A Cautious Man
February 11, 2009
Part Man, Part Monkey?
Every once in a while around here, we ruminate about evolution vs. intelligent design (or "ID"). As I've said here before, about ID proponents: "Instead of considering that the God they believe in could have created a universe where natural processes come together to result in intelligent life (an amazing thing if you think about it), they insist that there's some 'trick' that had to have taken place. They insist that somewhere we can see the 'seams', where creation came together, where something not 'natural' can be seen and therefore 'prove' the existence of God. And, they argue that opposition to them is somehow opposition to people of faith." In that same old post back in 2005, I had quoted the Director of the Vatican Observatory, who wrote:

There appears to exist a nagging fear in the Church that a universe, which science has established as evolving for 13.7 x 1 billion years since the Big Bang and in which life, beginning in its most primitive forms at about 12 x 1 billion years from the Big Bang, evolved through a process of random genetic mutations and natural selection, escapes God’s dominion. That fear is groundless. Science is completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications that may be drawn from its conclusions. Those conclusions are always subject to improvement. That is why science is such an interesting adventure and scientists curiously interesting creatures. But for someone to deny the best of today’s science on religious grounds is to live in that groundless fear just mentioned.

This stress on our scientific knowledge is not to place a limitation upon God. Far from it. It reveals a God who made a universe that has within it a certain dynamism and thus participates in the very creativity of God. Such a view of creation can be found in early Christian writings, especially in those of St Augustine in his comments on Genesis. If they respect the results of modern science and, indeed, the best of modern biblical research, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly.

So, it wasn't much of a surprise to read this in today's news:

The Vatican said this week that Darwin's theory of evolution fits in with Christianity despite its conflicts with the biblical Genesis.

The declaration appeared to settle speculation that Pope Benedict XVI might officially endorse the rival theory of intelligent design, which has gained a staunch following among some fundamentalist Christians, The Times of London said Wednesday.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said Tuesday that evolution's role in the world after the creation could be traced back to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

"In fact, what we mean by evolution is the world as created by God," said Ravasi.

The Vatican will hold a conference next month to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's book "Origin of the Species." The Times said intelligent design would not be on the agenda.

Actually, the Vatican's conference on Darwin will include a discussion of ID, but not in a way which will please ID's proponents:

Organizers of the March 3-7 conference did not explain at a news conference Tuesday why they had decided to include discussion of the view that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone, and that a higher power has had a hand in changes among species over time.

"The committee agreed to consider ID as a phenomenon of an ideological and cultural nature, thus worthy of a historic examination, but certainly not to be discussed on scientific, philosophical or theological grounds," said Saverio Forestiero, a conference organizer and professor of zoology at the University of Rome.

One can only hope that this has an impact over on this side of the pond, in particular on right-wing politicians who either push for the teaching of ID, or for "teaching the controversy" as a way to slip ID into American public school classrooms. As Chris Mooney, author the book "The Republican War on Science" noted back in 2005:

ID proponents have also teamed up with conservative Republican legislators to further advance their agenda. ID’s most significant supporter has been Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. In 2001, Santorum teamed up with ID supporters to slip “teach the controversy” language into the No Child Left Behind Act. Singling out evolution in particular, Santorum’s amendment to the Senate version of the bill stated that “good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science.” This may sound innocuous enough, but when you learn that the language comes in part from ID movement progenitor Phillip Johnson, who believes that “Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence,” you see where Santorum is headed.

Or, maybe they won't stop. But, at least, there's a little more ammunition now to use against them.



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