The Faithful Should Listen To Science


This week, the AP released an article entitled “Faithful Should Listen to Science.” I would first like to take some time to focus on the article; I will post a more thorough follow up on evolution and ID (Intelligent Design) at another time.
 
The Article
Quotes from the article are in italics.
A Vatican cardinal said Thursday the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason.

I have a hard time when I see the word “fundamentalist”, as it has so many connotations (much like “evolution” – covered later). In most instances, it is used as an emotional term, without logical basis.
"But we also know the dangers of a religion that severs its links with reason and becomes prey to fundamentalism," he said.

Now, we are firmly in the world of emotion. “Fundamentalist” used to mean “one who adheres to the fundamentals of his belief”. In the new vernacular, at least at the surface, a “fundamentalist” is one who believes that the bible is to be taken 100% literally. Below the surface, we use the word to brand suicide bombers and other fanatics as “fundamentalist”. This allusion puts pundits like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on an even keel with Osama Bin Laden and suicide bombers, which is also an emotional appeal.
Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican project STOQ, or Science, Theology and Ontological Quest, reaffirmed John Paul’s 1996 statement that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis."
And, I agree with the Monsignor, with some caveats. Let’s continue:
"A hypothesis asks whether something is true or false," he said. "(Evolution) is more than a hypothesis because there is proof."
There are portions of the evolutionary theory that enough empirical evidence that only a fool, ignoramus or idiot would disagree. We can safely say these “have proof” or are “fact”. There are other portions [of the theory], however, that have little or no empirical backing and are pure speculation (or hypothesis, if we use the words of the Monsignor). When science is reduced to hypothesis, we are dealing with belief, or philosophy. As a philosophy, it should compete equally in the arena of ideas with other philosophical constructs, whether those constructs are ID, theology or even “fundamentalism”.
My Two Cents
If our schools are only teaching the empirically sound, or “proven”, portions of evolution (the facts) and not moving into the philosophical realm, it is not wise to introduce competing philosophical thinking. Science, when it is truly science, should not be forced to compete with philosophy. In this environment, only the portions of competing theories that can be tested should be allowed to enter. As there is little experimental evidence in the competitive space, it should not be taught.
If, however, our schools are entering the realm of philosophy, via extrapolations that may or may not be later shown to be empirically sound, other philosophical ideas should be allowed in the classroom. It is both unfair and dishonest to enter the world of belief, even in the guise of “science”, and not allow competing “beliefs” to be heard.
 
We certainly do face the danger of "fundamentalism" entering our schools, but the danger is real whether this "fundamentalism" enters the halls via the Southern Baptists (or other religious Conservatives) or via staunch neo-Darwinists. Any time one is committed to dogma, be it theolgical or "scientific", one risks losing reason. If the goal for our children is learning, we should educate, not indoctrinate.
 
I agree with the Vatican that people of faith must not become enemies of science. I also agree with scientists that argue we should not be teaching the biblical Genesis account alongside Darwin. Unless one can come up with an honest way of empirically experimenting on the specifics of the biblical beginning, it has no place in a science classroom. To date, I know of no such experiments. Even the musing of Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana (in Origins of Life) are philosophical in nature and not experimentally "proven."
 
On the other hand, if we are gonig to muse philosophically, we should allow both detraction of evolution (exposing problems in the science) as well as competing theories (ID). If we are going to teach the portions of evolution that are philosophical (hypothesis and speculation) as part of the "facts" of evolution then we should allow others to join in on the discussion. To do otherwise is intellectually dishonest and more focused on dogma than science, putting it on par with the "fundamentalism" the Vatican is afraid we will become prey to.
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