Saturday, November 05, 2005

Vatican Cardinal Suggests Faithful Should Listen to Scientists

Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, said Friday that it is important for the faithful to pay attention to what science has to offer on various issues, because religion risks turning into 'fundamentalism' if it ignores scientific reasoning. He then went further than Pope John Paul did with comments on evolution. In 1996, the Pope said "evolution is more than a hypothesis," and this followed a 1992 declaration that the church's 17th-century denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension." Galileo was condemned for supporting Nicolaus Copernicus' discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun; church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.

"The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future," Poupard said.

I could not agree more. In addtion, I do think that science needs to pay attention to and respect what religion has to offer. Good examples come in the form of what are guiding principles for science ethics, as I addressed in my last post, or where does morality fit into science research. Religion can help keep good debates going in areas like nuclear weaponry research, cloning, limits on medical research on humans, and so on. Without a moral compass, science can go extreme, as evidenced by Nazi 'medical research' back in the 1930s and 1940s.

Most humans practice some sort of religion, so science cannot ignore this. As for the intelligent design debate, Poupard expanded on John Paul's comment and stated evolution is supported by physical evidence, and that this evidence is constantly growing. This is why evolution should be and is the overwhelming, dominant scientific model for how life evolved. Keep in mind that evolution does not state how the first life began, but rather describes how more complex life evolves from simpler life forms. It describes the process by which we now have such amazing variety of life. Cardinal Poupard suggests, as I also believe, that religion and science do not have to be mutually exclusive in this debate. To be honest, I prefer and believe the intelligent design model, which has as its premise a supernatural entity called the 'designer' as the designer of such a complex system as a human being. But I realize my belief in this 'theory' only comes from my personal religious faith and the way I was raised, since I am a Christian. I absolutely do not support, however, including intelligent design in science curricula because I do not, nor anyone else, have any physical evidence for a 'supernatural entity' (so ID supporters out there, let's cut to the chase and say the designer is God). ID is not a scientific theory, but rather a theological and philosophical model.

I get the impression that Cardinal Poupard is saying the same thing, and I am glad to see he understands that both science and religion are important and should have mutual respect, but there are also boundaries that keep these two different realms of thought and practice, and that is OK! The same can be said for philosophy. There is a place for creationism and a grand 'designer' of life, but that should be in religious and philosophical venues where one can accept ideas that may not have physical support. I would not want to advocate or mandate the teaching of evolution in such a venue, because that is not its proper place. Likewise, science has a mandate that requires it to find the physical reasons for why the universe works the way we observe, and nonphysical models are not appropriate in the teaching of science.

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