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New York Times On the Pope and Evolution: Couple of Hits, Couple of Errors, No Fouls

Ian Fisher of the New York Times Rome bureau had a valuable Saturday story on the discussion at Castel Gandolfo between Pope Benedict XVI and his former theology students (“Professor-Turned-Pope Leads a Seminar on Evolution”). He does err in his description of intelligent design (“life is so complex it requires an active creator”–where do they get these lines?), but he is right, I think, in balancing two probable facets of the Pope’s own thinking: 1) that the problem is not so much evolution, as the way it is applied; and 2) there may really be problems with the science of evolution.

I had a nice telephone visit with Mr. Fisher Friday, but not much of it showed up in the paper. (I wasn’t able to call him back until near his deadline.) I suggested that there aren’t merely two or even three sides on the evolution issue, but several, and that sorting them out is going to take time. (He said he agreed with that.) I also suggested that all these news stories, and maybe the discussion at Castel Gandolofo, suffer from confusions of terms. I mentioned that I had listed several cases on this blog a couple of days ago (“creation,” “evolution”, “intelligent design”, notably). But I also said that the very definition of “science” also is subject to varying interpretations, and therefore you can’t really be sure what someone is saying–or what he knows, for that matter–until you go through a kind of Socratic dialogue.

I’m not sure that anyone, including the Catholic Church, is adequately prepared for that yet. And I am not sure that the rest of the intellectual world is ready for the kind of natural law perspectives that theologians will bring to the dais. (Have you picked your favorite Thomist?) But at least this admirable pope is expanding the discussion, and that was the essence of my comment in the article.

The prospect is exciting, actually. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, the subject of life’s origins and development is too important to be left solely to the scientists–especially when so many of them are quick, as the pope has noticed, to apply their a priori materialist ideology to all sorts of science related issues, such as cloning and euthanasia, that have profound moral consequences.

I liked the statement quoted in the Times article by Laurence Krauss of Case Western warning the Church that if it brings evolution into question it is going to “do huge damage, just as it did when they went against Galileo.” I liked that in the same way that I liked the sarcastic declaration by Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago on the Today show Friday that if the Church goes against Darwin’s theory, “They will lose.” Such threats present to onlookers a beautiful display of the Blustering Darwinist members of the species in full plumage.

As to poor Galileo: Whatever his travails, I think he probably got better treatment in the end than ID scientists today who are targeted for “huge damage” by the Darwinists. And, by the way, wasn’t the Church back then mostly wrong because it insisted that Galileo conform to the “science consensus” of the time? The way to repeat in our day the medieval error of censoring Galileo would be to throttle ID scientists on behalf of the Krauss’ and Coynes (and Dawkins and Kenneth Millers and NCSE’s) of the world. If the Church wants to get over Galileo, on the other hand, it should stand up for academic freedom and insist that science relate its standards to evidence, not faculty lounge cant and The Humanist Manifesto.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.