North Western Winds

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Evolution’s Chinese wall

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The Economist has an excellent article on the subject of Pope Benedict and the subject of evolution. If you think the current Pope is in the “intelligent design” camp because he’s raised some questions, this might be helpful.

What is not quite clear is whether the current pope accepts the “Chinese wall” that his old scientific adviser, Father Coyne, has struggled to preserve between physics and metaphysics. It is in the name of this Chinese wall that Father Coyne and other Catholic scientists have been able to make common cause with agnostics, like Mr Krauss, in defence of the scientific method. What the Jesuit astronomer and his secular friends all share is the belief that people who agree about physics can differ about metaphysics or religion.

Critics like Father Fessio would retort that their problem was not with the Chinese wall—but with an attempt to tear it down by scientists whose position is both Darwinist and anti-religious: in other words, with those who believe that scientific observation of the universe leaves no room at all for religious belief. (Some scientists and philosophers go further, dismissing religion itself as a phenomenon brought about by man’s evolutionary needs.)

The new book quoting Pope Benedict’s contributions to last year’s seminar shows him doing his best to pick his way through these arguments: accepting that scientific descriptions of the universe are valid as far as they go, while insisting that they are ultimately incomplete as a way of explaining how things came to be. On those points, he seems to share the “anti-Darwinist” position of Father Fessio; but he also agrees with Father Coyne that a “God of the gaps” theory—which uses a deity to fill in the real or imagined holes in evolutionary science—is too small-minded. Only a handful of the world’s 2 billion Christians will be able to make sense of his intricate intellectual arguments, and there is a risk that simplistic reporting and faulty interpretation of his ideas could create the impression that the pope has deserted to the ranks of the outright anti-evolutionists; he has done no such thing, his advisers insist.

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Written by Curt

May 7, 2007 at 4:35 pm

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