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Evolutionists speak about religion, faith

Ashley Charnley | Friday, April 3, 2009

Panelists said human beings ask questions regarding evolution that science cannot answer at the opening of Quest Project in the Little Theater Thursday.

“Well it’s not necessary within science, but scientists are not just scientists, they are human beings and they ask questions that go beyond what their science can answer,” Joseph Bracken, a retired professor of Theology, said.

Four evolutionists discussed religion and faith during a panel, opening this year’s Quest Project, exploring the science and religion interface.

The panel included the perspective of speakers from several colleges and universities and a variety of academic disciplines on the relationship between evolution and religion.

Bracken said Charles Darwin, author of the “Origin of Species,” was originally a divinity student, and he became a reluctant agnostic because he didn’t want to attribute the cruelty of natural selection to God.

“Natural selection is cruel. There are at least as many dead ends as successes,” Bracken said.

Saint Mary’s Psychology professor Thomas Parisi also addressed this question by saying human beings need organization in their faith, and that is the need of religion.

“People who are doing rich anthropological exploration, there is a rigid persistent gravitation toward the need to structure with which to express reverence and structure, so it’s not just neediness,” Parisi said.

Molly Duman Scheel, evolutionary development biologist at Notre Dame, added that she believes God was the creator of evolution.

“If you look at a need to put anything in motion, I would put him there,” Scheel said.

Scheel addressed the common issue with evolutionists of the randomness of natural selection and the existence of mutations that often cause dispute between the religious and the evolutionists. She said mutation is the reason there is a diversity of organisms on the earth.

“Yes, sometimes things go wrong, but if you view mutations as something that after selection, that something is going to continue after that process, then what you end up with is that life has existed,” Scheel said. “What more beautiful thing for a creator to put into his creation than the insurance that life will go on?”

Hagerty presented the story of Genesis and asked if evolution theory is fact, how can religious philosophers believe in both that story of creation and the notion of natural selection?

Bracken pointed out that the “only strictly empirical thing about Christianity that is beyond question of any doubt is original sin.”

However, he said he believes the story of creation is not as strict a belief.

“Now the story accounting for original sin is another matter. There is no reason why you need to take it as historical truth,” Bracken said. “It could be a religious myth, a symbolic story that has a theological point not a historical point.”

Hagerty also asked if the panelists saw the universal creator as having a purpose, for example, human life.

Mary Gerhart, professor in the areas of interpretation theory, theology and gender studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, made the point that to call God an intelligent designer would leave God in “a position of great boredom.”

“Surprises have to happen along the way, or else you get bored,” Gerhart said.

The Quest Project will continue with various lectures that further explore the relationship between religion and science.