Friday, August 05, 2005

Mr. Galileo, your table is waiting

August 5, 2005

You mean the earth goes around the sun? Who knew?— It seems that the Roman Catholic Church—or at least much of it—learned some lessons from the Galileo Affair, and the battle with those who didn’t is getting public. The British newspaper, The Independent, is reporting that an American Jesuit (who else) is blasting the Archbishop of Vienna (a long-time friend of Pope Benedict XVI) for an op-ed piece he wrote in the New York Times on evolution [no longer posted]. In the article, Cardinal Shönborn said that it is not possible to believe in random evolution—that the life we see around us is the result of random mutations—and be a believer in "God the Creator." "Evolution," he wrote, "in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense—an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection—is not." That would put him right up there with President Bush, who thinks “intelligent design” needs to be taught in school. According to The Independent, Shöborn’s piece was instigated by Mark Ryland of the Discovery Institution, the mouthpiece for intelligent design. Now Father George Coyne, who happens to be the Vatican astronomer, has gone on the offensive in The Tablet [registration required, click headline], Britain’s Catholic weekly. Fr. Coyne said the article has "darkened the waters" of the rapport between Church and science, and says flatly that "life...has evolved through a process of random genetic mutations and natural selection and that is compatible with God’s dominion...Why does there seem to be a persistent retreat in the Church from attempts to establish a dialogue with the community of scientists?"

"Even today, disquiet still rumbles over the treatment of Galileo, despite the formation of the Galileo Commission to investigate the treatment of the scientist after John Paul II realised that many in the scientific world still believed there was an intrinsic animosity between the Church and science.," he writes.

"We can only come to know God by analogy. The universe as we know it today through science is one way to derive an analogical knowledge of God. For those who believe modern science does say something to us about God, it provides a challenge, an enriching challenge, to traditional beliefs about God. God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity. God lets the world be what it will be in its continuous evolution. He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves. Is such thinking adequate to preserve the special character attributed by religious thought to the emergence not only of life but also of spirit, while avoiding a crude creationism? Only a protracted dialogue will tell. But we should not close off the dialogue and darken the already murky waters by fearing that God will be abandoned if we embrace the best of modern science."

That Fr. Coyne felt it permissible to take after the Archbishop of Vienna is, the newspaper said, “unprecedented.” He probably had to clear the article with his Jesuit superiors.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman in the New York Times, points out that the same technique reactionaries use push forward their agenda with non-science—for example, all those think-tank studies showing that global warming was exaggerated—is being used in the intelligent design debate, trying to foist off non-science as science and then insist there is a controversy when none actually exists. There is no controversy in science over global warming; there is no controversy in science over evolution. Journalists get trapped in the he-said, they-said syndrome in which just because proponents of intelligent design say there is a controversy, they feel obliged to cover it as if there actually was one. There ain’t. Krugman says Irving Kristol (Bill’s father) invented the technique in the 1970s, urging "corporations to make 'philanthropic contributions to scholars and institutions who are likely to advocate preservation of a strong private sector." That was delicately worded, but the clear implication was that corporations that didn't like the results of academic research, however valid, should support people willing to say something more to their liking.”

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