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CHRISTIANITY  AND  EVOLUTION

by Herbert FJ Müller

18 May 2008, posted 24 May 2008

 

 

[1]
An interesting exchange of opinions concerning Christian fundamentalist beliefs and acceptance of evolution has recently been published in ‘Science’.  J Couzin reports on the palaeontologist Stephen Godfrey who was brought up in a fundamentalist Christian family, and gradually discovered the inadequacies of creationist teachings, while he became a scientist.  This led to much stress with his family and community, and also to a personal religious crisis.  Comments by CW Stevens are critical of this discussion which he deems ‘unworthy of publication’.  In contrast, A Whipple finds, due to his ‘20 years of experience in teaching biology to undergraduates’, that it is essential to be aware of and understand such tensions. 

 

[2]
One should also remember that this strong contrast between religious belief and acceptance of evolution is a phenomenon that is typical of    and more or less restricted to    North American Fundamentalist Protestant sects (something which is often not mentioned; for instance not in the quoted article by Couzin and the ensuing discussion).   The Catholic church, for instance, has for a number of decades opted for an accommodation with the science of evolution (see appendix)    perhaps because in the past they lost the long battle with Copernicus & al.  There are evident logical problems in the Vatican’s stance.  But it has the advantage that, in contrast to members of the fundamentalist (literalist) groups, Catholics are not forced to choose between evolution and church teachings.

 

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REFERENCES

 

Couzin J, Crossing the divide.  Science 319, pp. 1034-1036, 22 Febr 2008.

 

Stevens, CW (letter) :  Evolution and faith :  empathy is misplaced.  Science 320, p. 745, 9 May 2008

 

Whipple, A (letter) :   Evolution and faith :  empathy is crucial.  Science 320, p. 745, 9 May 2008.

 

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APPENDIX

 

Vatican gives a nod to evolution

by Ian Fisher

 

Copyright © 2008 the International Herald Tribune All rights reserved

 

 

Published: THURSDAY, JANUARY 19, 2006

 

ROME: Although not presented as an official church position, the Vatican newspaper published an article this week labeling as "correct" the decision by a judge in Pennsylvania last month that the concept of intelligent design could not be taught as a scientific alternative to evolution.

 

But the article, in the Vatican's most visible publication, seemed notable, given the strength of the comments on a delicate question much debated under the new pope, Benedict XVI.

 

"If the model proposed by Darwin is not considered sufficient, one should search for another one," Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, wrote in the Jan. 16-17 edition of the paper, L'Osservatore Romano.

"But it is not correct from a methodological point of view to stray from the field of science while pretending to do science," he wrote. "It only creates confusion between the scientific plane and those that are philosophical or religious."

 

In July, Christoph Schönborn, an Austrian cardinal who is close to Benedict, seemed to call into question what has been official church teaching for years: that Catholicism and evolution are not necessarily at odds.

 

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, he played down a 1996 letter by Pope John Paul II that evolution was "more than a hypothesis."

 

He added, "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not."

 

In the Pennsylvania case, a U.S. federal judge ruled that it was unconstitutional for a school district in Dover to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in high school biology courses. The judge called it a religious viewpoint that advanced "a particular version of Christianity."

 

The case, the first in the United States to test the legal merits of intelligent design - which posits that biological life is so complex that it must have been designed by an intelligent source - was a stinging rebuke to advocates of the concept and provided strong support for scientists who have fought to bar it from the science curriculum.

 

Benedict himself has signaled an interest in the issue of evolution at least twice, prompting questions about where exactly he stood on the question of intelligent design.

 

In April, when he was formally installed as pope, he said human beings "are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution." In November, he called the creation of the universe an "intelligent project," wording lauded by intelligent-design supporters.

 

Many Catholic scientists have criticized intelligent design, notably the Reverend George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory. "Intelligent design isn't science, even though it pretends to be," he said in November, according to the Italian press serviceANSA. "Intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science."

 

In October, Schönborn sought to clarify his remarks, saying that he meant to question not the science of evolution but what he called "evolutionism," or an attempt to use the theory to rule out the hand of God in creation.

 

"I see no difficulty in joining belief in the creator with the theory of evolution, but under the prerequisite that the borders of scientific theory are maintained," the cardinal said in a speech in Vienna.

 

In the Osservatore article, Facchini similarly wrote that scientists could not rule out a divine "superior design" to creation and the history of mankind. But he said that Catholic thought did not rule out that that design could take place through an evolutionary process.

 

"God's project of creation can be carried out through secondary causes in the natural course of events, without having to think of miraculous interventions that point in this or that direction," he wrote.

 

Neither Facchini nor the editors of L'Osservatore could immediately be reached for comment.

 

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Herbert FJ Müller

     e-mail <Herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>