Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo

Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo

Author: Santiago Collado González, University of Navarra.
Published in: yearbook Filosófico, XLII/1, pp. 218-221 (review de Horn, S. (ed.), Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2008, 200 pp.)
Publication date: 2009

Before being elected pope, Benedict XVI used to meet every year with a group group of students and some professors to reflect on and discuss a previously chosen topic . After his election as pope, he has maintained this custom and continues to meet for the same purpose at Castel Gandolfo, the summer residency program of the popes. The year 2005 saw lively discussions on the now classic discussion creation-evolution. In the summer of that year, the New York Times published a article by Card. Schönborn, which was widely covered by the media. At the end of that year, a trial was held in Dover against the Intelligent Design movement. The intensity and interest of these discussions led Benedict XVI to commission Card. Schönborn to prepare the following summer's meeting , which focused on discussion between creation and evolution. It was held on 1 and 2 September 2006.

This volume contains four papers by various authors and the interventions of the subsequent discussion , including those of Benedict XVI. Also added is a appendix with a article by one of the participants and co-editor of the book (S. Wiedenhofer) graduate Faith in Creation and Theory of Evolution, which was a document of work. The four speakers and the titles of their respective presentations were: P. Schuster, Evolution and design. An attempt at a recognition of the theory of evolution; R. Spaemann, Descent and intelligent design ; P. Erbrich, The problem of creation and evolution); C. Schönborn, Faith-Reason-Science. The discussion on evolutionism.

It is difficult to fully synthesise all the issues discussed, but some common threads run, in one way or another, through almost all the speeches. Benedict XVI's words and his concluding remarks sum it up well. An important point made by the then Card. Ratzinger in a 1985 speech , is that the problems of the theory of evolution are not settled between science and faith, but within rationality, which tries to reduce itself to a single subject without respecting its methodical plurality.

In another quotation, now from a speech at the Sorbonne in 1999, Benedict XVI points out that a central point of this discussion is to get to the foundation of the real, and to what extent the theory of evolution is possible as a global theory, as some claim. The problem arises when evolution is presented as a theory of the totality, making it into a metaphysical Philosophy first theory. The ability of evolution to explain biological processes is not in dispute. The problem lies in the claim of globality, of totality with which some defend it. Evolution is sometimes presented in such a way that it is impossible to say anything beyond what science tells us about what is real. It also encounters an insurmountable problem when it tries to constitute itself as a global knowledge. As a consequence of the identity that is discovered in the primacy of Logos and Love, any explanation of reality that is not able to rationally explain an ethos is insufficient to constitute itself as philosophical knowledge. The key aspects of the theory of evolution, i.e. selection and the survival of the best adapted, are clearly insufficient to found an ethos worthy of man. However, the identity discovered between reason and love as pillars of the real are nuclear issues.

In the first lecture, Prof. Schuster tries to explicitly present the theory of evolution from a scientific perspective. He explains evolution in a clear and orderly way with all its current ingredients: the ideas of Darwin, Mendel, and the contribution of the modern Biochemistry and Genetics . It offers sufficient and consistent arguments to be able to recognise it as a scientific theory, the same as other disciplines such as physics or Chemistry, for example. Apart from outlining the role played by chance in biology, he makes three important considerations that are then the subject of discussion because they have philosophical implications or are currently under discussion.

The first is that biology now offers a view of evolution whereby evolution can be understood globally without the need to postulate an external agent intervening in its processes. The second is that in the context of the synthetic theory of evolution, the concept of teleology is replaced by that of teleonomy. This means that the engine of change is not finality, which, he says, is only apparent, and must be seen rather as a result of the evolutionary process. This statement, he continues, is a consequence of one of the basic ideas of evolutionary theory. Changes or mutations are not oriented, and their permanence in living beings is determined a posteriori and as a consequence of the benefits they bring to their bearer. In the third consideration, Schuster sees a door opened by science to theology. The author acknowledges his fascination with the fact that life has found its way through a really narrow corridor or path: the requirement of first physical and then environmental conditions that move within a very narrow range of possibilities.

In the other presentations, the speakers addressed questions related to the first exhibition from a philosophical point of view. One of the central themes present in all the presentations was that of finality. The reading of each exhibition, in contrast to the first one, allows us to understand that Shuster's statements are clearly conditioned by the explicit purpose not to leave the scientific sphere. Other papers try to understand purpose from other levels of rationality, although they do not manage to achieve a characterisation that is satisfactory for all. It is clear that an adequate understanding of teleology remains at the basis of the problematicity of discussion between creation and evolution.

The most critical intervention with regard to the theory of evolution is the last one. Schönborn resists equating the scientific status of the theory of evolution with that already assumed for other sciences such as physics, and points out some of the objections he considers most serious. The discussion following this discussion paper offers interesting points, e.g., the Degree of scientific establishment of the theory of evolution, the ideological use that is made of it, the importance of considering different levels of rationality or reading of reality (topic , which Spaemann has explained at length), the need for faith in the understanding of the real, etc. It also provokes one of Benedict XVI's longest speeches.

Finally, Benedict XVI summarises some of the most salient points that have been made and concludes, in response to a dialogue between Schönborn and Wiedenhofer, with what could be considered a synthesis of his thinking on the issues addressed. He points out that we should not rely on faith alone to explain everything. Faith and reason go together, they complement each other: the rationality of the subject, which opens a window to the Creator Spirit, which must not be renounced, and the biblical faith in creation which has shown us the way to a civilisation of reason. This is a dimension of contact between the Greek and the biblical world. Nature is rational, but its rationality has limits: our vision of the real does not allow us a full understanding of God's plans. Moreover, in nature there remains the contingency and the enigma of the horrible. Nor can the Philosophy comprehend it. At this point the Philosophy calls for something further and faith sample gives us the Logos, which is the creative reason, which, in an incredible way, can become flesh, die and rise again. In this way we are given sample a Logos completely different from the one we can intuit and tentatively search for on the basis of the fundamentals of nature.

This book is not a treatise that seeks to reach firm conclusions in a systematic order. Instead, it offers a good issue of reflections that touch on core problems of the Philosophy of nature. There are many open questions and some ideas that help to locate the problems and glimpse their solutions.