Let’s Have No More Monkey Trials.
To teach faith as science is to undermine both.
THE HALF-CENTURY CAMPAIGN TO ERADICATE ANY VESTIGE OF religion from public life has run its course. The backlash from a nation fed up with the A.C.L.U. kicking crèches out of municipal Christmas displays has created a new balance. State-supported universities may subsidize the activities of student religious groups. Monuments inscribed with the Ten Commandments are permitted on government grounds. The Federal Government is engaged in a major anti-poverty initiative that gives money to churches. Religion is back out of the closet.
But nothing could do more to undermine this most salutary restoration than the new and gratuitous attempts to invade science, and most particularly evolution, with religion . Have we learned nothing? In Kansas, conservative schoolboard members are attempting to rewrite statewide standards for teaching evolution to make sure that creationism’s modern stepchild —intelligent design— infiltrates the curriculum. Similar anti-Darwinian mandates are already in place in Ohio and are being fought over in 20 states . And then, as if to second the evangelical push for this tarted-up version of creationism, out of the blue appears a declaration from Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, a man very close to the Pope, asserting that the supposed acceptance of evolution by John Paul II is mistaken. In fact, he says, the Roman Catholic Church rejects “neo-Darwinism” with the declaration that an “unguided evolutionary process—one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence—simply cannot exist:’
Cannot? On what scientific evidence? Evolution is one of the most powerful and elegant theories in all of human science and the bedrock of all modern biology. Schönborn’s proclamation that it cannot exist unguided—that it is driven by an intelligent designer pushing and pulling and planning and shaping the process along the way—is a perfectly legitimate statement of faith . If he and the Evangelicals just stopped there and asked that intelligent design be included in a religion curriculum, I would support them. The scandal is to teach this as science—to pretend, as does Schönborn, that his statement of faith is a defense of science. “The Catholic Church,” he says. “will again defend human reason” against “scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of ‘chance and necessity” which “are not scientific at all” Well, if you believe that science is reason and that reason begins with recognizing the existence of an immanent providence, then this is science . But, of course, it is not. This is faith disguised as science. Science begins not with first principles but with observation and experimentation.
In this slippery slide from “reason” to science, Schönborn is a direct descendant of the early 17th century Dutch clergyman and astronomer David Fabricius, who could not accept Johannes Kepler’s discovery of elliptical planetary orbits. Why? Because the circle is so pure and perfect that reason must reject anything less. “With your ellipse, ” Fabricius wrote Kepler, “you abolish the circularity and uniformity of the motions, which appears to me increasingly absurd the more profoundly I think about it:’ No matter that, using Tycho Brahe’s most exhaustive astronomical observations in history, Kepler had empirically demonstrated that the planets orbit elliptically.
This conflict between faith and science had mercifully abated over the past four centuries as each grew to permit the other its own independent sphere. What we are witnessing now is a frontier violation by the forces of religion. This new attack claims that because there are gaps in evolution, they therefore must be filled by a divine intelligent designer.
How many times do we have to rerun the Scopes “monkey trial”? There are gaps in science everywhere. Are we to fill them all with divinity? There were gaps in Newton’s universe. They were ultimately filled by Einstein’s revisions. There are gaps in Einstein’s universe, great chasms between it and quantum theory. Perhaps they are filled by God. Perhaps not . But it is certainly not science to merely declare it so.
To teach faith as science is to undermine the very idea of science, which is the acquisition of new knowledge through hypothesis, experimentation and evidence. To teach it as science is to encourage the supercilious caricature of America as a nation in the thrall of religious authority. To teach it as science is to discredit the welcome recent advances in permitting the public expression of religion. Faith can and should be proclaimed from every mountaintop and city square. But it has no place in science class. To impose it on the teaching of evolution is not just to invite ridicule but to earn it.
TIME Magazine, Inc.
August 8, 2005. (Pg. 78)
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