Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Ayala and Miller Question Pope

Francisco Ayala and Kenneth Miller (along with Lawrence Krauss) have sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI in regards to the recent statements from Cardinal Schonborn. For those unfamiliar with Schonborn's position, he essentially questions the unguided nature of the modern scientific view of biological evolution.

"Three scientists, two of them Roman Catholic biologists, have asked Pope Benedict XVI to clarify the church's position on evolution in light of recent statements by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, an influential theologian, that the modern theory of evolution may be incompatible with Catholic faith.

"The scientists asked the pope to reaffirm earlier statements on the subject by Pope John Paul II and others "that scientific rationality and the church's commitment to divine purpose and meaning in the universe were not incompatible.' It is crucial, their letter says, '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.'"

Both Ayala and Miller are well respected biologists (and Krauss is a famous physicist) who have published numerous books and peer reviewed articles. Ayala, who studied under the famed evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky, is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Both biologists are known for publicly reconciling their Catholic beliefs with their scientific pursuits. I consider Ayala and Miller much more informed and better equipped to discuss the interface of biology and religion than a Cardinal who was unknown in the biology community until his article was published by the NYTimes.

This is a big litmus test for the Pope -- will he side with the John Paul or Cardinal Schonborn? Of course, for those of us who couldn't give a rat's ass what the Vatican thinks about biology, this is merely a nice little story.

I do wonder, however, how the church's position on evolution affects the careers of Ayala and Miller. Does it really matter to them whether or not the Pope understands or supports the modern view of evolutionary biology? It seems to me that both are rational men capable of coming up with their own conclusions based on evidence and independently of church doctrine. Maybe they're just looking out for the large majority of Catholics who are not knowledgeable of the wealth of data supporting biological evolution; they probably don't want the average Catholic to be misled by poorly crafted religious ideology.


At 5:53 PM, Anonymous ThomH said...

First, thanks for staying on top of the news.

Second, and with all due respect, yes: this matters a great deal.

Not about the truth or validity of science, as unfortunately the issue gets framed, but as a matter of science education and public policy.

I've got a decent size rift on this here. Let me cut to some data, as it were.

## extract ##
There are 114 Jesuit colleges and universities in world; 28 of them in the United States. To stay with the USA, although 28 might seem a small number, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities includes Georgetown University, Fordham University, St. Louis University, St. Joseph’s University, Boston College and other well-recognized and respected institutions of higher education.

Likewise, the Jesuits are not the only Cathloic religious order involved with higher education. Moreover, the ratio of Catholic to non-Catholic colleges and universities doesn’t tell the entire story here.

If all the Catholic college and universities were to declare for intelligent design over evolution, the the impact would far exceed what the numbers might suggest: we would have a deep and perhaps irreconciable schism in American higher education.
## / extract ##

In other words, the worst case scenario would have deep and immediate implications for science education and public policy in the USA.

And yes, the fallout from it could very likely impede your work.

With the political-religious conservatives turned loose, we're set up for short but very ugly open season on science in America: our own variant of Lysenkoism

I doubt very much this is going to happen. But I'm frightened by the fact--based upon what I've seen the past few years--that it could. Check the polls on what people "believe."

I'm betting that Pope Benedict XVI blows the holy theological smoke out of his hat, rips off some face-saving mumbo-jumbo, and backs down.

Ayala, Miller and Krauss are doing absolutely the right thing. This is not about their careers--it's about keeping science education at Catholic institutions free of theological interference.

Put these fires out while they're small and manageable. If we've learned nothing else from 20th century history, it should have been that a handful of highly motivated ideologues can gain vast political power and will sacrafice science if need be to do so.

Precisly because this is madness we have to take it seriously.

Sorry for all the verbiage.

At 9:29 AM, Blogger RPM said...


I understand your concern. My point (muddled as it may have been) was that a religious body that has no right, responsibility, or credibility to propose or support an alternative to a well studied scientific field, should not have a major effect on research on the field. (Should being the operative word.)

Whether or not the science conflicts to the dogma is not my expertise, and I leave it up to those with a firm understanding of both the science and the religion (e.g., Ayala and Miller) to deal with such issues.

I guess I'm just generally frustrated with the role personal religion plays in public sector issues (such as science and politics), and I've never even understood how religion could be such a huge part of one's personal life. I was exposed to religion as a youth, it just never made much sense to me.

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous John A. Davison said...

My perspective has always been that it was a strategic error for the IDists to introduce Intelligent Desigb as a subject for debate. For me it is a given without which nothing in either ontogeny or phylogeny will ever make any sense. It is my carefully derived conviction that both ontogeny and phylogeny have proceeded largely if not completely independent of the environment through the controlled release (derepression) of preformed information. It is especially obvious in the case of ontogeny which presents a compelling model for phylogeny. The primary error that both Lamarck and Darwin made at the inception of their hypotheses was that there was an exogenous cause for evolution. There has never been a compelling case for that assumption beyond the undeniable reality that selection, natural or artificial, can produce varieties or subspecies. But that is all that can be done or was done as creative evolution. Macroevolution (true speciation and the formation of all the higher categories) resulted entirely from endogenous sources wich were auto-regulated and auto-terminated exactly as ontogeny proceeds now. I have summarized the evidence for this in my paper, A Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis, Rivista di Biologia 98(1): 157-166, 2005.

I realize this view is anathema to the Darwinian mentality but, quoting Martin Luther:

"Here I stand. I can do no otherwise."

At 8:42 PM, Anonymous ThomH said...

I agree with you completely that "a religious body that has no right, responsibility, or credibility to propose or support an alternative to a well studied scientific field."

Likewise, as you also state, I do not see why such groups should be influencing scientific research or science education.

John Sulston, a Nobel Laureate in Medicine, makes the distinction between knowledge and application of knowledge.

In regard to the application of knowledge, Sulston understands that as both an individual and collective responsibility--a matter that non-scientists have the right to weigh in on.

For example, I guess, just because we could someday soon clone politicans doesn't mean that we should. Or at least not spend taxpayer money doing so.

Here it seems to me people can make their ethical and moral arguments. Not about scientific knowledge, but about how we might use or apply that knowledge.

Though scientific literacy here, certainly, would help a great deal.

Sadly, some people who derive their authority from politics, religion, or even PhDs in the humanities, aren't happy with just that--they seem to want to weigh in on the validity of scientific knowledge.

I've witnessed this firsthand with some politicans, business folk, clergy, and non-science academics. Must be a gene. (Joke).

Peace out, and sorry for over-reacting.

At 9:09 PM, Anonymous John A. Davison said...


Your mention of it must be a gene is right on. There is no question that the way we observe and interpret the world has a genetic basis. I recommend William Wright's book "Born That Way."

Einstein, like myself, a confirmed determinist put it this way:

"Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion."

At 9:15 PM, Anonymous blogista said...

It cracks me up that somebody who wishes to be a "serious" scientist would propose something like a pre-programmed "time-release evolution". As a layman I know I'm going out on a limb but wouldn't some sort of preformatted genetic plan be laughably impossible to survive 3 billion years in order to deliver up the diversity of life on earth? Like, hilariously so? Like, so funny that only publications like "Rivista di Biologia" wish to include Mr. Davison's Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis? I don't expect any real answers to these questions; I'm just in a pithy mood tonight.

At 7:40 AM, Anonymous John A. Davison said...

Blogista may not expect any answers but here are some nevertheless.

Leo Berg, William Bateson, Otto Schindewolf and Pierre Grasse also proposed that internal factors determined evolution. I guess blogista, whoever that might be, feels that they were not serious scientists either. I am very comfortable with my sources as my papers testify.

I have no idea whether other journals might or might not be willing to publish my papers. I haven't tried them lately and have no intention of doing so. Of course if they solicit a contribution I will be happy to comply. I am always willing to expose Darwinism as the most failed hypothesis in the history of science. I've been doing it now for twenty-one years. It's great fun.

At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consider these words from George Gaylord Simpson, widely recognized as one of the principal architects of the neo-Darwinian synthesis: “The process [of evolution] is wholly natural in its operation. This natural process achieves the aspect of purpose without the intervention of a purposer; and it has produced a vast plan without the concurrent action of a planner. It may be that the initiation of the process and the physical laws under which it functions had a purpose and that this mechanistic way of achieving a plan is the instrument of a Planner - of this still deeper problem the scientist, as scientist, cannot speak.”
This remark of Dr. Simpson's matches John Paul II's 1985 general audience almost point for point! Since Cardinal Schonborn explicitly appeals from what he considers a vague 1996 statement to this 1985 audience by Pope John Paul, I think there is no logical grounds for real conflict here. I should, maybe, stop right there.
I agree that the question is one of two different meanings of the word "random". I think the Cardinal was a bit hasty in his view of neo-Darwinists.
However, I also think the Cardinal may be more sinned against than sinning!
Some of the more fevered and intemperate comments posted lead me to add one more remark:
"Premature theories about what the world means, and
private judgments about what the Bible means, have met in loud and widely advertised controversy...this collision of two very impatient forms of ignorance has been called the Quarrel Between Science and Religion" - G.K. Chesterton, in "Saint Thomas Aquinas"

Sincerely, "Mendel's Son"
(in a spiritual/scientific sense)

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mea culpa!
I should have stated that the Simpson quote (1st paragraph,above)was cited directly from Dr. Miller's article responding to Cardinal Schonborn.
Please forgive me as I forgive all the hasty, or to use Chesterton's term, "impatient" remarks to which I referred!
Sincerely, "Mendel's Son"

At 10:24 AM, Anonymous John A. Davison said...

Commenting on both ontogeny and phylogeny, Leo Berg:

"Neither in the one nor in the other is there room for chance."
Nomogenesis, page 134

So much for neoDarwinism.

At 10:32 AM, Anonymous John A.Davison said...

Blogista, whoever that may be. I do not want to be a "serious scientist." I AM a serious scientist which is why the professionals choose not to deal with me just as they have always refused to deal with Grasse, Bateson, Broom, Schindewolf, Berg, Mivart, Osborn, Punnett, Goldschmidt or anyone else that has exposed Darwinism as the pathetic failure it has always been. The Darwinians are constitutionally and apparently genetically unable to recopgnize that chance never had anything to do with evolution anymore than it does now with the development of the individual. My sources, listed above, all recognized that which is why they like myself are not allowed to exist.

Incidentally, it is Dr. not Mr. Davison and it has been now for exactly a half century. Thanks for admitting you have no credentials thereby explaining your transparently uninformed comments.

As I used to say over at EvC before Percy found it necesaary to ban me forever - Who is next?

At 3:55 PM, Anonymous John A. Davison said...

Since I may still post here (I hope) I would like to bring my current status in cyberspace up to date with the following bit. Stephen E. Jones has just denied me posting at CreationEvolutionDesign
By so doing he is henceforth known as Jephen E. Stones and can now join with Esley Welsberry, M.P. Zeyers, Dilliam Wembski, Lohn M. Jynch and Lenyse O'Deary who have all either denied me posting or engaged in deletion, denigration or lifetime banishment. Please spread the good news so others may learn what to expect of they find it necessary to descend to similar levels of mindless bigotry snd callous disregard for undeniable truth.

At 6:49 AM, Anonymous John A. Davison said...

Come on. Close this thread too. Be consistent. Muzzle me as others have. Join in. Be a team player. Or better yet, just ban me so you can reopen those threads that you closed.

In the meantime it is I who will go on practicing science and publishing it in hard copy. My latest paper submitted for publication is available over at Terry Trainor's forum. Read and enjoy. I can still post freely there even though he knows I do not agree with him on many matters. Take a lesson from Trainor. Of course you won't. You have already established that.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger RPM said...

Come on. Close this thread too. Be consistent. Muzzle me as others have. Join in. Be a team player. Or better yet, just ban me so you can reopen those threads that you closed.

I'm not closing the threads because of what you are saying, John; they're closed because of how you are doing it (by annoyingly posting comment after comment and directly harassing me). I don't mind you posting your alternative opinion - as wrong as it may be - but I cannot tolerate the non-sequitors and personal attacks. Feel free to post comments relevant to the thread you are commenting on, but don't accuse me of being part of some Darwinian establishment or muzzling you because of your beliefs.

And, yes, this comments thread is now closed.


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