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NYT on Darwinism and Catholicism

Today’s New York Times has a fascinating page-one article about Catholic Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s recent op-ed declaring that Darwinism is incompatible with Roman Catholic doctrine as well as the findings of human reason. As we’ve come to expect from the major media, this “news” article contains errors of fact as well as editorializing by reporters Cornelia Dean and Laurie Goodstein, but it is nevertheless informative — and for a piece by the major media, relatively balanced. The article quotes both Bruce Chapman and Mark Ryland from Discovery Institute. The main thrust of the story is summarized early on in the following paragraphs:

The cardinal, Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, a theologian who is close to Pope Benedict XVI, staked out his position in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on Thursday, writing, “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.”

In a telephone interview from a monastery in Austria, where he was on retreat, the cardinal said that his essay had not been approved by the Vatican, but that two or three weeks before Pope Benedict XVI’s election in April, he spoke with the pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, about the church’s position on evolution. “I said I would like to have a more explicit statement about that, and he encouraged me to go on,” said Cardinal Schönborn.

He said that he had been “angry” for years about writers and theologians, many Catholics, who he said had “misrepresented” the church’s position as endorsing the idea of evolution as a random process.

Unfortunately, the article recycles erroneous statements about Discovery Institute and intelligent design, stating:

One of the strongest advocates of teaching alternatives to evolution is the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which promotes the idea, termed intelligent design, that the variety and complexity of life on earth cannot be explained except through the intervention of a designer of some sort.

In fact, Discovery advocates teaching scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory, not alternatives to it. One of the writers of this article (Cornelia Dean) ought to know this fact. After an interview with me last month, Ms. Dean accurately reported Discovery Institute’s real position on science education. Old myths apparently die hard.

The Times’ definition of intelligent design (ID) is also inaccurate. ID proposes that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause because of their highly-ordered complexity. Contrary to the Times, it’s not just that things are complex; it’s that they are complex in a certain kind of way (what mathematician William Dembski calls “specified complexity,” or what I’ve labeled “highly-ordered complexity”). In addition, ID does not claim that it is logically impossible for Darwinism to explain the complexity of life (“the complexity of life cannot be explained except through the intervention of a designer…”). Instead, it argues that based on available empirical evidence, the BEST (most plausible) explanation for certain features of life is that they are the product of an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.

Elsewhere in the article the reporters veer into outright editorializing, claiming:

Darwinian evolution is the foundation of modern biology. While researchers may debate details of how the mechanism of evolution plays out, there is no credible scientific challenge to the underlying theory.

Well, at least these Times reporters are open about their own bias. While it would be accurate for them to state that the majority of biologists believe in Darwinism, it is blatant editorializing, not factual reporting, to claim that there is “no credible scientific challenge” to the theory—when that is precisely the point being debated right now by a growing minority of scientists.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.



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