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Monday, July 11, 2005

Why should the Cardinal be concerned about Darwinism?

I wish I had had the good sense to rush a prediction into print last week: That — now that Cardinal Schönborn has made clear that the Catholic Church does not support Darwinism — a number of people would be anxious to tell me that Darwinism is not, after all, really used to support the teaching of atheistic philosophies in the publicly funded school system. So why, they want to know, is there any problem that the Cardinal need be concerned about?

Fortunately, Craig Rusbult, over at the publicly archived American Scientific Affiliation list, has drawn attention to a good example of just that very use of Darwinism, in the National Association of Biology Teachers' efforts to define evolution:

For more than two years, from April 1995 to October 1997, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) declared that "natural" does mean "without God" in their position statement on evolution, which stated that evolution is an "unsupervised, impersonal" process.

[...]

After first refusing to do so, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) has dropped the words "unsupervised" and "impersonal" from its official description of evolution. The group's eight-person board of directors voted unanimously on October 11 to alter the wording of its two-year-old statement in support of teaching evolution — and the board did so just three days after it had voted unanimously not to make the change. Religion scholar Huston Smith and philosopher Alvin Plantinga had urged NABT to make the change, arguing that inclusion of the two words constituted a theological judgment about the nonexistence of God that went beyond the boundaries of empirical science.

While the fossil record may shed light on the process of evolution, the two scholars argued, it cannot answer the question of whether evolution is or is not directed by God. They argued that the statement was vulnerable, made NABT a legitimate target for creationists, and, since polls show that more than 90 percent of Americans profess belief in God, undermined Americans' respect for scientists, especially when scientists were drawing conclusions beyond the available evidence. NABT officials first unanimously refused, and then three days later unanimously reversed themselves. {from Christian Century, November 12, 1997, p. 1029}

So, believe it or not, the Association only reluctantly dropped the clearly atheistic language from its statement under pressure, not only from Christians in science but also from the chief Darwin lobby, National Center for Science Education. I wish I'd been a fly on the wall when lobbyist Eugenie Scott told NABT to quit punching a hole in the bottom of the boat ...

Cardinal Schönborn is nobody's fool and he knows exactly what he is talking about. He's talking about episodes like that. And that episode is instructive, but certainly not unique. Incidentally, Rusbult's online article linked above, provides many useful links.

(Note: This controversy relates to the intelligent design controversy - but should not be confused with it. The Christians who challenged the Association were not doing so on behalf of the intelligent design hypothesis (that evolution is sometimes design-driven, because design is the most reasonable inference for some aspects of life forms). They were simply challenging the decision of a national teachers' association to define evolution in a clearly and implicitly atheistic way. Obviously, if evolution is "unsupervised," there is no design, but even if it is supervised, the intelligent design hypothesis could be falsified.)

Blog service note: Did you come here looking for any of the following stories?
- the Privileged Planet film shown at the Smithsonian, go here for an extended review. Please do not raise cain about an "anti-evolution" film without seeing it. If your doctor forbids you to see the film, in case you get too excited, at least read my detailed log of the actual subjects of the film. If you were one of the people who raised cain, ask yourself why you should continue to believe the people who so misled you about the film's actual content ...

- the showing of Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian, go here and here to start, and then this one and this one will bring you up to date.

- the California Academy of Sciences agreeing to correct potentially libellous statements about attorney Larry Caldwell, who thinks that students should know about weaknesses as well as strengths of Darwinian evolution theory, click on the posted link.

- Bill Dembski threatening to sue the Thomas More Law Center in the Dover, Pennsylvania ID case, click on the posted link and check the current daily post for updates. (Note: In breaking news, this dispute has apparently been settled. See the story for details. )

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