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Saturday, October 01, 2005

EVOLUTION DEBATE: Tracking the growing argument between proponents of evolution and advocates of intelligent design, I've found myself suspicious of categorical claims on both sides. Disclosure: I believe both religion and science are valid modes of coming to terms with the kinds of facts that each realm is adequate to address. I'm a religious person who values scientific ways of investigating and knowing; also a scientific person who values religious ways of investigating and knowing. Evolution has obviously happened and is still happening; there's more to be understood about the mechanisms. So along comes Newsweek contributing editor Kenneth L. Woodward with a well reasoned NYT essay that examines the tenets of evolutionists and intelligent design advocates. He argues that scientists have every right to put religion to the side when doing science, yet this doesn't justify contempt toward religion per se.
It is one thing to bracket the divine in pursuit of scientific truth - after all, there is no way to include God as a factor in a scientific experiment. But it is something else to suppose that scientific methods and the truths thus arrived at constitute the only kind of knowledge we can have.
Woodward likewise expresses empathy for the intelligent design advocates who correctly understand that good science doesn't require atheism; yet he also takes exception to teaching intelligent design as science.
No less a religious authority than the late pope, John Paul II, said that evolution is more than just a hypothesis. It is a thrilling theory that has demonstrated its explanatory power over and over again in diverse scientific disciplines. Intelligent design theory has no such record. Why then, do some religious parents want intelligent design theory taught alongside evolution in public school classrooms? For some religious fundamentalists, this may indeed be a way of making room for God in science classes. But for many parents, who are legitimately concerned about what their children are being taught, I suspect that it is a way of countering those proponents of evolution - and particularly of evolutionary biology - who go well beyond science to claim that evolution both manifests and requires a materialistic philosophy that leaves no room for God, the soul or the presence of divine grace in human life.
Kudos to Woodward for highlighting strengths and weaknesses of both sides of an important debate.