Saturday, July 23, 2005


If I had even a fraction of Tom Kreitzberg's theological insight I could retire a happy man, but as it is it looks like I'm going to be working for many long years to come. That's not to say that I always agree with him, though it is to say that probably I would be a lot better off if I did.

In a recent post of his on his blog Disputations he refers to one of my own posts as saying that I think that Cardinal Schönborn doesn't know what he's talking about when he enters into the evolution vs. intelligent design debate. I would just like to say that, although it looks like I did say that, I did not say exactly that. I don't really want to be accused of being a sophist, either, though, so I will also apologize if I left the impression that I think that the good Cardinal is a know-nothing.

What I said was that the Cardinal is not in a position to speak "authoritatively" about evolution, since that is not his field of expertise, and that anyone who wants to speak authoritatively on that subject must first meet the necessary condition of knowing a great deal more about the field than the Cardinal does.

As Tom rightly points out, the Cardinal may have been speaking theologically and not scientifically. If so, then he is eminently qualified to speak. But there do seem to me to be cases where folks who are trying to make theological or philosophical points wind up making scientific claims instead, and vice versa.

It is a claim of science, not of theology, to say that evolution is or is not a strongly confirmed theory, and that intelligent design is not a scientific theory at all and hence, a fortiori, not a serious contender to be a rival to evolutionary theory--and that was the main point I was making. If what you want to claim is that evolutionary theory is not the final answer as to how or why there is ensouled life in the universe, then that is a theological and not a scientific claim, and I would certainly agree that there's nothing that evolution in particular or science in general can possibly say on that score. Certainly we must, as orthodox Catholics, believe that the universe is shot-through with meaning, is a teleological place in which everything has some sort of purpose (whether empirically verifiable or not) and, as I mentioned at the end of my other essay, we must loudly reject both materialism and empiricism (though we may, of course, accept limited versions of them--versions that apply only withint the very limited domain of discourse of science).


Grata Sodalis said...

Hi, Scott!

I like your blog very much.

As a Catholic, I embrace empiricism as a useful method for measuring observable changes in things of the created order.

In biochemistry, cooking, physics, navigation, marketing surveying, mapping, accounting, medicine, (to name a few), the empirical approach just can't be beat.

When I want a useful method for understanding the things of God, and questions of man's purpose and nature, however, I find empiricism to be of no use, and I don't use it.

Scott Carson said...

Hi Marion

Thanks for the compliment! I'm a little relieved to find that somebody besides me actually reads the thing.

I think that I agree with you about empiricism. I think that in the various sciences it is the perspective of choice, but that science can never give us the full picture since not everything in the universe is empirically testable.

If you're familiar at all with the jargon of the philosophy of science, I think that the attitude I find most congenial is one of "anti-realism", a view that holds that scientific theories are interpretations of reality rather than exhaustively complete representations of reality. Nothing that ignores the theological can claim to be exhaustively complete, in my view.

Thanks again for reading!

Tom said...


You're right, of course; you didn't write that Cardinal Schönborn doesn't know what he's talking about. But my inexactitude did serve its purpose of drawing you out on this topic. By the time I read your original post, it was too old to comment on.

I'm not yet sure what to think of Fr. Oakes's point -- or rather, Msgr. Knox's point -- about distinguishing design and order or teleology. But then, I don't read "design" and think "irreducible complexity at the cellular level." If the Cardinal does think that, then maybe (though I don't know enough to say for sure on my own authority) he doesn't know what he's talking about.