Levels of Causation

In an article about an upcoming conference, John Allen reports:

“I want to affirm, as an a priori, the compatibility of the theory of evolution with the message of the Bible and the church’s theology,” Ravasi said.

Ravasi pointed out that Charles Darwin had never been condemned by the church, nor was his Origin of Species ever placed on the index of prohibited books. Ravasi brushed aside a question about whether the Catholic church should posthumously apologize to Darwin, as a senior British prelate has suggested the Church of England might do, with the quip that “we should abandon the notion of history as a court eternally in session.”

The setting was a Vatican briefing to announce a major academic conference in March 2009, organized by the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome and the University of Notre Dame in the United States, and co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture. The title is “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories,” to be held at the Gregorian in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Origin of Species.

Though organizers didn’t quite put it this way, one aim of the conference appears to be to correct impressions that the Catholic church has moved closer to Evangelical-style creationism or the “intelligent design” school. (In brief, creationism is based directly on scripture; intelligent design posits that scientific evidence supports the hypothesis of a designer.) In response to a question from a reporter, Jesuit Fr. Marc Leclerc of the Gregorian University said that exponents of creationism and intelligent design had not been invited to the congress.

Leclerc said of intelligent design that it “substitutes divine will for the mechanism which it is the province of science to study, even though this is obviously a matter of two distinct levels [of causation].”

Yes, clarity regarding the various categories of causation would aid the discussion.

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