Science and the Pope

I suppose it’s not in the best of form to start being critical of the Pope, but Benedict XVI has been dominating the news lately on account of his pilgrimage to the German homeland—and for his anti-science stance.

I just can’t fathom it. The Pope sacks the Vatican astronomer because he’s on the “wrong” side of the evolution debate, then preaches that science has vainly sought to make God unnecessary in the universe and hence to man himself.

Of course, science does no such thing. Scientists don’t sit around saying, “Gosh, let’s see how much God we can eliminate this week.” Science is simply the very careful examination of nature. To cloak it in religious terminology, science is “what God allows us to know.” Why should we be angry about what He allows us to know?

The blasphemy in the “intelligent design” debate comes when the advocates of such a position opine that the Devine Creator can’t possible be a good designer-He must simply create a solid, immutable being that replicates itself endlessly-never changing form, never mutating, never improving. What if cars were seen never to evolve, what if the creator of cars took a similar stance? Maybe He’d build a car in Florida. Then the car would perhaps be driven to Michigan in the heart of winter. Of course, the car engine block would crack on the first ultra-cold day, because the car was invented to be used only in the garage it was invented in, and the designer wasn’t smart enough to equip it with the tools to morph into a cold-weather vehicle.

This argument has its flaws, of course. But I’ll bet I could lay down a set of pictures of, say, Oldsmobiles from the tiller-steered to the present, and tell the gathered throngs that this represents the evolution of the car. Yup, everyone would accept that. But people? Nah. Yeah, they mutate. Many of the mutations die. Yeah our teeth are getting smaller with time. Measurably. We are afraid of the mutation of virii that woud make their infections incurable. Yet people deny evolution, despite the fact that they hear about the evolution of a particular virus almost every day on the television. Perhaps it was good enough for small things, but not us.

So…what if God set this incredible plan in place—this plan that gives us our freedom along with the burdens of adult life on the planet earth and lets us fly? The “creation” story in Biblical Genesis imposes this outline on us. God talks to Adam and Eve and provides everything for them they need. Then the pair step up and acquire knowlege. When they do, they are booted from the place where all their needs were met, to the outside world where Eve will have pain in giving birth, where the pair will have to scratch and dig for a living.

It’s the story of creation. It’s the story of every family in which the kids grow up and meet the world head on, and if you read it further, it’s the story of social evolution, too. When Adam and Eve, hunter-gatherers, are forced out of Eden, their “offspring” lived in cities and were herdsmen-gardeners (who curiouser still found wives). The herdsman Able is blessed by God because his moral behaviour toward his flock will pay dividends, Can despises Able’s ability to control his destiny; farming is a gamble in the beginning and Able just can’t find a way to make it all work—so he kills his brother in a jeolous rage. Religion, in the beginning, and among primitive tribes today, is a priority for herdsmen, but not farmers. Science, of course, has changed this.

God is part of our belief system, a system based on faith. Science is what we can directly observe and fathom. As much as these two are seen to oppose each other, they are dynamic and neccessary poles of our intellectual lives, it seems to me.

Science and the Pope originally appeared on , updated: Sep 13, 2006 © .



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