Friday, August 12, 2005

Vatican Astronomer Comfortable With Evolution

Countering anti-evolutionary statements from a top ranking Cardinal, Vatican astronomer Father George Coyne released his views on the compatibility between the theory of evolution and the belief in creation. (Catholic News Service: Vatican astronomer says evolution important for insights into God).

At odds are two extreme views regarding the origins of life. Supports of the Theory of Evolution find themselves besieged with the newly coined "Intelligent Design" theory - a repackaged version of Creationism carefully constructed to hide the overt mention of God. True Believers on both sides of the debate refuse to consider the merits of either theory.

What is not understood by either side is that the two theories are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they seek to answer two entirely different questions. Evolution attempts to answer the question "How did life originate on Earth." Intelligent Design attempts to answer "Why did life originate on Earth." That the answers to these questions are remarkably different should come as no surprise.

The two theories, when viewed in that context, are compatible side by side. For the Christian, knowing that all that exists came into existence through the Will of God should be the point learned in Genesis. There is no reason for the Christian not to look to Evolution as the mechanism by which His Will was executed.

Even Cardinal Schonborn, the Vatican source that reignited the controversy a few weeks ago, agrees with this conclusion. According to the Cardinal, "evolution as a body of scientific fact was compatible with Catholicism, but that evolution as an ideological dogma that denied design and purpose in nature was not." I can live with that. Evolution does not seek to answer the "design and purpose" question. As a scientific theory, it is attempting to answer the "how", not the "why".

Kannafoot Edit (08/13/2005):
The full text of the letter referenced by Island's comment may be found here:
Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI



island said...

heh... um... George Coyne's views don't "counter" anything, because he's not saying anything that conflicts with what Cardinal Schonborn said... lol

Maybe you can get Lawrence Krauss to make another appeal to the higher authority of the Pope for support for his crackpot multiverse theories... QUACK!

... as science gets bent by religion on both sides of the debate.

Not only that, but...

Cardinal Schonborn said:
I can live with that...
Evolution does not seek to answer the "design and purpose" question. As a scientific theory, it is attempting to answer the "how", not the "why".

No that's false where the origins of variation are concerned, but you wouldn't be expected to know about what you shouldn't be running your mouth about.

Alan Fraser said...

Fundamental principle: Never argue with an idiot because you will always lose.

Intelligent design is the most obvious application of the principle and the virtually incoherent response from Island is an example of it. They want to believe there is a 'debate' but there's nothing to discuss and nothing would be accomplished in the discussion in any case. The only science to come out of Kansas revolves around how to get a tractor out of a ditch so why would you look to enlightenment from such a source. Their thoughts are irrelevant.

I hear the Vatican's acceptance of evolution but I have not heard specifically any acceptance of genesis. In other words, the progression of species is well-documented and there's not much to discuss but there are still some holes in the theories describing life arising from non-life. I haven't studied the subject in many years but a reference I used at that time was George Gamow, "The Origins of Life on Earth." (Hopefully memory serves correctly. I believe that was the author / title.)

Fundamentalists wouldn't even talk about this topic; they would simply walk out of the room. It's interesting to me to know where enlightened Christians stand on the matter as acceptance of the scientific explanations for this process is critical to move any discussion of Creation from biological and thermodynamic processes on earth and out into the realm of astrophysics where it belongs.

I conclude "that's where it belongs" by process of elimination as there is nothing that leads me to believe that Creation took place on Earth.

Kannafoot said...

Enlightened Christians are open to the advances of science in exploring, not only our human origins, but also the more fundamental question of life's origins. We are confident in our Faith that all that exists does so because of the Will of God, however we look to science to tell us how that Will was exercised.

There is much that our current understanding of the origins of life cannot yet explain. The generation of left-handed amino acids (fundamental to life as we know it), for example, has successfully been demonstrated in the laboratory. What science has yet to do is show how the protein chains that make up a life-form actually achieve life itself. Personally, I believe we will eventually obtain that knowledge.

The catechism of the Roman Catholic Church allows for and encourages scientific research into life's origins. In the section CATECHESIS ON CREATION, it states, "The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers. " The full text of the Catechism as it pertains to creation may be found here: I. CATECHESIS ON CREATION.

As to Alan Fraser's comments, "I conclude 'that's where it belongs' by process of elimination as there is nothing that leads me to believe that Creation took place on Earth," I would have to agree. While not conclusive, there is mounting evidence that the foundations of life on earth developed elsewhere. Organic material found in meteorites and comet spectrographic studies strongly suggests that the building blocks of life formed elsewhere and were deposited here. Discoveries of numerous planets around distant suns must also lead to growing questions about life elsewhere.

To the enlightened Christian, all of this simply magnifies the glory of God. We do not dismiss scientific discoveries about our origins, we embrace them.