Cutting Edge
Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge

FAITH Magazine November-December 2007

A special feature keeping us up to date with issues of science and religion


In an ‘open letter’ in the September issue of Scientific American, Michael Shermer has addressed himself to the advocates of the ‘new atheism’ – Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins – with a word of warning. Shermer, editor of the magazine Skeptic, and himself an atheist, senses that these other writers are threatening their very cause by adopting styles of rhetoric which are hostile and condescending. If they are, as they claim, promoting a supposed ‘rational atheism,’ they must apply those same standards of rationality to their own output, he insists. In fact, he suggests a tolerance that some of his fellow atheists would probably not share:

“As long as religion does not threaten science and freedom, we should be respectful and tolerant because our freedom to disbelieve is inextricably bound to the freedom of others to believe.”


On October 4th the Council of Europe was scheduled to have debated ‘The Dangers of Creationism in Education.’ The resolution on the agenda concerns the teaching of creationism in Europe’s schools, which should “resist presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion.” Part of the impetus for the debate has been the widespread distribution amongst European schools of the book, The Atlas of Creation, published in December 2006 by the Turkish Islamist preacher, Harun Yahya. The summary of the Council’s report runs as follows:

“Creationism in any of its forms, such as ‘intelligent design,’ is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning and its contents are definitely inappropriate for science classes. ...From a scientific view point, there is absolutely no doubt that evolution is a central theory for our understanding of life on Earth.”

As part of the resolution’s ‘explanatory memorandum,’ written by Guy Lengagne and amended by its rapporteur, Anne Brasseur, there is a section entitled ‘Positions adopted by the religious authorities.’ Almost the whole of the Christian part of this section is an analysis of the Catholic Church’s position vis-à-vis evolution. Allowing for certain lacks of subtlety the Council of Europe seems to be receiving a reasonable overview:

75. For a long time, the Catholic Church was opposed to transformism and then to evolutionism. However, this opposition has to be understood in the context of the more general mistrust of science prevailing at the time, given the international climate of socialism, which it saw as a consequence of evolutionism. Thus, for a long time there were clashes between the positivist revolutionaries and the Catholics who supported the restoration of the monarchy. The Catholic Church has clearly demonstrated for a very long time that it is creationist. After the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church was more discreet and almost remained aloof on this issue. This was until 1996, when, on 23 October, Pope John-Paul II recognised that Darwin’s theories were more than ahypothesis. However, the debate on evolution is still taking place within the Catholic Church today. Several movements still defend creationism as a dogma. In July 2005, Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, published an article in the New York Times stating that the declarations made by Pope John-Paul II could not be interpreted as recognising evolution. At the same time, he repeated arguments put forward by the supporters of the intelligent designideas. However, it is important to note that the majority of contemporary Catholics now accept the neutrality of science.

76. In the tradition of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI now welcomes the role of the sciences in the evolution of humanity:

“Science has opened up large dimensions of reason that have been closed up to now and thus brought us new insights.”

In early September 2006, he brought together a group of former students and colleagues at Castel Gandolfo for a seminar on the evolutionism versus creationism debate. He published the conclusions of this seminar in mid-April 2007 in German under the title “Schöpfung und Evolution” (Creation and Evolution). He does not support the ideas of creationism: the creationist position is based on an interpretation of the Bible that the Catholic Church does not share. The Pope rejects both a creationism that categorically excludes science and the theory of evolution, which hides its own weaknesses and does not want to see the questions that arise beyond the methodological capacities of science. The theory of evolution is considered too pervasive by the Catholic Church, which seems above all to beworried about the influence of “social Darwinism” and the evolutionist theories concerning economic matters and medical ethics. (, under Doc. 11375. paras. nn. 75–76):

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