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FA: Materialism is a philosophical position, affirming that nothing exists beyond “matter,” that which we can experience with our senses. I would say that science is methodologically materialist: it can deal only with the world of matter. But it is not philosophically materialist; it does not imply that nothing can exist beyond what we experience with our senses, as religion requires. One can accept scientific principles and also hold religious beliefs.
But, many people are ignorant of science and just assume it is contrary to their religion. Of course, the proponents of intelligent design and creationism are also spreading a lot of propaganda. The only way to deal with the problem is education and specifically science education, which is unfortunately lacking, by and large, and not only in this country.
HHMI: DON'T MOST MAINSTREAM THEOLOGIANS ACTUALLY ENDORSE EVOLUTION?
FA: Yes. In Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, the compatibility of science and religion has long been accepted by most scholars, by most theologians. Pope Pius XII said in 1950 that Catholics should accept what science demonstrates about evolution, while holding that God creates the human soul. In 1996, Pope John Paul II spoke very strongly in support of evolution and the idea that evolution and religion are quite compatible. The current pope, Benedict XVI, says there is plenty of scientific proof for evolution and that it is absurd to assume there is a conflict between evolution and religious faith.
Francisco Ayala is a professor of biology and philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. For more information about the National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine report, “Science, Evolution, and Creationism,” visit www.nap.edu/sec.
Interview by Harvey Leifert