FaithWorld

What’s the use of apologising to Darwin?

Charles DarwinThe Church of England has just issued an apology to Charles Darwin for opposing his theory of evolution when The Origin of Species first came out 150 years ago. The Roman Catholic Church says it sees no need to say “sorry” for its initial hostility to the same theory. But both are now reconciled to evolution as solid science and are getting active in presenting their view that it is not incompatible with Christian faith. Is one approach better than the other to get this message across?

Next year’s double anniversary — the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species — is one reason to speak up about evolution. Another is the fact that evolution has become an increasingly controversial public issue, especially in the United States, and the debate is dominated by mostly conservative Protestant creationists and “intelligent design” supporters on one side and agnostic/atheistic scientists on the other.

A first edition of The Origin of Species, 13 June 2008/Lucas JacksonThat debate is so entangled in U.S. politics — the latest chapter being the questions about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s views on teaching creationism in schools — that a less polarised view has a hard time getting heard. Trying to walk a middle path can be a tricky business, too, as Rev Michael Reiss in Britain has learned. A biologist and Anglican priest, he has just had to resign as the Royal Society‘s director of education after causing an uproar among scientists by saying creationism could be discussed as a “world view” in science class. He wasn’t advocating it, but thought that simply telling students with creationist views that they were wrong would turn them off science completely.

So what’s the best way for anyone who wants to get a word in edgewise? Apologies to a man long dead? Arguments that may not be heard? Something else?

One reason for the different approaches may be that the churches are responding to  different poles of this debate. The Church of England seems more concerned about arguments from the “new atheists” such as Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins. The Vatican seems to be thinking more about creationists and “intelligent design” supporters.

Regensburg watch over, pope raps Biblical fundamentalism

Pope Benedict delivers speech on faith and culture, 12 Sept 2008/poolAs Pope Benedict delivered his major speech on faith and culture in Paris today, some of those listening in the medieval hall and in the press centre listened closely to hear what he would say about … Islam. The Muslim faith was by no means the subject of the lecture addressed to 700 French intellectuals. But two years ago to the day, the former theology professor gave a similar lecture in Regensburg and, seemingly out of nowhere, quoted a Byzantine emperor saying that Islam was violent and irrational. The reaction in the Muslim world back then was violent and irrational. So would he make another gaffe?

France is the European country with the largest Muslim minority. Eight Muslim leaders were especially invited to the speech because time constraints made it hard to fit in a meeting with them at any other time. It seemed so unlikely that Benedict would say anything controversial that it hardly seemed worth looking out for. But in the speech, he warned about “fundamentalism” and “fundamentalist fanatacism.” As soon as it was over, journalists wondered whether this referred to Islam. Editors checked with correspondents. Was this Regensburg redux?

No, it wasn’t — it was actually a B16 shot across a different bow. The context of the speech makes clear that his first reference to fundamentalism meant Christian fundamentalists. It was a clear statement that the Bible cannot be read literally, without any reference to its context and history. Why he chose to say this now is not clear. The Vatican has just announced it would hold a conference next March on Darwin and evolution, a subject it said has caused many “emotional and ideological reactions.” Could he be thinking of creationists?

Vatican sees “urgent” need to review Darwin and evolution

Darwin dolls for sale at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, 15 Nov 2005/Shannon StapletonThe Vatican famously “thinks in centuries”. It’s useful to remember that when reading the announcement from its Pontifical Council for Culture about a conference it plans to hold in Rome on Darwin and evolution. Pope Benedict has shown a keen interest in the issue and debated it in a closed session with some former doctoral students in 2006. The Vatican now wants to hold a week-long public conference next March entitled “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories — A Critical Evaluation 150 years after the The Origin of Species“.

The announcement (translated from the original and more florid Italian) said: “150 years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is difficult to find a scientific sphere entirely free from direct or indirect influences of the theory of evolution. Especially in recent decades, this theory has experienced so many changes, and such significant changes, that a critical reflection is very urgent. Moreover, there are obvious philosophical and theological problems raised by the theory of evolution that cause many emotional and even ideological reactions.”

STOQ logoThe conference from March 3 to 7 will be organised by the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and the University of Notre Dame in the United States, as part of a wider project called STOQ (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest). It will be attended, the announcement declared with a flourish, by “luminaries of science and famous philosophers and theologians”.

Pope’s students to launch Ratzinger Foundation in Munich

The sun rises over Munich’s cathedral, 9 Feb 2008/Alexandra BeierThe Ratzinger Schülerkreis, the group of Pope Benedict’s former theology students, plans to launch a foundation bearing his name this November in Munich. The group, which held its annual meeting with its former teacher at Castel Gandolfo last weekend, aims to promote theological studies “in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger”. Reflecting the international character of the Schülerkreis, the Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI foundation has a board of trustees with former students from Germany, Portugal, Ireland, Benin and the United States.

The Schülerkreis itself, which has been meeting for 30 years, is slowly taking on a more organised feel. For years, the closed-door meetings of several dozen former students and their professor went on below the radar screen of the outside world. That changed, though, when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict and the meetings were switched to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. There was still no media access, but diligent telephoning to participants yielded a rundown of the discussions. The 2006 discussion on creation was considered so interesting that the Schülerkreis decided to publish the proceedings the following year in a book Creation and Evolution.

Now they’ve even started issuing press releases after their talks. Rev. Vincent Twomey, an Irish Schüler who has written Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age, was the author and he’s sent me the text. Since we didn’t cover the meeting this year for the wire, here’s the press release:

Harun Yahya preaches Islam, slams Darwin and awaits Jesus

Adnan Oktar, 21 May 2008/Osman OrsalIn the two years I’ve been writing about the Turkish Muslim creationist Harun Yahya , we’ve had to use adjectives like “reclusive” or “mysterious” to describe Adnan Oktar (his real name). The head of one of the Muslim world’s biggest publishing outfits rarely talked to the media. But he has begun speaking out more in public recently. We took the opportunity to interview him and here is my feature — Muslim creationist preaches Islam and awaits Christ.

We met at a richly decorated house in a gated community in Çengelköy, a residential area on the Asian side of Istanbul. It wasn’t his home or headquarters but apparently a meeting place for his group. Oktar, who spoke in Turkish through an interpreter, provided no surprises. One of my questions was whether he planned another huge project like the Atlas of Creation that was mass-mailed around Europe, but he said no. He also kept his cards close to his chest about his publishing houses’ finances, another issue since the Atlas giveaway.

Atlas of CreationWhat was interesting, though, was the way he explained the Atlas campaign as part of his Muslim vision of the end times. Several Turks have told me they suspect he considers himself the Mahdi, the Muslim saviour who comes at the end of time to fight with Jesus against evil and establish Islam as the only world religion. He denied this, but it a way vague enough that his supporters might still believe it. Whatever it is, he sees some role for himself in the end times, which he said will come in the next 20 to 25 years.

Pope Benedict’s evolution book finally comes out in English

Creation and Evolution bookcoverAn English translation of Pope Benedict’s 2006 discussion of evolution with his former students has finally come out and I recommend it to anyone who’s confused about where the Roman Catholic Church stands on this issue. It’s called Creation and Evolution and is publised by Ignatius Press in the U.S. The discussion was held in German and the original text, Schöpfung und Evolution, appeared in April 2007.

I mention the confusion about this issue because a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece by Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn prompted supporters of “intelligent design” (ID) to think the Church was embracing their argument. He denied that to me in an interview a few months later. So when it became known that Benedict would discuss evolution with his former doctoral students — his so-called Schülerkreis — at Castel Gandolfo in September 2006, there was considerable interest in what he would say.

Schöpfung und Evolution bookcoverThe German publisher, Sankt Ulrich Verlag in Augsburg, sent me a PDF version of the book in German under embargo, so I wrote a news story the day it appeared. In the book, Benedict said science was too narrow to explain creation, which was not random as Darwinists insist, but has a rationality that goes back to God. He argued this on philosophical and theological grounds, not on the faith arguments that creationists use (“the Bible says so”) or the biology-based examples that ID prefers to argue that some life forms are too complex to have evolved.

from Environment Forum:

How did Noah’s Ark float?

Greenpeace volunteers build a modern day version of the legendary Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey May 21, 2007 as part of a project to draw attention to global warming. REUTERS/Fatih Saribas (TURKEY)The story of Noah's Ark in The Bible is widely read as an allegory and discoveries of a stunning range of species of wildlife raise questions, for those who believe in the account as literal truth, about how they all crammed aboard.

The total number of species of animals and plants on the planet, according to biologists, may well range up to the tens of millions. About 1.8 million have been identified so far -- many of them are plants and fish that Noah did not take along to escape the flood, according to the Book of Genesis.

Even the Ark, with its three decks, would have quickly filled if Noah took at least two of all living creatures as God instructed Noah in the Book of Genesis.