Posted August 17, 2006
Interview with Peter Schuster
Conducted August 11, 2006
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Are you a Catholic?
How did you end up invited to Castelgandolfo?
When he published his New York Times piece, there was a partly angry excitement among scientists, though there was also some agreement with the cardinal in the broader society. Discussions followed in Austria with Schönborn, and I was invited by a group of physicists to give a talk on the subject in Traunkirchen. I presented a one-hour talk, then Schönborn spoke, followed by discussion. [Note: A Power Point version of Schusters talk is available here: http://www.tbi.univie.ac.at/~pks/Presentation/traunkirchen-05.pdf]
Generally speaking, we came to the conclusion that there was much less disagreement than we originally thought. Schönborn stayed away from his statement that biologists are promoting an ideology, and Im glad, because in essence its not true. Every biologist has the obligation to change his ideas when experiments contradict what he thought. Schönborn also agreed that neo-Darwinism [which he criticized in the New York Times piece] is a view from the 1950s, and that biology has developed much further, with new problems, since that time.
The only area of disagreement concerns whether there are conclusive points in nature which require the hypothesis of an intelligent designer. As molecular biologists, we do not need the intervention of an intelligent designer as the cause of evolution to explain what we see. The evidence certainly does not contradict the existence of a designer of nature, which is ultimately not a subject of science. We cannot draw conclusions that go beyond the observations that we have. The cardinal, on the other hand, argued that chance and randomness is not what we see when we look at nature. It was, I repeat, a very friendly discussion.
Is the cardinal concerned about evolution as a random
Its hard for a biologist to accept that mutation is directed by design, because we simply dont see evidence for that view.
Is there a need to distinguish between scientific and philosophical questions?
Lets put it this way: One could have the intervention at every moment of a designer, but as such that it does not interfere with the mechanisms of evolutions. It would give exactly the same result. As scientists, we have to apply the law of Ockhams Razor -- in choosing among differing explanations for the same phenomena, we have to opt for the simplest one.
In his New York Times piece, do you think Schönborn was
making a philosophical or a scientific argument?
That doesnt mean such a designer doesnt exist?
Lets go back to how you got on the guest list for
Does evolution disprove religious belief?
How do you feel about philosophers and theologians writing on
Would you say the same thing about scientists who draw philosophical
So when scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould make sweeping
philosophical statements, it troubles you?
There are good reasons to be careful about the uncritical use of scientific concepts in other areas, such as Social Darwinism. One cant transfer evolutionary concepts uncritically into study of human societies. It gives biology a bad name. A really good biologist would never do this.
What do you think will be the result of the Schülerkreis
... Im looking forward to a friendly discussion that hopefully can clarify many points about the additional evidence we have concerning evolutionary processes nowadays, which did not exist in the time of neo-Darwinism.
What are your impressions of the thinking of Benedict XVI on
Do you believe Benedict will take a somewhat different position than
What do you hope for at Castelgandolfo?
Whats your impression of broader Catholic opinion on
Within the general Catholic public, however, I think theres a big difference. Many were favorable to Schönborns statement on the basis of a general hostility toward scientists. Some think these scientists do terrible things -- they pollute the world, they created the atomic bomb, and now theyre destroying the dignity of human beings. These people wrote letters in favor of Schönborns position, though I have the impression he was not pleased with these letters. I think he may be a little reluctant to enjoy their support. ... There was an anti-intellectual element to these letters.
National Catholic Reporter, Posted August 17, 2006
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