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Cardinal Ratzinger's Thoughts on Evolution

An Excerpt From "Truth and Tolerance"

ROME, SEPT. 2, 2005 (Zenit) - Cardinal Christoph Schönborn's July 7 editorial in the New York Times entitled "Finding Design in Nature" provoked a flurry of reactions, both supportive and critical.

Requests have begun to arrive in Rome for Benedict XVI to make some sort of clarification on the Church's stand regarding evolution.

The following text, delivered in 1999 as part of a lecture at the Sorbonne in Paris by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Benedict XVI) and subsequently published in the 2004 book "Truth and Tolerance", can give some clue as to the Holy Father's thoughts on the question. The length of the paragraphs was adapted here slightly for easier reading.

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The separation of physics from metaphysics achieved by Christian thinking is being steadily canceled. Everything is to become "physics" again. The theory of evolution has increasingly emerged as the way to make metaphysics disappear, to make "the hypothesis of God" (Laplace) superfluous, and to formulate a strictly "scientific" explanation of the world. A comprehensive theory of evolution, intended to explain the whole of reality, has become a kind of "first philosophy," which represents, as it were, the true foundation for an enlightened understanding of the world. Any attempt to involve any basic elements other than those worked out within the terms of such a "positive" theory, any attempt at "metaphysics," necessarily appears as a relapse from the standards of enlightenment, as abandoning the universal claims of science.

Thus the Christian idea of God is necessarily regarded as unscientific. There is no longer any "theologia physica" that corresponds to it: in this view, the doctrine of evolution is the only "theologia naturalis," and that knows of no God, either a creator in the Christian (or Jewish or Islamic) sense or a world-soul or moving spirit in the Stoic sense. One could, at any rate, regard this whole world as mere appearance and nothingness as the true reality and, thus, justify some forms of mystical religion, which are at least not in direct competition with enlightenment.

Has the last word been spoken? Have Christianity and reason permanently parted company? There is at any rate no getting around the dispute about the extent of the claims of the doctrine of evolution as a fundamental philosophy and about the exclusive validity of the positive method as the sole indicator of systematic knowledge and of rationality. This dispute has therefore to be approached objectively and with a willingness to listen, by both sides -- something that has hitherto been undertaken only to a limited extent. No one will be able to cast serious doubt upon the scientific evidence for micro-evolutionary processes. R. Junker and S. Scherer, in their "critical reader" on evolution, have this to say: "Many examples of such developmental steps [microevolutionary processes] are known to us from natural processes of variation and development. The research done on them by evolutionary biologists produced significant knowledge of the adaptive capacity of living systems, which seems marvelous."

They tell us, accordingly, that one would therefore be quite justified in describing the research of early development as the reigning monarch among biological disciplines. It is not toward that point, therefore, that a believer will direct the questions he puts to modern rationality but rather toward the development of evolutionary theory into a generalized "philosophia universalis," which claims to constitute a universal explanation of reality and is unwilling to allow the continuing existence of any other level of thinking. Within the teaching about evolution itself, the problem emerges at the point of transition from micro to macro-evolution, on which point Szathmary and Maynard Smith, both convinced supporters of an all-embracing theory of evolution, nonetheless declare that: "There is no theoretical basis for believing that evolutionary lines become more complex with time; and there is also no empirical evidence that this happens."

The question that has now to be put certainly delves deeper: it is whether the theory of evolution can be presented as a universal theory concerning all reality, beyond which further questions about the origin and the nature of things are no longer admissible and indeed no longer necessary, or whether such ultimate questions do not after all go beyond the realm of what can be entirely the object of research and knowledge by natural science. I should like to put the question in still more concrete form. Has everything been said with the kind of answer that we find thus formulated by Popper: "Life as we know it consists of physical 'bodies' (more precisely, structures) which are problem solving. This the various species have 'learned' by natural selection, that is to say by the ...

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