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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Weekend reading on the intelligent design controversy: Columns and articles of note

Opposition to Schonborn from Vatican science advisor:

Here's Professor Nicola Cabibbo, for twelve hears head of the 78-member Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an expert panel which advises the pope on science, in interview with National Catholic Reporter's John L. Allen Jr.:


When Cardinal Schönborn says that purpose and design can be clearly discerned in the natural world, would you agree?

Not scientifically. As a scientist, I cannot draw this conclusion. What I can say is this: If the will of God was to create man, he certainly organized things in a beautiful way to do it. Of course, we know by revelation that God wanted to create man, but we don't know how he did it. This is what science attempts to explain. There cannot be any clash or controversy between science and religion, because they work on different planes.

Does the scientific understanding of how life was created and how it evolved, in and of itself, demand belief in a creator God?

I would say no. Scientifically, we don't know. We know the universe is highly complex, and we have no reason to believe there is only one universe, the one we can see around us. Theoretically this could happen in two different ways: some interpretations of quantum mechanics suggest the idea of parallel universes, with histories different from our own. Cosmologists speculate on a multiplicity of "Big Bangs", giving rise to a multiplicity of universes. These are fascinating ideas and we find ourselves in a situation similar to that of Giordano Bruno when he proposed that stars are really suns, that there may be other planets and other solar systems, that the universe is much larger than previously thought. This was part of what got him into trouble! We really don't know. Science is incapable of supplying answers to ultimate questions about why things exist and what their purpose is.

Hmmm. It strikes me that the problem here is not a conflict between Cabibbo and Schonborn but between Cabibbo and the plain meaning of key passages in the Bible. Paul the Apostle says, for example, in Romans,
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Rom 1:18–20, NIV)

Most Christians would be more inclined to listen to Paul than to Bruno, a scientist and freelance theologian who was burned at the stake four centuries ago for heretical doctrines. (If you think having an alternative viewpoint is bad now, you should have lived back then!) Some of Bruno's science speculations hit pay dirt, as Cabibbo notes.

But more and more I am beginning to see why the Vatican will have to revisit this whole area. The only reason that science and religion can't be in conflict, in Cabibbo's formulation, is that the are on different "planes" and neither can apparently enable us to draw firm conclusions about the real world. But, faced with a choice, the Church should prefer current expert opinion to th wisdom of the ages? Aw c'mon.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you by chance looking for one of the following stories?

"Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

Roseville, California, lawyer Larry Caldwell is suing over the use of tax money by Darwin lobby groups to promote religious views that accept Darwinian evolution (as opposed to ones that don’t). I’m pegging this one as the next big story. It will be interesting to see the line that the “separation of church and state” people take.
How to freak out your bio prof? What happened when a student bypassed the usual route of getting frogs drunk and dropping them down the chancellor’s robes, and tried questioning Darwinism instead.

Joseph, Cardinal Schonborn is not backing down from his contention that Darwinism is incompatible with Catholic faith, and Pope Benedict XVI probably thinks that’s just fine. Major US media have been trying to reach rewrite for months, with no success.

Museum tour guides to be trained to "respond" to those who question Darwinism. Read this item for an example of what at least one museum hopes to have them say.

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