Thursday, April 12, 2007

Josh's New and Hot (Week 3) - The Pope!

Click here for the pope article.

It's wonderful that no matter how exhaustively we may explore one subject in the classroom, the real world never fails to add new fodder to our debate. This week in the news, the Pope wrote in the German book Creation and Evolution that evolution involves "questions that reach beyond the methodological possibilities of natural science." Clearly, the tensions between science and the church are still just as alive as they have always been.

"I find it important to underline that the theory of evolution implies questions that must be assigned to philosophy and which themselves lead beyond the realms of science... the theory of evolution is not a complete, scientifically proven theory," said the Pope.

This method of shooting down theories harks back all the way to the post-St. Augustine era when any scientific doctrine except for the Aristotelian view was seeen as heretical. Scientists from Halley to Copernicus all had their run-ins with official Church dogma.

The watershed moment in the liberalization of the Catholic Church was Galileo's trial in 1633. Although it did not completely end Church persecution of scientists, it did much to discredit the Church as the gatekeepers of scientific discovery. Humbled by the incident and losing energy to right against scientists who had since taken up Galileo as the first martyr for science, the Church eventually published an abbreviated version in 1741 which admitted, in a way, that they were losing their control on this issue. Since then, John Paul II has actually expressed regret over how the Galileo case was handled as recently as 1992.

Over the years, the Catholic Church, in staunch opposition to evangelical Protest churches, has seemed to accept or at least tolerate evolutionary thought. In reviewing the Vatican's Index of Prohibited Books which censored books for Catholic parishioners until it was abolished 1966 had early scientific writings like Galileo or Bruno on its censor list, but, interestingly enough, no Charles Darwin. In fact, they censored the works of Erasmus Darwin, yet deemed his grandson's works compatible enough with church doctrine. John Paul II even said in 1996 that evolution was "'more than just a hypothesis" and that it complied completely with the orthodox view of the beginning. If he had remained alive for a couple more years, he may have been able to rewrite the official church dogmas.

Unfortunately, the new regime is much less receptive to scientific ideas that was the former. Pope Benedict, in addition to rejecting evolution, is also noted for firing the J
esuit director of the Vatican Observatory, Father Coyne, last year after stating that intelligent design was not a real science. These rather conservative viewpoints coupled with his recent controversies in regards to Islam, all point to the same trend - the new Pope is VERY conservative.

I am not advocating taking an imprudent approach to science. It is not unreasonable to ask for a preponderance of evidence before an entire scientific paradigm is thrown out with all of its work. However, as John Paul noted, evolution clearly has an already incredible amount of data on its side while alternative views have failed to produce even a shred of evidence. It will be exciting to see exactly which academic track Pope Benedictchooses over the course of his reign.

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