Tuesday, February 10, 2009
On this day:

Praising Charles Darwin

February 12 would be Darwin's 200th birthday. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, writes:
One of the things that mars our culture is the fracture between faith and science. It impoverishes our inquiry into the realities that make up our life and world. This is a false opposition.

If we see the two as fundamentally opposed - science endangering and undermining faith, or faith obstructing knowledge - then distortions are produced on both sides. For example, some Christians argue for “Young Earth Creationism” or Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolutionary theory. Creationism is the belief that the biblical stories of Creation as described in the Book of Genesis are literally true.

Is genuine Christianity obliged to adopt any of these positions? No, it is not. Belief in creation is not equivalent to any one of them. It is a mistake to treat the theology of creation in the Book of Genesis as a scientific textbook. It does unfold a profound and valid truth about the world in which we live, its order and purpose. The Book of Genesis speaks about the relationship between God and creation and especially about the place of humanity in that relationship. That wonderful narrative of creation offers us a first vision of an “ecology of holiness” in which every material and living thing has a place and its creativity is consecrated in goodness by God. The account of creation in Genesis is pointing us beyond the question “how?” to the question “why?” Ultimately, science as well as faith must come to that most fundamental of all questions: the question of meaning and purpose.

Well said.

Later, the Cardinal makes an interesting point that is often lost in this debate: that creationists and ID'ers aren't the only ones to draw false conclusions from Darwin's theory. And as luck would have it, there's a good example of that in today's New York Times:
Darwin also had the intellectual toughness to stick with the deeply discomfiting consequences of his theory, that natural selection has no goal or purpose. Alfred Wallace, who independently thought of natural selection, later lost faith in the power of the idea and turned to spiritualism to explain the human mind. “Darwin had the courage to face the implications of what he had done, but poor Wallace couldn’t bear it,” says William Provine, a historian at Cornell University.
Now, I don't know whether Darwin really thought that one consequence of his theory was that "natural selection has no goal or purpose" or whether the Times is putting words into his mouth. I suspect the latter, since Darwin was a very smart man who was not inclined to make that type of logical error. While the ultimate goal of natural selection may not be discernable through the scientific method, Darwin's theory certainly doesn't exclude the possibility that a Creator had some purpose in mind from the moment he set the process into motion. As Jim Manzi wrote: "[The Discovery Institute's John G. West] claims that Neo-Darwinism asserts 'that the evolution of life was an unplanned process of chance and necessity.' While some scientists may say that, there is no such scientific finding."