Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The pope is committed to evolution

Well, in my last post I asked if people were committed to "Evolution" and I confess I got a bit worried that this might be misinterpreted by some as "We believe in evolution regardless of the facts." And in fact there was one flame-like comment posting that I deleted from the comments.

But now apparently the Pope has read my blog (or maybe someone told him about it) and he has come out in full support of evolution as a science and the facts of evolution as we evolutionary biologists know then (i.e., natural selection, macro and microevolution, etc).

As reported on MSNBC the Pope said
the debate raging in some countries —particularly the United States and his native Germany — between creationism and evolution was an “absurdity,” saying that evolution can coexist with faith.
In addition, he said
They are presented as alternatives that exclude each other,” the pope said. “This clash is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.
Furthermore, and more importantly, the Pope has re-stated his belief that everyone must do something about global change and environmental destruction:
“We cannot simply do what we want with this Earth of ours, with what has been entrusted to us,” said the pope, who has been spending his time reading and walking in the scenic landscape bordering Austria.
I know I said recently that biology had a good day in the Bush administration. Unfortunately, that was mostly genetics and biochemistry. Evolution and environmental stewardship never seem to have good days there. Maybe just maybe, the Pope will have some impact around the world on both issues even as the U.S. sticks its head in the sand. NOTE - SEE COMMENTS - THE POPE IS PRETTY CLEARLY NOT DOING EVERYTHING HE COULD TO PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT.


  1. Read up on just how the pope is planning to help the planet... by linking up with evil groups like Planktos who want to fertilize the oceans with iron in order to turn a profit.

  2. Fair point. And also, the Pope's lack of support for population control is also obviously not ideal for environmental protection. But he is doing some things that are useful in this area and I wanted to be positive.

  3. You probably don't remember me, but I spoke with you at one of the recent West Coast Bacterial Physiologist Meetings (I'm trying to learn bioinformatics on my own).

    Anyway, I want to thank you for this post, where you are supporting a "middle way" regarding science and faith. There is far too much heat and too little light---from both sides---on this subject. I believe that folks like Richard Dawkins (for whom I have the greatest respect) and blogger/scientist PZ Myers only fortify differences and do not advance debate. My opinion only.

    Great blog. And Phil Hanawalt is indeed a wonderful man. He was Chair while I was getting my PhD too many years ago.

  4. I agree about too much heat and far too little light. I like Dawkins quite a bit from an evolution educaiton point of view and in terms of some of his criticisms of the pitfalls of organized religions. However, I think he and some others are over the top in terms of the push to say evolution disproves God or in some way needs to conflict with faith.

  5. I rather liked Francis Collins' book, though it was slagged by PZ Myers. Since I suspect Dr. Myers is exorcizing some personal demons in his zeal, I didn't take the critiques that seriously. I found Collins' book to be thoughtful and most of all humble in the face of a complex universe.

    Of course, your mileage may vary.

  6. At first, I thought Collins' book could be great. But then I read it and was dismayed. On the one hand, I liked the part where he talks about evolution and science being one realm of thought and faith being a COMPLETELY separate area. That sounded great. But then the other part of his book is painful and directly contradicts the part where he says science and religion are separate areas. In the other half of his book he makes the argument that it is MORE rational to believe than to not believe and he uses details of the natural world that he finds unexplainable as evidence for this (e.g., his big one is altruism). What is most dismaying to me is not that he gets the science here wrong (his stuff on altruism simply shows he does not know the literature on the topic) but that the concept here directly contradicts the idea that science and religion should be separate. How can on the one hand, he use evidence from the natural world to say that belief in God is more rationale and at the same time say faith is faith and does not overlap with science. So I think unfortunately, Collins wasted a fine opportunity to take the high road by feeling like he had to get into the debate about whether faith was rationale or not and then making arguments here that contradict the nice parts of his book.

  7. Interesting insights, there. Much appreciated.

    I suspect a bit of the Modern Mystic zeitgeist is involved, probably in reaction to the folks who think that every aspect of the universe is currently understandable with what we know now. Psychology trumps reason, most of the time; a "reaction formation" of sorts may be the result.

    I have seen that duality/hostility in play between scientists and nonscientists many times (and it is echoed in old Christian theology, interestingly). I continue to be awed by what is not known in science, from the very small to the very large, but that doesn't remove reason from the process, nor do I celebrate ignorance. But it may be that Collins is, as I wrote, reacting to folks who will not admit that much is not known.

    Me, I'm with Haldane that the universe is stranger than we *can* imagine.

    I'm going to re-read the latter part of Collins' book with your comments in mind. Again, thanks for taking the time to respond and give me quite a bit to think about.


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