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Students Drawn to Debate on Evolution and Religion
by Jennifer Boeth Donovan
(Left to right) Theology professor Father James Wiseman, philosopher Michael Ruse, and scientists Sean Carroll and David Kingsley.
Many people think science and religion make uncomfortable bedfellows. Father James A. Wiseman isn't one of them.
"I am a believing Christian who totally accepts evolutionary theory," the Benedictine monk and theology professor at the Catholic University of America told a group of Washington, D.C.-area high school students. The teenagers gathered at HHMI headquarters for a discussion following the 2005 Holiday Lectures on Science, which focused on evolution.
In addition to Wiseman, the panel included Michael Ruse, a philosophy professor at Florida State University, and the two Holiday Lectures speakers, HHMI investigators Sean B. Carroll of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and David M. Kingsley from the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The high school students peppered the speakers with challenging questions:
"Should evolution be taught with a disclaimer, presenting it as one theory among many?"
"Could creationism and evolution be different paths to the same answer?"
"Do you think that we will see a jump in evolution in our lifetime, and if so, how will the religious world react?"
"Do you believe in God? If so, how do you reconcile that belief with the science that you do?"
Although the speakers brought different viewpoints to the discussion, they agreed that it is possible to be an evolutionist and a Christian. They encouraged the students to use the scientific method to examine the evidence for biological evolution, which Kingsley called "absolutely overwhelming."
"I don't see a fundamental conflict between religion and evolution," he said. "Evolution is a description of how life changes. That's different than addressing where the whole universe came from. Darwin says nothing about why the universe exists. There is still the critically important 'why' question of how the universe came to be that isn't addressed by evolutionary theory."
Ruse observed, "I can't see why one can't be both an ardent Darwinian and a nonbeliever like myself or a believer like Father Wiseman. It seems to me that [science and religion] are two separate things." He added, "The Bible is not a work of science."
"I find it beyond ironic that society depends on DNA evidence for questions of life and death," Carroll remarked, "yet we're not willing to contemplate the DNA record of natural history and evolution."
Photo: Paul Fetters