Friday, November 18, 2005

Vatican: Intelligent Design is Not Science

Reverend George Coyne, the Jesuit head of the Vatican Observatory, today stated that Intelligent Design is not science and should not be discussed in science class. According to the Vatican's chief astronomer, "Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be. If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science." (Syracuse.com Vatican official refutes intelligent design).

This is not the first time Father Coyne entered the debate. In June, Father Coyne explained the compatibility between the Bible and evolution. "If they respect the results of modern science, and indeed the best of modern biblical research, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly," he said.

This is consistent with Catholic teachings regarding evolution. In the Catholic view, the universe was created by God, however the Church does not object to the notion of evolution as the means by which life developed. Unlike many of the fundamentalist religions that split from the Church, Catholics do not hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Thus, the two creation stories in Genesis are intended to drive home the point that everything that exists does so by the Will of God, however we do not believe that Genesis gives us the blueprint by which the Will happened.

Unfortunately, the great debate on Intelligent Design will continue in the US regardless of the Vatican's position on the topic. Recently, TV Evangelist Pat Robertson chastised one state for refusing to teach Intelligent Design. His comments, however, bordered on the absurd and do not bear repeating here. Court cases will continue, and it is highly unlikely that the issue will be resolved anytime soon. That the Church would issue such a strong statement in support of Evolution is most encouraging, however. If only Father Coyne could get more air time than Pat Robertson.

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2 comments :

Alan Fraser said...

It's really not accurate to say there's a great debate raging, at least not in the scientific community. In that arena, intelligent design is old news and there's no particular interest in it.

My father debated Dr Gish of the Creation Institute at least thirty years ago and shredded him. I attended and heard the fundamentalists as they left the hall and they were talking about how Gish had won it. They hadn't understood a word that had been said.

Alex the scientist was also pretty much of a showman but he saw that it was pointless talking to those people and he never debated with them again.

The people of Pennsylvania got it right. Understanding fully that one will always lose if one argues with an idiot, they voted the idiots on the school board out of office. This is what inspired Pat Robertson to say that they should not pray for assistance in times of trouble as God would not listen. In the face of that kind of stupidity, there's really nothing anyone can do except wait for it to go away.

Jeremy Pierce said...

Technically speaking, there's nothing against Intelligent Design in the Catholic position, though there's no clear endorsement of any particular ID argument except the general claim that beauty and complexity in nature demonstrate design. The Vatican's main concern in the statement on evolution was to state that, while naturalistic explanations are not allowed by Catholic doctrine, special creation that rules out common descent is not mandatory for Catholics. ID opponents and six-day creationists should both equally disagree with that statement.

What's funny is that the fellow who left the comment before this one linked to you as someone saying something that contradicts what I just said when I left it in a comment (that he deleted) on his own blog, which is pretty laughable.

I do want to say (as someone who knows a little more philosophy of science than most scientists do) that there's plenty of philosophy that gets taught or assumed in the modern day science classroom. ID arguments are not ruled out by the kind of argument they are, because science teachers teach all sorts of metaphysical and epistemological theorizing as science. What might rule them out is if they're bad arguments, but then they should be taught as bad but popular arguments the same way we teach bad but historically influential arguments in other places (e.g. theories of the structure of the atom). Since ID proponents are generally satisfied if the issues are taught (even if taught critically and argued against), I can't see why ID opponents are so up in arms about doing what we do with any other philosophical treatment of a matter in science.