Christoph Schoenborn, the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, touched off a controversy with a July 2005 New York Times op-ed hinting at a change in the Catholic Church’s position on the creationism-vs.-evolution debate. Tonight he delivered a 62-minute lecture here in Manhattan outlining a judicious middle ground on the controversy, accepting the scientific evidence on evolution but rejecting the philosophical claims that evolution disproves the existence of God or of purpose in the universe. (He said that it was time to reclaim Darwin from Darwinism.) The evening’s fireworks came when a representative of a traditional Catholic group called the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation asked the cardinal whether he would be interested in scientific evidence that disproves evolution. The cardinal dismissed the notion, replying that “I’m sorry,” but creation did not take six chronological days. He added that the same sort of biblical exegesis that led to such a conclusion would also require belief that the sun literally stood still in one of Joshua’s battles (Jos. 10:13).
It is hard to exclude the possibility that the events in Joshua actually occurred, unless one accepts a priori the hypothesis that miraculous events reported in the Old Testament are necessarily unhistorical–which hypothesis I believe Cardinal Schoenborn would hesitate to affirm. But in general, he outlined a credible way to affirm simultaneously both evolution and the intelligent design of the universe. His remarks are helpful, and I hope they will be published soon.