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Swat Biologist to Discuss Evolution at the Vatican

By
February 19, 2009

Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday has sparked celebrations all around the world, and surprisingly enough, this year, the Catholic Church is no exception. Next month, a papal conference in honor of Charles Darwin will be held at the Vatican and Swarthmore’s very own biologist, Professor Scott Gilbert, will be in attendance.

As reported by the Times Online, the Catholic Church has officially endorsed evolution as a theory that is both scientifically sound and reconciliable with Christianity. According to the Times Online, organizers of the conference even considered banning discussions of “Intelligent Design” all together, though now it will be dealt with peripherally as a cultural phenomenon.

Gilbert said in an e-mail that he would be discussing evolutionary developmental biology— “the notion that hereditary changes in development are critical for the formation of novel anatomical structures”— at the conference. “This is an important idea, since several people who dispute evolution have said that evolutionary biology cannot explain the gaps between species, genera, and classes,.” he said. Gilbert explained that despite the fact evolutionary developmental biology is a very young field (the first journals on this topic date back only to 2000), developmental biologists are already discovering that altering genes that are responsible for development create new anatomical structures.

The Gazette will publish a more in-depth interview with Professor Gilbert once he returns from his trip.

  • bobxxxx

    "the Catholic Church has officially endorsed evolution as a theory that is both scientifically sound and reconciliable with Christianity."

    Biologists have accepted evolution for more than a century so it's about time the Catholic church admits evolution is a fact.

    The idea that the facts of evolution are reconcilable with Christianity is wishful thinking. According to evolutionary biology, the human race is one of the modern ape species. Therefore Jeebus was an ape. Do Christians really want to worship an ape?

  • Andrew

    ^ Not a fact, a theory, and in fact one that has not been completely accepted by biologists for over a century (at least natural selection wasn't able to be proven until around the 1930s).

    And Jesus was a human, just like Buddha was a human, and Mohammed was a human, and you are a human, not an ape.

  • Jon W

    <i>The idea that the facts of evolution are reconcilable with Christianity is wishful thinking.</i>

    Perhaps this is a question best left to those who are actually in the Catholic Church and know what they believe. If, on the other hand, you have an argument to go with that opinion, I'm sure a number of Catholic theologians would be willing to take it up with you.

    <i>According to evolutionary biology, the human race is one of the modern ape species. Therefore Jeebus was an ape. Do Christians really want to worship an ape?</i>

    But this is the whole point of Christianity. God humbled himself to the point of becoming human. That God took on animality with the rest of what it means to be human is one of the things that makes Christianity really unique and, I believe, sublime, but is something that non-Christians (and even some Christians) have often had difficulty understanding or believing in. That our animality was evolved from the stuff of the universe is just another way of saying "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground…." (Gen 2.7)

  • Mattie

    I'm an ape AND a human.

  • Argos
  • Argos

    Note that he is riding a dwarf apatosaurus, a rare species that, due to its initially low population, left no postdiluvian evidence.

  • Kim

    According to Genesis, on Day 5 God created sea creatures and birds, and on Day 6 God created land animals and human beings.

    How is that reconcilable with evolution? According to evolution, everything evolved from simple, single-celled organisms over a period of millions and millions of years, not days.

    I'm asking that out of genuine curiosity, not malice.

    ~KJ

  • 5

    Taking an edited page out of Inherit the Wind here…

    Drummond: That first day, what do you think, it was 24 hours long? [The sun wasn't created until the fourth day]

    Brady: [The] Bible says it was a day.

    Drummond: Well, was it a normal day, a literal day, 24 hour day?

    Brady: I don't know.

    Drummond: What do you think?

    Brady: I do not think about things that I do not think about.

    Drummond: Do you ever think about things that you do think about?! Isn't it possible that it could have been 25 hours? There's no way to measure it; no way to tell. Could it have been 25 hours?!

    Brady: It's possible.

    Drummond: It could've been 30 hours, could've been a week, could've been a month, could've been a year, could've been a hundred years, or it could've been 10 million years?

  • "According to Genesis, on Day 5 God created sea creatures and birds, and on Day 6 God created land animals and human beings.

    How is that reconcilable with evolution? According to evolution, everything evolved from simple, single-celled organisms over a period of millions and millions of years, not days.

    I'm asking that out of genuine curiosity, not malice.

    ~KJ"

    What I was taught in my Catholic high school is that Catholics don't necessarily believe that we get the truth straight from the Bible; rather, many things in the Bible are just to illustrate points. I learned in my Old Testament class that the creation story is one such thing, meant to illustrate God's hand in the creation of the world but not necessarily indicative of what actually happened.

  • N

    ^ agreed.

    There seems to be this silly notion going around that all Christians believe in is whatever is written verbatim in the Bible, that there is no individual thought or creativity. The Bible never provides explicit description of how one comes to "know" (or lay with) another yet look at all of the millions and millions of people who figured it out anyway.

    Frivolous example but the point is, it is possible to be a devout Christian and a devout Scientist. Religion is ultimately meant to guide and explain life, but often it does so with symbols and metaphor. There is a ton of room for creative interpretation and textual analysis.

  • Heaton

    Evolution are wrong.
    God created Adam and Eve )))

    prove it

  • Argos

    Creationism:
    YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG

  • dooobie

    not enough evidence.
    something or somebody is out there who created us.

    why don't scientist try to experimenting to create new spices of ape by selective breeding and see if there would be an ape that would be as inteligent as human.

    ape……….human…….what?

  • M

    Doobie—you are missing the point. Evolution is a process that occurs over thousands/millions of years in any significant fashion. Suggesting that scientists could create human-like creatures in any kind of short time span is ridiculous.

  • Max ’12

    Just felt the need to point out here that, whether or not you have philosophical disagreements with this, a human is technically a type of ape.

    Evolution is actually something that can be witnessed over very short periods of time, as long as we're talking organisms with short generation times and strong selective pressures: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=evolution-in-a-petri-dish

  • Nate

    I think N brings up an interesting point about the different purviews of science and religion. Science can be a poor tool to answer important questions about morality, proper social behavior and the quest to find meaning in one's life.

    I would also caution people to believe that science is absolute truth. Each doctrine of science requires a "leap of faith" on the part of the practiioner. An extreme example of this is theoretical physics which posit that more dimensions exhibit than the four that we perceive as humans. A theoretical physicist must then place faith that his or her math is describing reality without being able to physically test it (as of now). This point does not mean science is equal to religion (as emphasized by my first point).

    One additional point I would like to add to this conversation (which has been tacitly acknowledged in some of the previous points), is that natural selection is the most successful orgin theory to direct the advancement of science. Natural selection gives a cohesive paradigm to base experimental questions and to unify scientific observations.

    In contrast, creationism only suggests that things are because they are. A creationism-based science looks for seemingly unexplainable events (such as the origin of the eye) to demonstrate the work of an intelligent designer. This is an inherently discouraging approach as it pushes people to give up on a scientific problem. In fact science progresses because of people's desire to explain what is inexplicable with a current scientific theory.