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Cardinal Dulles on Evolution, Atheism and Religious Belief


Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., signs copies of his book for attendees at Fordham Prep following the Spring McGinley Lecture.
Photo by Ken Levinson

Humans are “programmed to seek eternal life in union with God, the personal source and goal of everything that is true and good,” said Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Ph.D., Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society “This natural desire to gaze upon Him, while it may be suppressed for a time, cannot be eradicated.”

Cardinal Dulles delivered his remarks on “Evolution, Atheism and Religious Belief” at the 37th McGinley Lecture, on Tuesday, April 17. In discussing three ways in which Christians might view evolution, the cardinal said that science can “cast a brilliant light on the processes of nature,” and used correctly can improve life on Earth, but science “performs a disservice when it claims to be the only valid form of knowledge, displacing the esthetic, the interpersonal, the philosophical, and the religious.”

Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, began the evening with a moment of silent prayer for the souls of those killed in the Virginia Tech tragedy and their loved ones. In his introduction, Father McShane noted that Cardinal Dulles, already the author of 750 articles and 22 books, would have a collection of his McGinley Lectures published by Fordham University Press in fall 2007, and that the lecture was the cardinal’s first since he received the Bene MerentiMedal for 20 years of service to the University.

Despite the stormy weather, a large crowd filled the Leonard Theatre at Fordham Preparatory School, on the Rose Hill campus, for the Spring McGinley Lecture. Cardinal Dulles drew enthusiastic applause, and a few laughs, from the audience. Quoting Justin Barrett, an evolutionary psychologist and practicing Christian, the cardinal said, “‘Why wouldn’t God design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?’ Even if these mental phenomena can be explained scientifically, the psychological explanation does not mean that we should stop believing. ‘Suppose that science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me,’ [Barrett] writes, ‘should I then stop believing that she does?’”

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., flanked by Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham (left), and Vincent J. Duminuco, S.J., rector of Fordham’s Jesuit community and director of the International Jesuit Education Leadership Project and the O’Hare Program in Jesuit Education, Graduate School of Education, before the start of the Spring McGinley Lecture.
Photo by Ken Levinson

Accompanied on the stage by Vincent J. Duminuco, S.J., rector of Fordham’s Jesuit community, Cardinal Dulles said that the church has consistently maintained that the human soul is created by God, rather than a product of any biological cause. “This doctrine, to my mind, raises the question whether God is not necessarily involved in the fashioning of the human body, since … the human body comes to be when the soul is infused,” he said. “Even though it may be difficult for the scientist to detect the point at which the evolving body passes from the anthropoid to the human, it would be absurd for a brute animal, say a chimpanzee, to possess a body perfectly identical with the human.”

Cardinal Dulles said he believes scientific discoveries about evolution will likely enrich religion and theology, “ God reveals himself through the book of nature as well as through redemptive history,” but that “The recent outburst of atheistic scientism is an ominous sign. If unchecked, this arrogance could lead to a resumption of the senseless warfare that raged in the nineteenth century….”

In contrast, the cardinal concluded, “the kind of dialogue between evolutionary science and theology proposed by Pope John Paul II can overcome the alienation and lead to authentic progress both for science and for religion.”


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