Monday, August 01, 2005

Faith and Science: A Brilliant Essay From Charles Krauthammer

I am a person of faith (my faith is difficult to pigeonhole, and uniquely my own, but it is faith none the less). I am also a person who believes that science and mathematics are the language of God, and the instruments we use to understand creation. How can the two be reconciled? And should faith be taught as science (i.e., 'Intelligent Design', hostility to evolution)?

Those are deep questions, and I am at peace (mostly) with my own answers. It gives me great pleasure, then, to recommend this truly wonderful piece by Charles Krauthammer to you. A couple of highlights:
Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, a man very close to the Pope...says...the Roman Catholic Church rejects "neo-Darwinism" with the declaration that an "unguided evolutionary process--one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence--simply cannot exist."

Cannot? On what scientific evidence? Evolution is one of the most powerful and elegant theories in all of human science and the bedrock of all modern biology. Schonborn's proclamation that it cannot exist unguided--that it is driven by an intelligent designer pushing and pulling and planning and shaping the process along the way--is a perfectly legitimate statement of faith. If he and the Evangelicals just stopped there and asked that intelligent design be included in a religion curriculum, I would support them. The scandal is to teach this as science--to pretend, as does Schonborn, that his statement of faith is a defense of science. "The Catholic Church," he says, "will again defend human reason" against "scientific theories that try to explain away the appearance of design as the result of 'chance and necessity,'" which "are not scientific at all." Well, if you believe that science is reason and that reason begins with recognizing the existence of an immanent providence, then this is science. But, of course, it is not. This is faith disguised as science. Science begins not with first principles but with observation and experimentation...

...This new attack claims that because there are gaps in evolution, they therefore must be filled by a divine intelligent designer.

How many times do we have to rerun the Scopes "monkey trial"? There are gaps in science everywhere. Are we to fill them all with divinity? There were gaps in Newton's universe. They were ultimately filled by Einstein's revisions. There are gaps in Einstein's universe, great chasms between it and quantum theory. Perhaps they are filled by God. Perhaps not. But it is certainly not science to merely declare it so.

To teach faith as science is to undermine the very idea of science, which is the acquisition of new knowledge through hypothesis, experimentation and evidence. To teach it as science is to encourage the supercilious caricature of America as a nation in the thrall of religious authority. To teach it as science is to discredit the welcome recent advances in permitting the public expression of religion. Faith can and should be proclaimed from every mountaintop and city square. But it has no place in science class. To impose it on the teaching of evolution is not just to invite ridicule but to earn it.

Amen; and thanks to all the scientists and mathematicians who make this world a better place to live: we are truly in your debt.

UPDATE 08/02/05 12:09 a.m. central: For a different perspective on Intelligent Design, see the always interesting Leon H...