Refining theories: how faith and evolution can fit

13 Nov 2008

By therecord

A chance meeting? Scientists and theologians look to refine evolutionary theory.                                                               

Courting controversy: Earlier this year Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, caused a stir when he wrote an article that appeared to defend the principles of the intelligent design theory of the creation of the universe.Photo: CNS/Leonhard Foeger, Reuters

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – For some, the basic principles of creation and evolution are like oil and water – they just don’t mix.
But recent popes often have spoken out, assuring Catholics that while faith and science do operate within different scopes of study they can and must form a complementary and harmonious partnership.
Presenting creation and evolution as if they were mutually exclusive is absurd, Pope Benedict XVI once said.
“There are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution, which appears to be a reality we can see,” he told Italian clergy in 2007.
But, he added, “the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query” such as “where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man?”
Despite the reassurances, nearly 150 years after The Origin of Species was published, Charles Darwin’s concept of the biological evolution of the human species still meets with resistance in some circles.
One group of detractors came to Rome on November 3 to offer its opinions and evidence that Darwin’s theories of natural selection and the appearance of complex organisms out of simpler beings are outdated, erroneous hypotheses that prevent the discovery of the real origins of life and humanity.
With the help of Hugh Owen, founder and director of the US-based Kolbe Centre for the Study of Creation, the French-based Centre for Studies and Perspective on Science organised a conference dedicated to “A Scientific Critique of Evolution.”
The French centre invited five Catholic scientists to reveal “the bankruptcy of the evolutionary hypothesis,” said a Kolbe Centre press release.
One of the panelists who addressed an audience of more than 40 people was Pierre Rabischong, former dean of France’s Montpellier University and an expert in prosthetics and improving the mobility of paraplegics.
He said it is impossible that humans and other creatures emerged out of chance.
His medical training and expertise in recreating the highly sophisticated and complex form and function of human limbs have exposed him to the mind-boggling beauty and perfection of “bio-architecture.”
All living organisms are high-tech machines; therefore, they “cannot be produced by random processes” even if these developments spanned billions of years, he said. Science must “accept the possible intervention of a constructor of living systems even if he is invisible and mute,” he said.
Owen told Catholic News Service that the conference was organised to give Catholic scientists opposed to evolutionary theory a venue for presenting their views.
The closed-door meeting was only for members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Far from canonising Darwin, the Vatican academicians presented fresh criticisms, the lingering shortcomings and gaping defects in his 19th-century theories. But they also mapped out what he got right and what may be needed to unveil the many mysteries about the origins of life.
Father Stanley Jaki, a professor of physics and the philosophy of science at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, said in his presentation that breakthroughs in genetics have not been able to remove many of the difficulties in Darwinian theories.
For example, he wrote, the discovery “that human chromosomes differ but slightly from those of higher apes only increases the problem of why humans, and they alone, think, speak and have science as well.”
Antonino Zichichi, an expert in subnuclear physics, said that after the big-bang theory triggered the formation of the universe, one could say the world experienced two more big bangs or unexplainable events that marked the beginning of something completely new. The second big bang, he wrote in his address, was when inert atoms and molecules formed to become single-celled organisms and living matter.
The third big bang, he said, was the passage from early hominids to Homo sapiens who, unlike any other living creature on earth, were endowed with reason, which led to their equally unique development of language, logic and science.
But what caused these so-called big bangs science has yet to unfold.
Father Jaki wrote that, according to the early 20th-century British writer Gilbert K Chesterton, “what really irked common man about Darwin’s theory” wasn’t about having apes for ancestors or chimps as cousins; it was that purpose has no place in Darwinian theory.
This aimlessness, Chesterton believed, forced humanity to descend into a “grayness in which nothing is distinguishable,” including moral and intellectual norms, the priest wrote.
Darwinian scientific theories also mutated easily into ideologies that justified a free license to do anything or to wage “ruthless economic competition, and even most destructive wars,” the priest wrote.
“Darwinian evolution should be taught as a science with all its merits and defects” because it “remains the only mechanism with genuine scientific promise,” he wrote.
But, he added, “what it promises as an ideology” is not science and should not be treated as such. In his presentation, Dominican Father Jean-Michel Maldame said nature and its laws can be autonomous without having to eliminate the presence of God and his divine action.
The French theologian wrote that God, the creator, gave nature its laws and autonomy since he respects and recognises the value of such autonomy.
While the modern-day theory of evolution is not infallible and will continue to be revised by the world’s scientists, Father Maldame wrote, it is theologically groundless to oppose evolutionary theory out of the fear of erasing God from the picture and meaning from one’s life.- cns