the need to point this out.


#9

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