Convergence?

’In 1996, Pope John Paul II announced that the Vatican accepted evolution as a theory of science compatible with creation, but retained spiritual claim on the emergence of mind (or soul) as an immaterial entity. To realists such as Richard Dawkins, this gesture signifies neither conciliation nor convergence of science and religion; evolution has long been accepted by science – as a fact! Rather it demonstrates the Cartesian inertia of the Catholic Church. Many scientists dispute this dualism, believing that the supernatural does not exist. However, this is a philosophical consideration and not a scientific one; if religion concerns problems that cannot be validated empirically, then they are considered outside the realm of science. Insisting that ensoulment is theistic exception to evolutionary naturalism amounts to the same argument as Intelligent Design – the intrusion of the supernatural into the natural. Attempt to merge religion and science is not just a transgression of discursive boundaries; it is pseudoscience, untouchable by negative evidence. ‘God’ replaces that which we don’t understand. A problem for science – and for the public understanding of science – is that it is often prominent scientists who commit this fallacy.

Attempts to marry science and religion can lead to problematic thinking, such as the application of Biblical metaphor to scientific findings. On 26 June 2000, Christian geneticist Francis Collins announced the completion of the first draft of the human genome, at the White House with President Clinton. Both described DNA as the ‘language of God’. Although it is useful and harmless to refer to DNA as a ‘code’, when scientists and commentators describe the sequencing of the human genome as ‘decoding the book of life’, we are given the impression that DNA is a text authored by God, with science as pontifically qualified to read it. This populist transgressing of discursive boundaries, a political ploy to promote public interest and acceptance, is highly misleading scientifically and prone to backfiring. It provides ammunition for the Intelligent Design argument, and, in declaring it can now decipher and manipulate a divine code, walks straight into the ‘playing God’ accusation. It is not the domain of science to make teleological statements without evidence. Such pronouncements from religious scientists are thus not science, they are religion.’

What’s my point with this edited extract from an unpublished essay (citations removed), aside from coddling my amateur philosophy? Well, have a read of this, if you haven’t already done so. We need to know – and be ready to articulate – the difference, to ensure that all schoolchildren are so taught. Regardless of what they ultimately come to believe (assuming they have a choice in the matter), the point has to be made that creationist and design worldviews are not scientific. Evolution, however, has amassed myriad supporting corroborative evidence (none of which, funnily enough, gets fair treatment by creationists seeking to discredit it).

Scepticism is a good thing. If the dodo had had more of it, it would probably still be with us. Scepticism is one of the bases for scientific progression. However, apologetically spot-welding science onto faith viewpoints produces theses that are run through with errors like a spelling mistake in a stick of rock. And if teachers are now avoiding evolution for fear of offending or provoking a sticky, hostile debate, then we have embarked down the slippery slope of self-censorship.

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