He [John Paul II] recommended a program of dialogue and interaction, in which science and religion would seek neither to supplant each other nor to ignore each other. . . . Science can purify religion from error and superstition, while religion purifies science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each discipline should therefore retain its integrity and yet be open to the insights and discoveries of the other.Cardinal Dulles moves on to discuss the three common Catholic positions on evolution.
1.) Theistic evolution: "God initiates the process by producing from the first instant of creation (the Big Bang) the matter and energies that will gradually develop into vegetable, animal, and eventually human life on this earth and perhaps elsewhere." Francis Collins is perhaps the most notable proponent of this view.
2.) Intelligent design (ID): "[T]he development does not occur without divine intervention at certain stages, producing irreducibly complex organs."
3.) Teleological critique: "Becaues of the ontological gap that separates the living from the nonliving, the emergence of life cannot be accounted for on the basis of purely mechanical principles." Furthermore, "the forward thrust of evolution and its breakthroughs into higher grades of being depend upon the dynamic presence of God to his creation."
All three positions are "sustainable in a Christian philosophy of nature," yet the first two have significant weaknesses. Theistic evolution is often dangerously close to Deism, and Intelligent Design runs the risk of using as evidence things for which science may soon find an explanation. As Dulles wisely remarks, "[h]istory teaches us that the 'God of the gaps' often proves to be an illusion."
Notably, strict creationism hardly merits a mention.
I suppose that I should have guessed a Thomist/Aristotelian teleological position would appear in the article, but it actually took me by surprise. In Protestant circles, we seem to still be talking about creationism vs. ID vs. Theistic Evolution, a debate which goes in circles due to the aforementioned weaknesses. In public debates, Design too often comes off as a soft version of creationism, a sort of back door through which fundamentalists can get their world view back into textbooks. And, conversely, I suppose that opponents of Theistic Evolution see that as a back door through which Darwinists can get their world view into the church.
As usual, it's the Thomistic point of view that really illuminates what happens in our culture. It's philosophically sophisticated, and it certainly can't be labeled as soft modernism. Indeed, it takes us back to medieval thinkers. Yes, this looks to be the way forward.
Finally, Cardinal Dulles quotes Terry Eagleton's review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and I can't resist putting it here:
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge is The Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. . . . If card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins [were asked] to pass judgment on the geopolitics of South Africa, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.