Saturday, July 09, 2005

Roman skepticism   posted by Razib @ 7/09/2005 02:03:00 PM

It seems a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church has been reading Intelligent Design talking points. This has many individuals worried, both Catholic and non-Catholic, as the Church's general stance in favor of common descent has been a valuable arrow in the arsenal of those who wish to move beyond the conception that evolutionary theory, broadly speaking, excludes theism.1 For me the key point to hone in on is that the Cardinal states that evolution is purely a process of "of random variation and natural selection." The emphasis on the perceived "random" aspect of evolutionary theory is something that many critics like to linger upon because it is a clear philosophical wedge that can be used to peel away theists who believe in a personal Creator. But it is a philosophical issue in the end, and I am confident that Roman Catholic theologians can uphold the Kantian division between the two realms (the means are irrelevant to me as I am not a believer, I have faith in Jesuitical cleverness). An important point to remember though is that natural selection is not random, and I suspect that Stephen Jay Gould's quip that if you rewound the clock of life and allowed evolution to proceed once more that the diversity of the world would flower in a wholly unrecognizable form is probably a minority view among evolutionary biologists.2 Certainly there would be significant differences, but the convergent evolution of similar body forms among various groups of animals tells us that there are canals of development and adaptation strewn across nature's palette (though to be frank, I do not believe that intelligence and sentience is one of those inevitable canals3).

Related: Benedict XVI and evolution.

1 - The Cardinal does not reject common descent.

2 - Orthodox Neo-Darwinians will likely grant that selection leaves the mark of adaptations that seem "designed" for a particular function. The key point though is that once you scratch beyond the surface and examine the evidence of sub-optimality and developmental constraint due to phylogenetic history it is more difficult to hold to the assertion that the Most Perfect Creation implies a Most Perfect Creator.

3 - See Life's Solution : Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe by the paleontologist (and theist) Simon Conway Morris for an alternative viewpoint.