Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Schönborn responds with the aid of philosophy

Many people gave Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna a lot of flack for his position on evolution which was printed in the New York Times in July 2005.

In that essay he wrote that “The Church ‘proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things.’” He also wrote that “Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.”

Well, Schönborn has now written a defense of that position in a new essay published in First Things. And guess what he identifies as the real ground for his position after all.....That’s right....philosophy! Good for him!

He writes: “my argument was based on the natural ability of the human intellect to grasp the argument was based on careful examination of the evidence of everyday experience; in other words, on philosophy.”

What he is saying is something that I myself have articulated in a previous post not long ago: we can arrive at the knowledge of the material world as intelligibly wrought and designed by using our own human reasoning: using philosophy.

Schönborn admits, which I myself am finding, that many scientists and even Catholics out there have swallowed---hook, line, and sinker---the spirit-matter dualism so prevalent these days. What does that mean?

As Schönborn describes it, this spirit-matter dualism is “the habit of thought in which physical reality is conceived of according to the reductive claims of modern science (which is to say, positivism), combined in a mysterious way with a belief in the immaterial realities of the human and divine spirits as known only by faith (which is to say, fideism).”

And this is an important point of his, especially when we ask: is the reality of things discernable only through science? Through the eye of a microscope?

Well, obviously not. Unraveling the reality of things calls for all the disciplines and achievements of the human mind, including the discipline that is most suitable for this sort of thing—philosophy. As Schönborn writes:

We can with much profit study nature using the tools and techniques of modern science. But let us never forget, as some modern scientists have forgotten, that the study of reality via reductive methods leads to incomplete knowledge. To grasp reality as it is, we must return to our pre-scientific and post-scientific knowledge, the tacit knowledge that pervades science, the knowledge that, when critically examined and refined, we call philosophy.

Science alone can never unravel the reality and truth of things. It cannot. It’s incapable of doing so. No matter how thoroughly scientists either dissect a human body or probe space with the most powerful telescope around, science can NEVER arrive at the full truth and the reality of a human person or the cosmos.

It can’t....not without the aid of philosophy. The knowledge that design is inherent in the universe is discernable through observation of the material world (using the observational methods of science) and human reasoning, aided by the axioms and principles of philosophy.

I like John Polkinghorne’s illustration: “If a toss of 4 coins comes down with 1 heads and the rest tails you have no strong reason to suppose that there is anything else happening than randomness [randomness being a canon of Darwinism]: if a toss of 4,000 coins comes down with 1 heads and the rest tails it is not, of course, impossible that this has happened by chance but you'd certainly be more inclined to look for additional factors - even more so with 4 million coins.”

And so I think Schönborn presents a good message that is badly needed in the chatter about intelligent design vs. evolution: relying on science alone to grasp the reality of things is reductionist (and therefore positivist, and if I may say so, un-catholic).

To rely on science alone has consequences, part of which is a loss and eventually a denial of that deep-seated human sense of the purpose and design in nature (nature’s teleology).

And when this happens in the minds of folks out there (especially among our kids), then scientists and the supporters of evolutionism have overstepped their competence, and what Schönborn had said in his original New York Times essay becomes even more accurate:

"Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science."

Read Schönborn's article here.

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