Tuesday, August 09, 2005

More Evo-- Guest Post

My friend Dr. John Burchard is a distinguished scientist, teacher, and researcher. His various interests include cichlid behavior, classical guitar, and falconry. He probably knows more about salukis and primitive sighthounds than anyone alive. He studied at Princeton, did postdoctoral work at the Max Planck Institute, worked under Konrad Lorenz,taught in Nigeria and worked for Aramco in Saudi Arabia. I thought this post, for another forum, was too good to pass up.

"In the 13th century St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, in effect, that it did not reflect
credit on the Church to contradict the findings of science.

"Science has advanced a bit since then.

"The facts of evolution are scarcely open to challenge by any halfway educated
person. The evidence was more than overwhelming 150 years ago, when the debate
raged; now it is infinitely more convincing and detailed. We are, of course,
constantly learning more about those details, and how they come about, but let
no one suppose that scientific arguments about the merits of one or another
detail of interpretation represent any serious challenge to the structure as a
whole. They do not.

"The history of life on this earth is known in very considerable detail, such
that the much-touted "gaps" present no real difficulty to understanding what
took place. It stands also beyond any reasonable doubt that the engine of all
those changes, and of the myriad strange and wonderful adaptations we see in
living forms all around us, is basically as Darwin described it: variation and
selection. That Darwin did not understand the laws of heredity made his
argument more difficult; but that difficulty was later removed by the
discoveries that led to the modern science of genetics. The contemporary furore
over "epigenetics" - by which we have learned that after all there is more to
heredity than just DNA - has no bearing on the correctness of Darwin's basic
principles, which are general and powerful and not at all dependent on any
particular details of the mechanism of inheritance. "Like begets like" is all
it takes, and epigenetics hasn't changed that.

"None of this, of course, interferes in any way with religious belief (as St.
Thomas also pointed out, indeed that was the main thrust of his argument ),
unless we allow that belief to become conflated with all sorts of other things
which really have no place there.

"There is no necessary conflict between believing that "God created the universe"
and finding out all we can about how that universe works and how it has changed
over time. Evolution is a part of that story - a very important part. It is,
in fact, the fundamental principle on which most of our understanding of biology
and medicine, not to mention geology, is based. Our modern understanding of
everything from the classification of organisms to the movements of the
continents to the biochemistry of human disease rests on that foundation, and
would be unthinkable without it. Indeed, it is probably as close as we shall
ever come to a "seamless cloak" of knowledge - that thing so diligently sought,
and so rarely attained, in the heyday of mediaeval theology.

"It does not befit religious men to make statements which are demonstrably false,
or which reveal ignorance of elementary facts about the world in which we live.
That was not a good idea in the 13th century; and it is still not a good idea
today .

"Religion is about mystery, about things "surpassing human understanding." As
such it does not and indeed cannot conflict with science, because their subject
matter does not overlap.

"St. Thomas's point was, in a way, an intellectual version of "Render unto Caesar
that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's." It's a pity that
such clarity has rather been lost in the so-called "debate" about evolution in
this country.

"A basic rule of debate is that in order to refute an argument, you must first
understand it. That principle, too, seems to be generally overlooked in this
context. Ignorance in this case is not bliss, nor does it redound especially to
the credit of those who display it in public".

1 comment:

Matt Mullenix said...

While looking up the title of a book (Writing for Story) by Jon Franklin, I ran across this commentary from him that speaks to recent topics here: science, science writing and writing in general. Franklin has some great inside info to share.