John Allen writes in his weekly column about the conference recently hosted at the Vatican entitled “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories.” One of the purposes of the conference is to more clearly illustrate that the Church is not opposed to the theory of evolution. In fact, it never has been.
Allen writes about the growing acceptance of Creationism and intelligent design theories among Catholics.
Not so long ago, the theory of evolution was considered a shining example of how the Catholic church had made its peace with modern science….
Recently, however, a growing number of Catholics have voiced affinity for intelligent design, worrying that accepting the theory of evolution means acquiescing to a world without God, in which randomness and chance are the ultimate realities. A July 7, 2005, opinion piece in The New York Times by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, seemed to express official endorsement of this view, all the more so because the piece had been placed on Schönborn’s behalf by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank.
Professor Philip Sloan of Notre Dame, who took part in the Vatican press conference, told me afterwards that he’s seen a clear shift in Catholic attitudes.
“When I started in the 1970s, my Catholic students said the following: ‘God works by natural ways, so there’s no problem with evolution,'” Sloan said. “When I taught Darwin, the only ones who had a problem were the Protestants. Now I get Catholic students who think it is impossible to be a Catholic and accept the theory of evolution.”
While I am by no means a creationist or an adherent of intelligent design, I must admit that I have a soft spot for these folks. I have wondered if many of the so-called adherents of intelligent design theory actually adhere to the theory or are they like me? If some unfortunate polling agency called me and asked me about it, I might just say that I subscribe to it. Why? As it juvenile as it may seem, just to annoy any scientist who might see the result.
I am quite sure that individually, scientists are fine people and probably make good neighbors. But the scientific community as a whole is a bunch of smug jerks who are as likely to cannibalize members of their own tribe as they are to ridiucule the tribe of unscientific creationists singin’ alleluia at the revival tent. The scientific community needs comeuppance.
Take the case of scientist Alfred Wegener. Wegener should be a famous scientist, but hardly anyone knows his name. He posited a theory in 1912 which is now universally accepted. But when he died in 1930, he was only remembered long enough to be mocked and ridiculed. He died a footnote in the annals those condemned by the scientific consensus of their day.
Wegener, you see came up with the theory of continental drift (Plate tectonics). At the time, scientific consensus was absolutely sure that the earth’s geography was fixed and that mountain ranges and other geographical features could be explained by vertical crustal movement.
Over twenty five years after his death, other scientists made observations about the variable magnetic field direction in rocks. Wegener’s theory was then dusted off and reconsidered. Even though Wegener didn’t have all the mechanisms figured out, the basics of his theory proved correct and only in the 1960’s did continental drift become accepted theory. Mind you, this theory which we all take for granted was only accepted by the scientific community just over 40 years ago.
We see today this same hubris and internal tribal cannibalization if any scientist challenges the almighty consensus. Even more so when non-scientists dabble in theories. The initial impulse of the scientific community is to degrade, ridicule, and mock. Their vitriol can often be as cold as the scientific method which they hold so dear.
One last thing about Darwin. When he came up with his crazy little theory, many in the scientific community mocked him too.
So this brings me back to my soft spot for creationists and intelligent design adherents. I would love nothing more than to have some great discovery be done by some absolute crackpot. Matthew and I often joke that we would love nothing more than if they actually found a bigfoot or a Plesiosaur swimming in Lochness if only to remind scientists that they don’t know quite as much as they think they do.
So if ever the phone rings and some pollster is asking me whether I believe in Bigfoot or Intelligent design, my answer will be “You Betcha!”