Intelligent Design belongs in philosophy and religion, not science

Published: April 1, 2006

By Msgr. Richard Oswald

Fifty-two years ago, as a biology student at Catholic High School in Little Rock, my biology teacher introduced me to the theory of evolution. He explained that the theory is founded on the concept of natural selection as random mutations occur in the process of the transmission of life from one generation to the next in the plant and animal world. A mutation that helps a plant or animal to be stronger or more effective in using natural resources or in avoiding harm is likely to become permanent and be passed on to succeeding generations. He also explained that the body of evidence for this theory is so strong that it is the best way to explain how living beings have the form they have today.

He then spoke of the difference between science and faith. In faith we know that our loving God created and maintains the universe and all life. The theory of evolution is the best that science has to offer about how God accomplished creation.

A few years later between seminary semesters I began university studies to obtain a master’s degree in science.

One day before a biology class one of the students asked the professor to comment on the apparent conflict between the theory of evolution and the biblical account of creation. The professor curtly replied that evolution and the Bible were mutually exclusive and that each person had to make a choice between faith and science.

At that moment I thanked God for the wisdom of my high school biology teacher. I knew that my university professor’s dichotomy between faith and science was a false dichotomy.

Unfortunately this perceived conflict is today enshrined in the debate about bringing a philosophy called “Intelligent Design” into the science classrooms of our nation. Based on a fundamentalistic, literal interpretation of the two accounts of creation found in Genesis, Intelligent Design attempts to use the Bible as a science textbook.

In our Roman Catholic Tradition we have long understood that such use of the Bible is incorrect. The stories and images found in the Bible are not intended to teach us how God created the universe. Rather they tell us why God created the universe. God loves creation and gave us the ability to observe creation and recognize relationships and connections and draw conclusions about the things we observe. That is science. Our scientific knowledge does not place limits on God. Rather, to people of faith science reveals a God who made a universe that is dynamic, a universe that shares in God’s creativity.

Our God created a universe in which a few light sensitive cells on the surface of a simple organism can over millions of years and countless generations, through the process of natural selection, evolve into something as complex as an eye that can perceive so much more than light and darkness.

In January, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published an article by evolutionary biologist Fiorenzo Facchini of the University of Bologna. Facchini commended the Pennsylvania judge who struck down the Dover, Pa., school board’s requirement that a statement claiming that Intelligent Design is valid science and should be read in every science classroom. Among other things he said, “Intelligent Design belongs to the realms of philosophy and religion, but not science. It only creates confusion between the scientific and philosophical and religious planes.”

Msgr. Richard Oswald is pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers.