Sunday, May 31, 2009

2-18-2007: 7th Ordinary Time (C)

1 Samuel 26:7-9,12-13,22-23/Psalm 103/1 Corinthians 15:45-49/Luke 6:27-38
In today’s second reading St. Paul offers a view of our origins and destiny, differentiating between the natural and the spiritual: human beings as bearers of both an earthly image and a heavenly one. Although he wouldn’t have had a clue, St. Paul offers a segue into the on-going debate between science and religion, reason and faith and, more specifically, between evolutionary theory and so-called “creationism.”

Last week (thanks to the kindness of Hermine McQuillan) I had the opportunity of attending a lecture by Cardinal Christoph Schönbron, Archbishop of Vienna, who was the center of controversy last year when he penned an op-ed piece in the New York Times on the current debate vis-à-vis evolutionary theory and religious faith. His topic: “Faith, Reason and Science – Supplementary Notes on the Evolution Debate.”

One of the Cardinal’s cardinal points was that the debate between science and faith continue – but without retreat into ideology. Evidence of ideological infiltration might be seen in referencing “-isms”. Can’t Darwinian evolutionary theory be engaged without resorting to “Darwinism”? Can’t the biblical creation accounts be studied without resorting to a literalist “Creationism”? In other words, is it so improper for science to admit the reality of the immaterial, i.e. the spiritual. Or, to use the Cardinal’s analogy: one can study the letters of a text ad infinitum, but it’s only when the letters are read as a text – in context – does meaning emerge. What makes the individual letters into an intelligible whole? That intelligibility seems to be what science sometimes ignores. Likewise, religion need not hide behind a pseudo-science like Creationism. The notion that the earth is only 6,000 years old is simply unacceptable: Schönbron used the word ridiculous. One could argue that strict Darwinists and fundamentalist Christians have more in common than they would like to admit; ignoring the elephant in the living room, they just can’t permit themselves to think outside the box.

Schönbron’s critics would have you think he was arguing against any evolutionary theory. Not at all. I believe he simply wants to challenge the notion of an evolutionary theory that is based solely on chance – blind luck -- the chance amalgamation of certain chemicals and proteins from which humanity emerged. Perhaps he simply wants us, whether believers or not, to start to read between the lines of the text, to try and see the bigger picture. Although there might be only a one-percent differential between human and chimpanzee DNA, it’s the human being, and not the chimpanzee, who seeks to understand why. On the one hand, religion cannot ignore the material reality inherent in that scientific fact; and science should not ignore the “immaterial” reality likewise implied.

Over fifty years ago Pope Pius XII declared evolutionary theory was not inimical to Catholic Faith and, quite recently, Pope John Paul II restated the same. Cardinal Schönbron seems to be pushing us to delve further into this great mystery of human origins and destiny, challenging the believer in random evolution as much as he challenges the creationist. Science and religion speak two different languages in regard to human origins – they each require translation.

Listening to the Cardinal reminded me of something Simone Weil once wrote that seems apropos to the debate. “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him,” Weil said, “because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go to the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.” Not bad advice, that.

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