Then he tells readers about the upcoming meeting of Benedict’s Schülerkreis—student circle—of former theology students this weekend. The topic: creation and evolution. Fine.
Next he warns readers not to “expect the Catholic Church to start disputing Darwin’s basic findings”. Still good.
But then, despite the promise, this:
Evolution appears to be very much on the pontiff's mind. It is a 'natural selection' of its own that this was the singular subject chosen by the Pope and his disciples for three days of lectures and discussion. Some conservative Catholics do indeed have growing doubts about the teaching of Darwin, which they say is now used to explain the very meaning of human existence. The issue of evolution has been on this pope's agenda from Day One, as Benedict proclaimed at his installation mass: "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God."
Now, is evolution very much on the pope's mind? No doubt it is this week because Benedict will meet with his former students to talk about it. But does that mean the topic has preoccupied him? Should we supposed he has had this at the top of his list of things to think about during the almost year-and-a-half of his papacy?
To be sure, as Israely notes, Benedict declared at his inaugural Mass, "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God". And, as Israely later observes, in one of Benedict’s weekly audiences last fall he stated that the Word of God--"this word that created everything and created this intelligent project that is the cosmos--is also love". That little phrase got many in the media worked up. Benedict had endorsed Intelligent Design (ID)!
Of course, since the pope thinks God exists and created human beings for a purpose, it’s on his mind that there are movements in the modern world that deny God’s existence or think there’s no point to human life. And he said as much. Yet a careful study of the pope’s remarks yields no papal underwriting for ID. To say that the universe is "an intelligent project" is not the same as espousing the specific theory of Intelligent Design, although the former is comptaible with the latter, as it is with the idea that God used cosmic and biological evolution to create.
Israely goes on to make a curious claim. The pope's concerns that human beings not be thought of as "the product of some casual and meaningless product of evolution" supposedly "echo those expressed by backers of intelligent design, who include a mix of mostly Protestants and Roman Catholics".
True enough. But the pope’s words also just happen to echo concerns shared by most Christians and, for that matter, most Jews and Muslims. Indeed, they are probably concerns shared by most religious believers, period. Even those believers who are also staunch proponents of evolution and vocal opponents of ID would probably agree with Pope Benedict here. Why, then, does Time align Benedict XVI with ID?
The ID advocates, we’re told, worry that Darwin “has become ‘Darwinism’—natural science transformed into dogmatic philosophy”. Of course ID proponents do object to Darwinism as a dogmatic philosophy. But then plenty of people who don’t support ID, including those who espouse evolution and creation, would likewise object, if by “dogmatic philosophy” one means a closed-minded adherence to a position, in the face of contrary evidence, or a materialistic presupposition that rejects the idea of God or any kind of divine purpose for human existence.
In fact, almost anyone who affirms the existence of a divine Creator—not just Fundamentalist Creationists or non-Fundamentalist ID advocates—would repudiate “Darwinism” so defined, although not necessarily evolution. Indeed, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself, now Pope Benedict XVI, rejected precisely such a materialistic and atheistic denial of God at the same time he affirmed evolution in his book, In the Beginning. Likewise, the International Theological Commission of the Catholic Church, under the same Cardinal Ratzinger, in a document called Communion and Stewardship, published in 2004, held that evolution wasn’t per se incompatible with God as Creator.
Again, why single out ID proponents here, when many others also reject “Darwinism” as a “dogmatic philosophy”?
“The ID proponents have found intellectual allies in the highest reaches of the Catholic hierarchy,” writes Israely. “Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the influential Archbishop of Vienna, wrote an opinion piece last year in the New York Times that was favorable to the theory of intelligent design”.
Let’s be clear: Cardinal Schönborn’s Times’ piece didn’t embrace ID, but it did espouse the idea that God created the cosmos, including life on this planet. Apparently, that a cardinal of the Catholic Church, someone “in the highest reaches of the Catholic hierarchy”, believes that human beings were created by God now amounts to an endorsement of the ID movement.
Then comes Jesuit Father Fessio, editor of Ignatius Press, publisher of most of the pope’s books in English, and, like Cardinal Schönborn, a former Ratzinger student. Father Fessio, the author declares, “did his best to downplay the significance of the meeting” during an interview with Israely. Translation: Father Fessio refused to play the media hype game.
“This is not a gathering of experts on evolution and creation called in to advise the Holy Father,” he said. “This is just a former professor having an informal gathering with his old students.” As it has been for the decades Ratzinger has been holding the gatherings.
“Fessio does not deny that evolution may be a top papal priority,” Israely writes. His evidence? Father Fessio’s comments: “These are the fundamental questions of any human being who becomes aware of himself. Where did I come from? Where I am going? What is the meaning of life — mine and in general?”
Does asking those questions and not accepting atheism’s or materialism’s answers make you an ID proponent? Apparently according to Israely. He quotes a lecture by Cardinal Schönborn, given last week in Italy, in which the cardinal condemned scientism—the philosophical presupposition that science and only science has the answers. Concludes Israely, “And so like the Pope himself, Schönborn is an ally of the ID battle, as much as for his theological firepower as for his institutional muscle.”
But Schönborn, we’re told, goes beyond the pope in criticizing scientism and, thus in the end, jibs Israely, “Maybe, after all, we could at least call this the Cardinal vs. Darwin”.
You, O reader, decide whether Time's article inclines in the dishonest or just plain dumb direction.