Franz von Assisi, Patron der Ökologie


In “Laudato Si” weist uns Papst Franziskus einen Weg: durch  Einheit mit Gott, durch das Streben nach Heiligkeit zum richtigen Verhältnis zur Natur und Umwelt:

„Die Harmonie zwischen dem Schöpfer, der Menschheit und der gesamten Schöpfung wurde zerstört durch unsere Anmaßung, den Platz Gottes einzunehmen, da wir uns geweigert haben anzuerkennen, dass wir begrenzte Geschöpfe sind. Diese Tatsache verfälschte auch den Auftrag, uns die Erde zu „unterwerfen“ (vgl. Gen 1,28) und sie zu „bebauen“ und zu „hüten“ (vgl.Gen 2,15). Als Folge verwandelte sich die ursprünglich harmonische Beziehung zwischen dem Menschen und der Natur in einen Konflikt (vgl. Gen 3,17-19). Darum ist es bedeutungsvoll, dass die Harmonie, in der der heilige Franziskus von Assisi mit allen Geschöpfen lebte, als eine Heilung jenes Bruches interpretiert wurde. Der heilige Bonaventura sagte, dass Franziskus, „da er mit allen Geschöpfen in Frieden war“, wieder in „den Zustand vor der Ursünde“ gelangte. Weit von diesem Vorbild entfernt, zeigt sich die Sünde heute mit all ihrer Zerstörungskraft in den Kriegen, in den verschiedenen Formen von Gewalt und Misshandlung, in der Vernachlässigung der Schwächsten und in den Angriffen auf die Natur.“ (LS 66)

Ein starkes und kräftiges Bild – ja wohl auch mehr, ein Programm:  Franziskus schreitet  gleichsam in den Zustand der ursprünglichen Harmonie zwischen Gott, Mensch und Mit-Geschöpf „zurück“ – das Ziel vor sich. Und gerade darin besteht auch die „ökologische Umkehr“, die der Papst von jedem von uns einfordert. Nicht nur ein einmaliges „Ja“ zur guten Sache, sondern eine beständige Bemühung, dieses harmonische Miteinander in unserem Leben anzustreben, in unsere Entscheidungen miteinzubeziehen. Und zwar nicht nur als „gute Sache“, sondern als Bestandteil des „guten“, des „richtigen“ Lebens.


Arabic precursors of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution


Did you know that the theory of evolution did not only have precursors in our own scientific cultural environment, but also in the arabic world, dating back to the 9th century? – Now you know.

… the serious scientific discussions on evolution began at least a thousand years before Charles Darwin, mainly by Muslim scholars. Abu Uthman ‘Amr ibn Bahr, commonly known as Al-Jahiz, was the originator of the idea of evolution through his famous book entitled “Kitab al-Hayawan” (“The Book of the Animals”). Al-Jahiz was an Arab prose writer, the author of works on adab, philosophy, Mu’tazili theology, politico-religious polemics and scientific essays. He was born in Basra in 776 and learned various disciplines at different mosque circles.  Later he joined Mu’tazili circles and bourgeois saloons in Basra, Baghdad and Samarra, where conversations were animated by philosophical, theological and scientific problems.

In his “Kitab al-Hayawan”, Al-Jahiz introduced the concept of food chains and also proposed a scheme of animal evolution that entailed natural selection, environmental determinism and possibly the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In difference from modern evolutionary theory, for Al-Jahiz, the will of Allah served as the antecedent or originator for all mutation and transformations. As he suggested, inanimate elevates to plant level and animals are evolved from plants. Man, according to Al-Jahiz, was an evolutionary stage of animals. He also widely discussed the concepts of struggle for existence, adaptation and animal psychology, the concepts that make the pivot of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

read more here: FROM AL-JAHIZ (776-868) TO CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882) — HistoriaFactory

William Paley: “There must be chance in the midst of design”


Did William Paley really say this?

paley chance

On 25 May 1805 William Paley died. He is best known for his work “Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature” in which he compared God to a watchmaker. When I found this quote shared on twitter and facebook by The Economist on occasion of the anniversary, I asked: “Did he really say this?” YES. But only as a premise to be contradicted.  So, in fact:   NO. He did see chance only as an appearance of chance, like the accidental coincidence of two designed events, or chance as the result of the ignorance of the observer. [1]

We should acknowledge that in his time, chance and randomness had not yet the same importance as in our times. He knew nothing about radioactivity or Brownian notion. He did not know about DNA and random mutations.

Continue reading

Medieval Polyptych – from the Passion of Christ to Pentecost


Alte Galerie

This altarpiece is in the Alte Galerie, Graz, Styria. In the middle ages, winged altars served the purpose to explain the bible to the faithful (printed books came later). Often, panels were painted on the front and the back and could be folded according to the liturgical season (displaying the Passion of Christ in Lent and other scenes from Christ’s life during the rest of the year).
I liked this particularly because it brings Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection and Christ’s sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost into a unity.

I miss you, and I miss this smile


A reflection for Mother’s Day

A few days ago, I discovered both my parents mentioned on the internet: Nabila, a young lady that majored in Geodesy – the field my father taught, writes on her blog about the “Queen of the night” (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) that started to blossom and adds:

I remember something I read from a book by Helmut Moritz, Science, Religion and Tolerance:
My wife was a botanist. When were walking and she saw a particularly beautiful flower, she used to say with a smile: “Alles Zufall?” (All this is pure chance?).

Source: The Queen of the Night in Full Bloom


Yes, this smile was very characteristic. When I visited her in October 2002, a few days prior to her leaving this world (very unexpected I must say), she smiled like saying: “I am happy you made it here!” – Austria is small, the travel is just 250 km…, anyway! This smile will stay with me as long as I live.

Mother’s Day is approaching fast. When I lost my mother, I knew, my childhood is definitively over. Part of it is gone. That is tough for anyone, independently of the age when this happens to you.
Mother’s Day then is a day for being grateful for what she lived and tried to give to me, in particular:

  1. Passion for biology and nature. My mother knew every plant, every tree, by Latin and German name, and family. As a child I found this pretty boring, but when I was thirteen or fourteen, I got it! We spent long time together collecting and and classifying plants. And I asked non-stop … When I started my College education, my colleagues asked me: “Why do you know this belongs to the (… let’s say) Scrophulariaceae”? I said: “I don’t know, I just see that.” – Year-long, patient training  by my mom.
  2.  Faith informed by study and impregnated by prayer. My mother started the endeavor of faith alone, my father was an agnostic at the time they married and found to the Catholic faith later in his life. Therefore, my mother was the first to educate us in the faith. She was our family expert on theological questions [1] and a role model on living a prayer and sacramental life in the middle of her everyday tasks and occupations.
  3. Her attitudes: Be positive. Learning is a life-long task.  Smile even if life may be rough. – She never gave me these advices in words. But in deeds, yes. I am working on putting them in practice. Work in progress.



Our Lady of Mariazell

I have another mother that is also smiling at me like a good mother does. But she is only smiling if I need this. Most often she is looking at me telling me that I should look at her Son, or she has a sad look, or a contemplative one. When Saint Teresa de Avila was loosing her mother at young age, she went to a image of Our Lady and told her: “Now, you need to take care of me like my mother”. [2]

Maybe, it is more than a conicidence that we celebrate Mother’s Day in May, the month that we dedicate to Our Lady?

This statue is Our Lady of Mariazell in Styria, Austria. She usually wears robes (beautifully crafted). Very few pictures exist of the statue from the middle ages in which Mary looks at us and tells us: “go to Him!” In the reverse, we can go to her and ask her: “Show us Jesus!” – This was the motto of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Austria in 2007 and is taken from the final words of Deus Caritas est.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
you have given the world its true light,
Jesus, your Son – the Son of God.
You abandoned yourself completely
to God’s call
and thus became a wellspring
of the goodness which flows forth from him.
Show us Jesus. Lead us to him.
Teach us to know and love him,
so that we too can become
capable of true love
and be fountains of living water
in the midst of a thirsting world.

May she be our consolation in times when we miss our beloved parents or family members, leading us to her Son – and through Him to heaven.


[1] In the foreward to his book  Science, Mind and the Universe  – An Introduction to Natural Philosophy, my father wrote the following: “Last but not least, my wife Gerlinde read various versions of the manuscript and was my adviser in questions of biology and theology, besides confirming that the book can be read also without mathematics.”

[2] The story more literally: Saint Teresa of Avila Virgin, Foundress—1515-1582 A.D. – Feast: October 15

Lima beans, parasitic wasps and Charles Darwin


When Lima beans are attacked by a caterpillar, they know how to defend themselves:

Plants have evolved a wide range of direct and indirect defensive strategies against being eaten by herbivores, like the indirect defense using semio-chemicals, i.e. chemicals that carry a message. The caterpillar of Spodoptera littoralis [1], the African cotton leafworm or Egyptian cotton leafworm, is a noctuid moth found widely in Africa and Mediterranean Europe. The cotton leafworm caterpillar is attacked by two parasitic wasps, one belonging to the Ichneumonidae, the other one to the Braconidae.[2]

We are amazed by the “smart” defense mechanism that plants have evolved during their evolutionary past.

But these parasitic wasps? If we remember correctly, Ichneumonidae are bad guys, at least this is their reputation.  Charles Darwin (who died on this day in 1882) wrote in a letter to his friend Asa Gray on 22 May 1860:

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.

Would Charles Darwin have judged differently had he known that plants have called the Ichmeumonidae to help them defend themselves? I don’t know. But I doubt it.

Charles Darwin’s concept of God was one of “God as Designer”, as portrayed by William Paley. This concept is outdated in a world where we think in ecosystems, and in interconnectedness.

In the 21th century, we need another perspective on God’s action in creation.  I propose the following text in Pope Francis encyclical “Laudato Si”:

Creating a world in need of development, God in some way sought to limit himself in such a way that many of the things we think of as evils, dangers or sources of suffering, are in reality part of the pains of childbirth which he uses to draw us into the act of cooperation with the Creator.(49) God is intimately present to each being, without impinging on the autonomy of his creature, and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs (50). His divine presence, which ensures the subsistence and growth of each being, “continues the work of creation”.(51) The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers the wherewithal to move themselves to take the form of a ship”(52). [3]


[1] Mithöfer A, Wanner G, Boland W. Effects of Feeding Spodoptera littoralis on Lima Bean Leaves. II. Continuous Mechanical Wounding Resembling Insect Feeding Is Sufficient to Elicit Herbivory-Related Volatile Emission. Plant Physiology. 2005;137(3):1160-1168. doi:10.1104/pp.104.054460.

[2] Morales, J, Medina, P, Vinuela, E. The influence of two endoparasitic wasps, Hyposoter didymator and Chelonus inanitus, on the growth and food consumption of their host larva Spodoptera littoralis. BioControl 2006; 52, 145-160. doi: 10.1007/s10526-006-9026-4

[3] Pope Francis, Laudato Si, 80; (49) : cf CCC 310; (50) Gaudium et Spes 36; (51) Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 104, art. 1 ad 4; (52) Ibid., In octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis expositio, Lib. II, lectio 14