July 12, 2005
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
00120 Vatican City
In his magnificent letter to the Pontifical Academy in 1996 regarding the subject of Evolution, Pope John Paul II affirmed that scientific rationality and the Church's spiritual commitment to divine purpose and meaning in the Universe were not incompatible. The Pope accepted that biological Evolution had progressed beyond the hypothetical stage as a guiding principle behind the understanding of the evolution of diverse life forms on Earth, including humans. At the same time, he rightly recognized that the spiritual significance that one draws from the scientific observations and theory lie outside of the scientific theories themselves. In this sense, claiming that evolution definitely implies a lack of divinity, and/or divine purpose in nature is as much an affront to science as it is to the Church.
The Holy Father also recognized: "It is important to set proper limits to the understanding of Scripture, excluding any unseasonable interpretations which would make it mean something which it is not intended to mean. In order to mark out the limits of their own proper fields, theologians and those working on the exegesis of the Scripture need to be well informed regarding the results of the latest scientific research." Since scientific investigations have repeatedly confirmed evolution by natural selection as a guiding principle for understanding the development of the diversity of life on Earth, theologians who are interested in exploring such questions as human dignity and purpose must take this mechanism into account in their considerations. As he put it, quoting from Leo XIII, truth cannot contradict truth.
These principles were reinforced more recently in explicit statements by the International Theological Commission, headed by you before your election as Pope. As the Commission document explicitly states, "God is...the cause of causes." As a result, "Through the activity of natural causes, God causes to arise those conditions required for the emergence and support of living organisms, and, furthermore, for their reproduction and differentiation." Finally, referring to evolution as a "radically contingent materialistic process driven by natural selection and random genetic variation", the commission nevertheless concluded "even the outcome of a truly contingent natural process can nonetheless fall within God's providential plan for creation."
Scientists have been pleased to see a convergence between the views of the Catholic Church and the scientific community on these issues, in particular on the compatibility between the results of scientific investigation and Church theology. One of us recently wrote an essay in the New York Times, for example (see attached), praising precisely the Church's understanding of the compatibility of scientific investigation and religious belief, even when the process being investigated, like Evolution, appears completely contingent.
This week, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, however, appeared to dangerously redefine the Church's view on Evolution. In an essay, also published in the New York Times (see attached), he claimed that "Evolution in the Neo-Darwinian sense... is not true". Moreover, he argued that if divine design was not "overwhelmingly evident" then the associated claims must be viewed as ideology, and not science. He attacked not only Neo-Darwinism, but also the multiverse hypothesis of modern cosmology, both of which he claimed were "invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science". Equally worrisome, in his effort to claim a line between the theory of evolution and religious faith, Cardinal Schšnborn dismissed the marvelous 1996 message of Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy, calling it "rather vague and unimportant".
It is vitally important, however, that in these difficult and contentious times the Catholic Church not build a new divide, long ago eradicated, between the scientific method and religious belief. We are writing to you today to request that you clarify once again the Church's position on Evolution and Science, that you reaffirm the remarkable statements of Pope John Paul II and the International Theological Commission, so that it will be clear that Cardinal Schönborn's remarks do not reflect the views of the Holy See.
We thank you for your consideration to this request, and wish you continued strength and wisdom as you continue to lead the Catholic Church in these difficult times.
Lawrence M. Krauss (Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics, Professor of Astronomy, and Director, Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics, Case Western Reserve University)
Francisco Ayala (University Professor and Donal Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of Calfornia, Irvine)
Kenneth R. Miller (Prof of Biology, Brown University)
cc. His Eminence Cardinal Christoph Schönborn,
His Excellency William J. Levada, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.