Did Pope Benedict XVI adopt or accept Intelligent Design?

According to the San Francisco Examiner in an article entitled "Pope Cites Universe's 'Intelligent Project'":

Pope Benedict XVI has waded into the evolution debate in the United States, saying the universe was made by an "intelligent project" and criticizing those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order.

* * *

Benedict focused his reflections for the audience on scriptural readings that said God's love was seen in the "marvels of creation."

He quoted St. Basil the Great, a fourth century saint, as saying some people, "fooled by the atheism that they carry inside of them, imagine a universe free of direction and order, as if at the mercy of chance."

"How many of these people are there today? These people, fooled by atheism, believe and try to demonstrate that it's scientific to think that everything is free of direction and order," he said.

"With the sacred Scripture, the Lord awakens the reason that sleeps and tells us: In the beginning, there was the creative word. In the beginning, the creative word — this word that created everything and created this intelligent project that is the cosmos — is also love."

I think that it is great that Pope Benedict XVI has stood up for what is becoming increasingly obvious to anyone interested in the subject: the universe demands the existence of a creator or creative being. By taking up in a very clear way that the Biblical position is that there must be an intelligent project behind the universe, he has hopefully awakened the Roman Catholic community that may have been lulled to sleep by Pope John Paul II's earlier talk on evolution where he seemed content to accept the larger portion of evolutionary theory.

Regardless of the way Pope John Paul II's talk was couched by the press or the advocates of Darwinism which suggested that the former pope embraced evolutionary theory in its entirety, Pope John Paul II rejected the Darwinian view that life arose in the universe by chance and natural selection alone. In his earlier talk, linked above, the Pope made it clear that such a randomeless creation was not within the teaching of the Roman Catholic church.

[R]ather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of theology.

5. The Church's magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man: Revelation teaches us that he was created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:27-29). The conciliar constitution Gaudium et Spes has magnificently explained this doctrine, which is pivotal to Christian thought. It recalled that man is "the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake" (No. 24). In other terms, the human individual cannot be subordinated as a pure means or a pure instrument, either to the species or to society; he has value per se. He is a person. With his intellect and his will, he is capable of forming a relationship of communion, solidarity and self-giving with his peers. St. Thomas observes that man's likeness to God resides especially in his speculative intellect, for his relationship with the object of his knowledge resembles God's relationship with what he has created (Summa Theologica I-II:3:5, ad 1). But even more, man is called to enter into a relationship of knowledge and love with God himself, a relationship which will find its complete fulfillment beyond time, in eternity. All the depth and grandeur of this vocation are revealed to us in the mystery of the risen Christ (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22). It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei"; "Humani Generis," 36). Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.

Pope Benedict XVI's statement really seems to me to be no different than what Pope John Paul II originally said. Neither of them deny completely the idea of evolution, but both of their statements can be seen as supporting the idea that there has been a creative force behind the universe. This creative force created the universe in such a way as to ultimately lead to humanity. Both Popes are in agreement that this is not, as the Darwinists would have you believe, a process that occurred divorced from God, or as the Statement of the National Association of Biology Teachers on the Teaching of Evolution says, "The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of biological evolution —- an unpredictable and natural process of descent with modification that is affected by natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, migration and other natural biological and geological forces."

What is more difficult to read from the two statements is exactly how far the Popes have claimed this intelligent project extends. Is the creative moment limited to the time of the creation of the universe, or is the pope extending approval to the idea of such concepts as irreducible complexity in biological systems that seems to make the naturalistic arising of life all but impossible. As a friend of mine pointed out on a discussion board a few days ago, it is bad theology to assume that God couldn't design a universe that produced life without having to intervene to juryrig the process from time to time. Thus, it could be the case that the Popes have adopted his view that God created the universe in such a way that He knew would ultimately result in man, and he did not step in to alter the otherwise purely naturalistic process at any time since.

At the same time, the question -- when it comes to ideas about evidence of intelligent design in complex theological systems -- is not about whether God could have created a universe in such a way, but whether he did in fact create such a universe. When I see the evidence for design in biological systems, I don't say "God couldn't have created the universe in such a way as to produce life without having to intervene to juryrig the process from time to time", rather I am saying "here is evidence that can be seen in nature that shows that there is an intelligent designer behind these biological systems."

I am looking forward to seeing what Pope Benedict XVI has to say further on the subject of this "intelligent project". In the meantime, to those of the Roman Catholic faith who may have been woken up to this subject by the statements of Pope Benedict XVI, welcome aboard.


Bede said…
It is absurd to suggest that JP II or any other Catholic would claim that there is no intelligence behind the universe. I hope this never happened! Nor is there anything new in Ben XVI's statement. Catholicism has no problem with evolution and no problem with a natural origin of life (as that is what the universe is built for). JP II accepted evolution as the mechanism by which diversity appeared. The Vatican has recently re-iterated this and distanced itself from ID and creationism. Kenneth Miller is a good representative of a Catholic view even if Behe is a Catholic himself.

God does intervene by way of miracles (necessary because man has fallen). He does not, I think (and hope) have to intervene to jury-rig science as if he got it wrong in the first place. I fear that you are not wise to think ID will get any support from the Vatican.
BK said…
Just to be clear, I never said that Roman Catholics would claim that there is no intelligence behind the universe. However, as I read the statements of both of the Popes, it appears to me that you are reading your view into what they have said on this issue. The point of the post is that I am admitting that I don't know how far the popes would go in supporting ID, but I don't think that there is any compelling reason to conclude -- given their statements -- that either pope has ruled ID out. I don't agree that Kenneth Miller speaks of Roman Catholicism generally.

With all due respect to your statement that "He does not, I think (and hope) have to intervene to jury-rig science as if he got it wrong in the first place." If you are suggesting that is my position then you have made a complete misrepresentation of what I have said. I am saying that God could have done it the way that you suggest, but there is no reason to conclude that he had to do it that way or that he actually did it that way. There is an equal possibility that he did it by directly creating the life (not through evolution, but directly) and that such direct creation would be detectable.

Finally, you said that I am not wise to think ID will get any support from the Vatican. Since you are not the Pope and I am not the Pope, whatever we say will ultimately simply be our gloss on what they have already said. Personally, I think the Pope has not made a definitive statement one way or another. Thus, I guess we will have to wait and see what the Vatican will do.
Nomad said…
My understanding is that the Vatican has taken a firm stand against Biblical literalism and fundamentalism when it comes to the teaching of "Creationism," and especially what is commonly known as Young Earth Creationism. Paul Cardinal Poupard, head of the Ponifical Council for Culture recently made a statement that can be read at http://www.zenit.org/english/ in which he states:

"We know what scientific reason leads to, which becomes an end in itself: The atomic bomb and the possibility of cloning human beings are fruits of a reason that has wished to free itself from every ethical and religious link.

"But we are also conscious of the dangers of a religion that severs its links with reason and falls prey to fundamentalism? For this reason, believers have the obligation to listen to what modern science offers, and this is why we ask loyally that the wisdom of faith be taken into account as an expert voice in humanity."

As a Catholic I believe that the ID argument can be used, provided it is properly understood. If it is intended to prove that the earth and life was literally created as described in Genesis, then we have a problem, and ID becomes nothing more than creationism in new clothes. But if ID is used, as Cardinal Poupard and Pope Benedict (and Pope John Paul II before them) to confirm that an intelligence does stand behind the existence of the Universe, life, and of humanity, then it can go a long way in helping to unite religion and science as they ought. This has been the crux of my own posts on the subject, including my citation of Steven Barr's arguments from a recent issue in First Things (see Stephen Barr on "The Design of Evolution", CADRE Comments October 24, 2005 http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2005_10_01_christiancadre_archive.html), as well as my critique of the New Republic's attack on ID: ID and the New Republic, September 17, 2005 (http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2005_09_01_christiancadre_archive.html).

The problem, of course, is that the Vatican is taking a rather nuanced position on a subject that the media wishes to be treated in simple black and white terms. For those that think that the Catholic Church would ever support undirected evolution, as Bede said, this would be absurd. At the same time, the Church is not going to approve of teaching ID if that is to mean that we must accept the creation stories of Genesis as being literally true.
BK said…

That makes a lot of sense. Thank you.
Bede said…
BK, I certainly didn't mean to say I thought that you said the Pope believed that there was no intelligence behind the universe. I was referring to the media you mentioned.

I am happy with the idea of design built in at the beginning. Hence, I think God built in a mechanism for the origin of life and a mechanism to ensure that evolution went where it was supposed to. For some thoughts on the later, See 'Life's Solution' by Simon Conway Morris. If you haven't, this is a book you must read. For the former, we have no idea what mechanism God chose so can't really study it. I do expect (foolish prediction coming up) that we will eventually find that life, far from being a remote possibility) was a dead cert given the way God set up the laws of the universe.
BK said…

I have no problem with anything you just said. It certainly may be that God built the universe in such a way that the arising of life was preordained without any further involvement. At the same time, I do not agree that we will eventually find life was a dead cert, but that is my own foolish prediction. I thank you for your input.

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