Coyne, George V., S.J. Evolution and the Human Person: The Pope in Dialogue."
George Coyne presents an
interpretive article for John Paul IIs preceding statements on evolution and
the human person. Coyne sets the context by starting with the historical
background of the Popes statement which he describes in terms of three
approaches to science and religion. During the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, the Church attempted to appropriate modern science to establish a
rational foundation for religious belief. Paradoxically, this led to the
corruption of faith and contributed to the rise of modern atheism. The founding
of the Vatican Observatory in 1891 signals the second approach. Here the Church
attempted to combat anticlericalism by a vigorous, even triumphalistic, agenda.
Finally, the twentieth century has seen the Church come to view science as
offering rational support for theological doctrine. Coyne cites Pope Pius XII
who, in 1952, took Big Bang cosmology as bearing witness to the contingency
of the universe and to its creation by God.
Still, in three prior
statements and in the current one, John Paul II has taken a new approach.
Though the Galilean controversy was important to the first two approaches, what
Coyne takes to be the key element is John Paul IIs call for a genuine and
open-ended dialogue in which science and religion, though distinct and marked
by their own integrity, can contribute positively to each other. Dialogue sets
the context for John Paul IIs discussion of evolution.
The discussion is, in fact,
mostly scientific, drawing first from research in the life sciences, next from
molecular chemistry to life in the evolving universe, and finally to the
possibility of early primitive life on Mars and the discovery of extra-solar
planets. John Paul II stresses that, though evolution is an established
scientific theory, philosophy and theology enter into its formulation, leading
to several distinct and competing evolutionary world-views. Some of these - materialism,
reductionism, and spiritualism - are rejected outright. Instead a genuine
dialogue begins as the papal message struggles with two views which may or may
not be compatible: evolution according to science and the intervention by God
to create the human soul.
Thus dialogue risks
dissonance between science and religion. Revelation is given an antecedent and
primary role compared with scientific discovery. Yet the religious message
struggles to remain open, perhaps through a reinterpretation of what science
tells us. One possibility would be the body-soul dualism taken by Pius XII.
Instead John Paul shifts from an ontological to an epistemological
interpretation of the appearance of what he then calls the spiritual in
humanity. The message closes by indicating that the dialogue should continue.
Here Coyne adds that in doing so we think in terms of Gods continuous creation
through the process of evolution. Rather than intervening, God gives the world
freedom to evolve and participates in the process through love. Perhaps this
approach can preserve what is special about the emergence of spirit without
resort to interventionism.
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