Last Sunday’s Encounter now has a transcript available: Intelligent Design. Or you can listen. “This Encounter surveys not so much the origins or the politics of Intelligent Design as responses to it – and you’ll hear a fascinating range from across Australian Christianity and Islam.” Participants represent a range of religious views from ones I would embrace to others, Christian and Muslim, which get totally lost in fundamentalist circularity. Most of Genesis, as far as I am concerned, is myth and legend, of interest as poetry and story and as expression of faith, but of no great use in settling questions either on the origins of the universe or even on the ancient history of the area between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean. Creation is a mystery seekers for God have speculated on, but God, who doesn’t write books, hasn’t deigned to tell us much about it. Probably we wouldn’t understand if he/she did.
So I warm somewhat to Chris Middleton, principal of Sydney’s St Aloysius’ College.
Chris Middleton: The way it is presented in the American form, as I understand it anyway, it is a bit for me like saying the theory that the earth is flat or the Americans never really landed on the Moon, it was all a conspiracy, or the Da Vinci Code, for example, might be a trigger for further discussion but it is hardly a substantial one that stands the test of enquiry. In an education context at least it seems to me to be so vulnerable to challenge as to really discredit what it purports to be opening up.
I mean, the real sting why people are engaged with Intelligent Design is struggling to understand scripture as the Word of God, and the closer you get to fundamentalism the greater the challenge when it comes to evolution. If you really don’t have a fundamentalist understanding of scripture then most of the issues around ID in the American sense aren’t really issues.
Margaret Coffey: Clearly you have felt it necessary to counter the ID thrust? Where is the pressure coming from that you have felt it necessary to respond to?
Chris Middleton: I think from two angles. One is, it can communicate to our students that there is a contradiction between faith and science, between reason and faith and certainly my tradition within the Church has always emphasised that faith seeks understanding , that there is no fundamental conflict. The other more specific thing I suppose is understanding of scripture, and how it is that the word of God is pretty fundamental to modern faith.
I remember when I was at university as a young Jesuit, a student who was a captain of a prominent Catholic school came up to me, he was doing law, and he said, “I can’t believe in my faith anymore because I don’t believe Adam and Eve existed.” And I said, “I don’t believe Adam and Eve existed and I am training to be a priest.” There is still a certain immaturity towards understanding scripture and thinking hard about scripture and its nature. So there are the two sorts of angles that provoke a reaction from me…
For me therefore, there is no conflict between science and religion, between evolution and faith. There have been times of course when the church has allowed itself to be fearful of scientific investigation, as happened with Galileo, or for many Christians with Darwin. But just as surely, the church has been the patron of science through much of its history, and indeed Galileo himself came under its patronage. Science can be taught without any acknowledgment of that debt to faith. To take a few examples: Roger Bacon, one of the earliest advocates of modern scientific method was a Franciscan friar, Copernicus was a cleric, Gregor Mendel, who laid the foundations for modern genetics was a monk, and Roger Boscovich, who devised an atomic theory that was to influence John Dalton (himself a devout Quaker), was a Jesuit scientist. Or it could be put another way: how many science books describe Madame Marie Curie, the discoverer of radium, as a devout Catholic, or Louis Pasteur, the pioneering microbiologist? Then, and now, many scientists have been able to combine deep faith with great scientific contributions, yet many continue to see only division and confrontation.
None of which actually bears on the intelligent design question, though. Isaac Newton, not a Catholic, nonetheless believed in all sorts of weird stuff, apart from his better-known contributions to physics. But it is interesting.