Friday, July 15, 2005

"Cardinal says Catholics can believe that God guided evolution"

Bob Parks of What's New highlights the following AP story (Cardinal says Catholics can believe that God guided evolution) about another Catholic Cardinal and evolution.
Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick … told reporters at the National Press Club that … Catholics can believe in evolution — as long as it's understood to have been guided by God rather than chance. …

Cardinal McCarrick said the church cannot accept the belief that 'this is all an accident.' But he added that 'as long as in every understanding of evolution, the hand of God is recognized as being present, we can accept that.'
Interestingly, this story was not reported very widely. The media doesn't seem to be interested. And perhaps the fact that one Cardinal expresses an opinion, doesn't mean that much.

If you take Cardinal McCarrick seriously though, the question I have for him is about the role of chance in history. Is he saying that history is determined (by God)? Or is there a role for chance in history? Quantum theory gives chance a significant role in the universe. I doubt that Cardinal McCarrick is saying that quantum theory is heresy. Having just recently recovered from their Galileo mistake, they probably don't want to do it again. My guess is that the Cardinal just hasn't thought things through very carefully. Otherwise, it's not clear what he is saying.

The other way to interpret Cardinal McCarrick's position is that "the hand of God is recognized as being present" not only in evolution but in everything, including phenomena governed by quantum theory. That seems to be consistent with the Catholic notion of God, which by definition seems to entail that the hand of God will be present everywhere. Perhaps that's tautological enough to be both meaningful enough to the religious and meaningless enough to the non-religious to make everyone happy.

I wonder if the problem isn't with the word accident. The relevant Merriam-Webster Online definition of the word is
a : an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance;

b : lack of intention or necessity

But there also seems to be something deprecatory about accident. Perhaps that's what's bothering the Cardinal.

Even this definition is not clear. Chance does not mean unforeseen or unplanned. Chance is not the same as lack of intention or necessity. When science and mathematics talk about chance, that's not the same thing as saying there is a lack of planning or that something is unforeseen. The term chance doesn't have anything to do with human (or other) planning or the ability or lack of ability to foresee something. Those are two different realms. I wonder whether the Cardinal would consider the result of a coin flip an accident? I wouldn't. It is a chance event, but the term accident imports a human framework into the understanding of the event that does not belong there. No one says that evolution is an accident in this sense. It is just that there are elements of randomness and probability involved. That seems to me to be different.

If one takes the notion of accident as applying to the Catholic notion of God, then presumably nothing is an accident. I assume that according to the Catholic Church nothing is unplanned (by God) or unforeseen (by God). So we are back to our tautological situation in which both sides can be happy.

Otherwise I don't understand how The Cardinal can avoid calling quantum theory heresy. And as we said above, I'm sure the Catholic church doesn't want to go down that road again.

1 comment:

Indicator Veritatis said...

If you don't see it, then you are not thinking very hard. Of course he does not have to call quantum theory heresy.

In fact, he needs quantum theory to avoid determinism, which really is heresy, since we have free will (in a sense carefully delimited by Catholic dogma: it is not the so-called 'libertarian' free will).