Wed, 11 Mar 2009 21:05:54 +0000 – Charles Darwin may have smiled last week. Why? Because last week in the Vatican's flagship Gregorian University, scientists, philosophers, and theologians of international renown -- both believers and non-believers in a divine Creator -- gathered to mark the 150thanniversary of the publication of Darwin's "Origin of the Species". An outside observer might have called it a contemporary inquisition, where men and women of distinct academic fields seek understanding from each other on how and why current life forms have come to be.
Participants of this congress seemed well aware that we are living in peculiar times where rapid scientific discovery is curiously accompanied by increasing bickering over what this information means to queries about the origin of the world and our place in it. I say curiously, because it would seem logical that more empirical evidence about biological evolution would translate into greater unity of thought. Not so. In America we can't even agree on if and howtheories of evolution should be taught in our schools.
Vatican officials who kicked off the event went out of their way to reject intellectual tribalism. They surprised the media by suggesting the way to achieve real consensus about biological evolution is to allow science to be science, and to keep philosophy and religion out of it. (This move provoked big smiles from Darwin, no doubt.)
Of course, they also suggested to scientists that the best way to respect their noble profession is to reject the temptation to draw forth philosophical and theological conclusions--for example, that God (an immaterial being, outside the purview of empirical research) does not exist (a less flattering shout out to Darwin!).
In this effort to purify science and religion and free both from mutual meddling, the Vatican's chief doctrinal official, Cardinal William Leveda, called "absurd" the philosophical conclusion of many new atheists like Richard Dawkins that evolution disproves or makes highly unlikely the existence of God. Instead, the Vatican sees science, philosophy, and theology as successive and complementary building blocks, each with its own methodology and reach (the natural sciences deal with "what" and "how,"; philosophy with "why" and theology with the supernatural order).
The Vatican's middle-of-the-road approach hasn't been met with cheers from everyone. Staunch Darwinists claim the Vatican is hijacking and perverting Darwin's teachings by leaving room in evolutionary theory for belief in God. Creationists, on the other hand, are scandalized by the Vatican's general acceptance of biological evolution as scientific fact.
But even more interesting and controversial has been the outcry from "Intelligent Design" (ID) supporters who say that, while they are fellow believers, the organizers of the Vatican conference snubbed them by not inviting them to speak. I know for certain this exclusion of ID spokespersons was no accident; it was methodological. "Intelligent Design" recognizes evolution as a scientific fact, but it goes further. It says because it is impossible to explain the complexity of evolution as a "blind" and "undirected" process of numerous, successive, slight modifications (Darwin's theory), the only logical answer is to claim the force of a divine design. I'm sure the organizers of this conference would concur that God is the origin of all evolution and that in creation we can perceive an intelligent design, but they would be adverse to the conclusion of ID promoters that through science alone we can prove divine intervention. ID critics say this is a "God of the gap" conclusion and it fails to respect the scientific method that relies on first, not ultimate causes.
Bottom line: During this week of study a consensus grew that scientists of evolutionary theory must avoid Darwin's pitfall of making definitive philosophical or theological statements about the absolute randomness of the natural world. And likewise, that philosophers and theologians must respect the role of science in showing us how the natural world has developed, well, naturally (even if God is the ultimate cause).
Is it too much to ask our schools to teach science, and science alone, in the science classroom? I don't think so. Religion is only worthwhile if it is based in truth. And truth is something we should never be afraid of.
Follow Father Jonathan's television appearances by becoming his friend on Facebook ("Jonathan Morris") and listen to him on twitter at: www.twitter.com/fatherjonathan. Father Jonathan Morris is a FOX News Analyst and author of "The Promise: God's Purpose and Plan for when Life Hurts," now available in a paperback edition.