April 14, 2008
The logistical problems with the "Academic Freedom Act," which is traipsing merrily through the Florida legislature, are legion. The pope's U.S. visit highlights the logical difficulties that accompany the logistical ones, most prominent among them the continued inability of many to distinguish between the realms of science and religion.
The "intelligent design" proponents (who, by the way, love Florida's Academic Freedom bill) receive the most press coverage for trying to slip religion and philosophy into science's corridors. But those on the opposite side, people such as Richard Dawkins, have been just as vocal in their promotion of science as dispositive--i.e., the final, universal theory of all reality. Dawkins, an Oxford scientist, has written that, because of Darwin, religion "is now completely superseded by science." His notion is true if he's speaking about, for example, k-12 science standards or science curricula. He wasn't, though.
Benedict XVI could bring some sanity and clarity to the evolution debate that has so roiled school districts across the United States. To do injustice to his thought by paring it down to its barest form, Benedict (like his predecessor) believes that scientific evidence for evolution is convincing, but that it does not contain the answers to life's deeper questions. He believes that religion and science are different and separate, and that each can best inform the other when their distinctions are respected.
To bring it back to k-12, science teachers should teach the scientific consensus on evolution without worrying about academic freedom acts that encourage them to muddle the minds of their charges by inserting all types of vague "challenges" to evolutionary theory into their lessons. And science should acknowledge that its impressive discoveries are nonetheless limited, that they do not give us an overarching theory of existence or living.
That such a transparently logical approach is always, it seems, under attack leaves one nonplussed. Perhaps a few papal words on the matter this week would help.