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Polish scholar’s lecture utilizes past writings

Ryan Sydlik | Wednesday, November 1, 2006

International scholar and Catholic leader Archbishop Jozef Zycinski of Lublin, Poland attempted to reconcile evolution and cosmology with theology and philosophy in a lecture Tuesday, delivered to a crowded room in the Hesburgh Center for International Studies.

Zycinski, who is also the grand chancellor of John Paul II Catholic University, cited the writings of many philosophers, theologians and scientists, both historical and contemporary in his lecture titled, “Determinism and Finality in Philosophical Evolution.” The lecture was part of an ongoing series by the Riley Center on Science, Technology and Values on the philosophy and theology of science.

“Ten years ago on October 26, 1996, John Paul II addressed the Pontifical Academy of Science, and in his famous address, he told there is no opposition between the Christian interpretation of Creation and the evolutionary theory,” said Zycinski, setting the tone for the rest of the lecture.

Zycinski said Pope John Paul II believed evolution was an important element to many scientific disciplines.

“The theory of evolution cannot be treated as a hypothesis, because it is much more than a hypothesis,” said Zycinski, quoting John Paul II.

Zycinski said while different academic disciplines utilize different terminology, they are speaking of the same things.

“The same Mrs. Smith could be regarded as a set of whirling electrons by … a physicist, by a biologist she could be regarded as a species of homo sapiens, and by a theologian, as a child of God,” he said. “These three visions are complimentary. The three of them should be accepted.”

Zycinski was critical of the practice of giving supernatural explanations for natural events without regard for science.

“If an … astronomer is to be a … scientist, he cannot refer to the angels to explain the orbits of planets because the angel is not a natural object,” he said. “Secondly, if we … introduce the angels to explain something in nature, one could always refer to the angels to explain anything … astronomy could be reduced to applied angelology.”

Zycinski was also critical of those who refused to use God to explain the realities of evolution, relying instead on simple explanations and holding to the principle of Occam’s razor – which, in short, is the theory that the simplest answer is the correct one.

“Occam’s Razor is methodological in nature, not doctrinal,” he said. “And with Occam’s razor, as with any razor, one should be cautious.”

Zycinski said Occam’s Razor has often played a negative role in science, citing the example of 19th century philosophers who disregarded the existence of extragalactic objects in favor of a simpler, but a very incorrect model of a one-galaxy universe.

Zycinski said Occam’s Razor is sometimes useful, but in contemporary philosophy of science a “de-Occamization” is taking place.

“One should not look for the most simple solution when we need much more sophisticated mathematics, methodology and references to various factors,” he said.

Zycinski spoke about teleology, in which evolution is viewed as a means to an end, rather than a completely random occurrence. He rejected a simplistic version of teleology, which says human evolution is divinely influenced, because there are too many different coincidences and probabilities for it to have otherwise occurred. Zycinski did, however, embrace instead the idea that the whole universe has a purpose in proceeding toward an end.

The archbishop brought up the Netter theorem as an example of one that mixes causal and final explanations, saying that a clear opposition between causal and final explanations is a simplistic and outdated view.

“The structure of nature is such that the language of determinists and the language of teleology are mutually consistent, dependent and complimentary.”

Zycinski brought up the writings of Richard Feinman on quantum field theory, which he says justifies the idea of purposefulness in nature.

The archbishop said God is not as much of a designer as He is an artist.

“When we accept the evolving concept of nature, God the creator could be understood as both a composer and a conductor,” he said.

Zycinski said God is a conductor because he created the laws of nature, and a composer because he encourages Creation to be attracted to him through persuasion, such as through human free will.

Zycinski said many authors compare the role of God to the role of attractor in physics, which is the final element that attracts to itself the evolution of what is around it.

“Cosmic evolution lasted 13.7 billion years … Mitochondrial Eve is placed 90,000 years ago,” he said. “It means that [for] more than 99.99 percent of cosmic evolution, there was no human observer.”

Zycinski said there are skeptics who argue that the universe began without humans and will continue on without them. His response to them is that the future is not determined.

“God attracts cosmic evolution to His ideas of beauty,” he said. “It depends on us if we will follow His examples in expressing our freedom.”

Zycinski is visiting Notre Dame as part of a lecture series on Catholic and Jewish relations, sponsored by the Nanovic Institute.