Friday, July 08, 2005

Finding meaning in evolution?

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna wants to find design in evolution. (A NY Times story on the essay appears here.)
Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided process of random variation and natural selection - is not. …

The [International Theological Commission's 2004] document … reaffirms the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church about design in nature: "An unguided evolutionary process - one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence - simply cannot exist."
Apparently it's the meaninglessness that bothers Schönborn and other Catholic theologians (and a lot of ordinary people as well).

Schönborn does on to quote Benedict XVI, the new pope, as saying,
"We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution."
And how is meaning to be included in evolution? The quotation continues as follows.
"Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."
In another context, I've referred to the work of Irvin Yalom, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine on Existential Psychotherapy, who makes the point that we have four great fears in life: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness.
  • We will each die.
  • We must each make our own decisions.
  • We are each ultimately an isolated individual.
  • There is no meaning in the universe.
Difficult as it may be to accept, Yalom is right. Evolution is meaningless.


Anonymous said...

people can´t stand this vision and I doubt they ever will

Matthew said...

"An unguided evolutionary process - one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence - simply cannot exist."

That seems rather simplistic to me. I'm amazed when religious leaders speak on scientific topics. They always imply that the only method God uses to influence the outcome of natural processes is by some supernatural act, one that contradicts or suspends the "unguided" laws of nature. I think God's influence on chance and causality in our universe is much more mysterious than that.

If I may quote a bit from pages 269-70 of Kenneth R. Miller's book Finding Darwin's God:

"At least a few of my learned colleagues in evolutionary biology are fond of saying that evolution does have something profound to tell us about the meaning of life—which is that it does not have one. ...

"... Questions about good and evil, about the meaning and purpose of existence, ... have no place in science, because they cannot be addressed by the scientific method. By what logic, then, do so many invoke science when they presume to lecture on the pointlessness of existence? Something is not right. Apparently it is fine to take a long, hard look at the world and assume scientific authority to say that life has no meaning, but I suspect I would be accused of anti-scientific heresy if I were to do the converse, and claim that on the basis of science I had detected a purpose to existence.

"The concept of purpose, my colleagues would be quick to remind me, stands outside of science. I agree. But if it does, then so does its exact opposite, that the human species has no purpose ..."