05 March 2009

Catholics vs. Creationists?

The Darwin bicentennial year reveals strange alliances. The Vatican is hosting a scholarly conference to commemorate Darwin, and apparently advocates of creationism and "intelligent design" are not welcome. As this story relates, the organizers want the conference to have a scientific orientation, and don't think that creationists or intelligent-design advocates have the scientific credentials to participate. The Vatican's current position is that evolution need not contradict God's primary role in creation, and one cardinal apparently went out of his way to scoff at American fundamentalists who cling to such superstitions as a six-day Creation. A Muslim creationist tried to ask a provocative question at the conference, but was shown the door.

The odd thing about this story is the excluded parties' belief that they were shut out of the conference at the instigation of the Templeton Foundation, which partly bankrolled the event. The Templeton Foundation is a think-tank dedicated to reconciling science with religion. The funny thing to me about their alleged role in this story is that, while the intelligent-design faction thinks the Templetons are excluding them out of some scientific dogmatism, the so-called militant atheists, most notably Richard Dawkins, accuse the Templetons of using their money to co-opt scientists into endorsing religion.

This coincidence might make some people think that the Templetons must be doing something good if both "extremes" dislike them, but I want to resist that conclusion. The "middle of the road" may be an appealing image or concept for some people, but men, like chickens, are supposed to cross roads, to get from one side to another. Science and religion, in the broadest sense of either word, may not be irreconcilable, but if they are, insisting on perpetual compromise for the sake of moderation may be just like playing in traffic. Saving a showdown for another time, however, we may as well applaud the Templetons and the Roman Catholic Church for not being as stupid or crazy as they could be, or as some are.

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