Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Being Human and Christian in a Darwinian World: An Appreciation of Jozef Zycinski

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

Being Human and Christian in a Darwinian World: An Appreciation of Jozef Zycinski

Article excerpt

I AM HONORED TO PARTICIPATE in a symposium dedicated to the intellectual work of a unique Churchman, intellectual, and interpreter of science, whose premature passing is a deep loss to the Catholic and general intellectual world. (1) Over the years in the course of his visits to the University of Notre Dame and through other contacts, I came to appreciate the importance of Archbishop Jozef Zycinski's work as a philosopher of contemporary science, an informed spokesperson on the complexities of the theology and science interface, and a commentator on many contemporary issues created by the life sciences for Catholic thought. I was particularly drawn to his work on evolutionary theory, represented most substantially by his book God and Evolution: Fundamental Questions of Christian Evolutionism, a remarkably intelligent, deeply researched, and informed discussion of the wide range of issues surrounding Catholicism and evolutionary biology. (2) Some of these insights were then developed in a public address followed by an essay that may be his last publication on this topic, "Evolutionary Theism and the Emergent Universe," delivered in November 2009 to the Notre Dame Conference, "Darwinism in the 21st Century," one of the final international colloquia dedicated to the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th of the publication of On the Origin of Species. The address will be published in a special volume of papers from this conference now to be dedicated to Zycinski. I have also more recently been engaged with his reflections on modern biotechnology and the issues raised by such topics as stem-cell research.

In his address to the Notre Dame conference, Zycinski ranged widely across a spectrum of issues, dealing in particular with the debates over chance, design, and creation in the post-Darwinian period, and the ways these problems had been misconceived in the popular "evolution and creation" debates. Rather than explore these issues, however, my point of departure will be from a subordinate theme he also addressed, namely, the way in which humans can be related to and differentiated from the natural order, granting acceptance of an evolutionary picture of the human species. Following some remarks on my own approach to these questions, I will then discuss these issues in relation to the concept of an "ontological leap" as treated in the October 1996 Letter on Evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of Blessed Pope John Paul II. The final section will close with some issues raised in a late essay of Zycinski on biotechnology and the concept of human dignity.

This article is not intended to question the general validity of the Darwinian theory of species transformism by natural selection, which I consider to be the best available scientific explanation of the origins and diversity of the organic forms we see around us. I am also concerned to engage with what John Haught has termed "unedited" Darwinian theory--Darwinian theory as accepted and discussed generally within the scientific community--rather than pursuing discarded alternative neo-Lamarckian, orthogenetic, and strong teleological evolutionary theories. (3) I also do not minimize the detailed debates that surround certain points of evolutionary theory at present, such as those surrounding the long-standing debate over the competence of natural selection alone to explain macro as well as micro evolution, or the disputes currently dividing traditional population-genetics interpretations of Darwinism and those emphasizing the importance of developmental genetics, morphological constraints, and organismic considerations in evolution, commonly now termed "evodevo." (4) But it is not essential to my purpose that these intratheory disputes be adjudicated. My concern is to generate some new lines of reflection on the important question that makes the issue of evolution interesting--what does it really have to do with human beings as we now find them? …

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