The Vatican and the Anniversary of Charles Darwin

John ArmstrongScience

For well over a hundred-and-fifty years faith and science have been locked in a struggle that has often been seen as battle to the death by both sides. Those who believe Darwin's theory of evolution proves that Christian faith is dead, thus naturalism reigns supreme in place of faith in the modern world, have miscalculated both the nature and power of Christian faith. And earnest Christians who think that no Darwinist can truly be a faithful Christian are either willfully misled or simply out of touch with the incredible faith contributions of men like Francis Collins, the head of the human genome project. Collins, for those who do not know, is both an ardent Christian and an Darwinian evolutionist.

On both sides of this heated debate are advocates who refuse simply to see the merits and insights of their opponents. The evolutionists often see faith as naive and mindless. Scientists
They see the foolishness of their Christian opponents, as in the aforementioned Dover School District case I cited earlier this week, as the sum total of serious Christian thought on science. And the Christians who think that evolution is the work of the devil are very often convinced of a young earth, the creation of all species within their present form and related ideas that they believe are mandated by a correct and faithful reading of the book of Genesis.

The sad fact is that many conservative Protestants, without serious regard for the teaching of orthodox faith and modern science, have nowhere else to turn but to the special pleading of so-called creation science or intelligent design. Without a teaching structure that is outside their own minds, and thus how they privately read their Bibles, they are taken in by various popular theories and teachers who can make points that seem so simple and faithful to the words of Scripture. A good exposure to the serious study of biblical hermeneutics would cure a lot of this but then where do such Christians get such training? It is much easier to hear their favorite preacher rail against the Darwinists than to study serious questions about biblical hermeneutics.

But Roman Catholicism has not succumbed to this duality or tension. It has been able to truly respect science in a way that allows for the theory of evolution while at the same time it has denied none of the essential biblical and Christian doctrines that are of the very essence of true faith.

I was reminded of this when I came across an announcement this week about a forthcoming event in which Notre Dame University, Rome's Gregorian University and the Pontifical Council for Culture are teaming up to show that faith and science are really complementary.

A March 3-7 conference in Rome on "Biological Evolution, Facts and Theories" was recently presented by Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of that pontifical council. The conference will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his Origin of the Species.

"It's not in the least about a celebration in honor of the English scientist; it's simply about analyzing an event that marked for all time the history of science and that has influenced the way of understanding our very humanity," said Jesuit professor Marc Leclerc at the presentation.

During nine sessions, these Catholic academics propose to contribute to the "idea that science, on the one hand, and theology, on the other, represent different fields of analysis and interpretation, though often they are incorrectly overlapped, causing confusion and ideological controversies." It seems to me that this approach is one that thoughtful Protestants would profit from immensely. Much of the warfare between science and religion is unnecessary. I find many, many young Christians who realize this and have grown completely weary of the older debates. I expect that a growing number of evangelical Christians will follow this course of thought in the years ahead. The older battles have little or no appeal to these very bright young Christians who are completely serious about their faith and their scientific methodology. This war needs to end. I pray that it will, sooner than later. It is an ideological controversy that serves no real good for the faith of Christians or for the preaching of the gospel. If you find that you react to this statement with emotional intensity then I fear that your reaction demonstrates my point all too clearly.