Monday, October 24, 2005

Darwinism v. ID in NY: Catholic Schools Side-step the Battle

Close to home this hits! Gary Stern, religion beat reporter for the Journal News, writes this article, headlined: "No conflict in Catholic schools over evolution"

Now, his report is part of a series that began yesterday. He takes the expected MSM angle: ID is creationism in disguise, and the usual suspects agitate for and against it. Consider his lead:
Charles Darwin may be on the run in statehouses and classrooms across America, not to mention a federal courthouse in Harrisburg, Pa. But in the public schools of New York state, he is still openly revered by educators who champion the scientific method.

His theories about the origins of life are clearly espoused in the state's biology curriculum and through the Regents exams students strive to pass. And the state's school districts have received little heat, so far, from those who might believe that evolution contradicts the Book of Genesis.

One lab required of all biology students involves using various "beaks," devices like tongs and tweezers, to pick up tiny seeds. Those whose beaks fail become extinct (they're eliminated). That's natural selection for you.

God is not part of the lab. The idea that life's complexity may be the result of "intelligent design" is not hinted at in the curriculum.

"Most biology teachers I've known teach evolution the way they teach gravity, as the closest thing to fact," said Randy Barbarash, a veteran teacher who until recently was the Westchester/Rockland liaison to the New York Biology Teachers Association. "Could we find out tomorrow that gravity doesn't work? Sure. That's science. But virtually all teachers proceed with the mind-set that life can be explained by looking at adaptations and how they allow organisms to survive. That's evolution."
In today's article, he follows up with how one Christian constiuency approaches the debate. I wonder who he thinks he's surprising with the news that Catholic Schools don't see a conflict between revelation and Darwin's theory (as long as Catholics acknowledge God as the Author of Life!) Behold:
Some might be surprised that a Catholic high school would perform "Inherit the Wind" at a time when evolution is being attacked by those who promote "intelligent design" and want public schools to acknowledge God's role in the development of life. But Catholic schools in New York, which make up the vast majority of religious schools in the state, are not players in this drama.

Religious schools are free to teach what they believe about the origins of life. A small number of local evangelical Christian schools teach creation as depicted in the Book of Genesis — and contend that dinosaurs and humans lived together. But Catholic schools, like conservative Jewish day schools, stick to science in their biology classes and leave matters of faith for religion class.

These traditions see no conflict between faith and reason, even if outsiders might expect them to take the anti-evolutionary position in one of the most divisive cultural debates of the day.

"I was a little nervous about doing it, but we thought the time was right," said Frank Portanova, assistant principal of Stepinac, which will present "Inherit the Wind" on Nov. 18, 19 and 20. "Some of the kids thought it might be anti-Catholic or anti-God. It's important that the play says that faith and reason can coexist. As Catholics, we do not fear reason."

The Rev. Richard Veras, chairman of Stepinac's religion department, said he would hope that Catholic schools would teach evolution just as public schools do.

"Science tells us about material, empirical facts, about fossils and evolution," he said. "We have no problem teaching what science has found. It is obvious to us that there is intelligence behind it, but it can't be proven by science. I can't prove that my mother loves me scientifically — but I know it's true."

Veras said if the physical record shows that man evolved from other species, so be it.

"We believe the human soul is created by God," he said. "God may have evolved matter until he got it to the point to house the human soul."

Deacon John Crapanzano, religion chairman at Albertus Magnus High School, a Catholic school in Bardonia, said students sometimes ask him about the evolution debate on informal discussion days.

"One did ask if it was true that we evolved from apes," Crapanzano said. "I told him, 'If you want to think you evolved from apes, that's up to you. But the church doesn't care.'

"The church cares that God gave us a soul, free will and an inner yearning to return to God. With that yearning comes a consciousness that there is a greater power.

"I have no problem believing my ancestors walked on all fours."

Historically, the Catholic Church has not interpreted Scripture literally. So the church can easily integrate scientific findings that update human knowledge of the world, said Sister Marie Pappas, associate secretary for religious education for the Archdiocese of New York.

"If things came into being from a single cell, God would be responsible for that single cell," she said.

"The science teacher will acknowledge that the single cell came from God. And the religion teacher will acknowledge the big-bang theory, evolution, and explain that they are theories."
Mr. Stern may believe that his colleagues often paint the Catholic Church with the same brush that they paint evangelical Christians: you know, the one that covers them in the "Christians are fundamentalist, unReasonable right-wingers" paint. If that's his intention, I salute his effort to set the record straight. I'll let the Rev. Veras' take pass without comment, for now. Oh, I could cringe, clear my throat, and mention The Council of Trent or the First Vatican Council, where council Fathers anathemize any that say God can't be proven through reason. I'll forego mentioning how St. Thomas has offered a natural reason defense for the existence of God. Why? I think the Rev. Veras is trying to make a point about science as it's currently practiced. He notes that the "intelligence" behind creation can't be "proven by science." I submit that this indeed is the case--because the philosophical materialism of many scientists that maintain the consensus of many disciplines within the field causes an undue bias when examining the question of a Creator, a la intelligent designer. In fact, the philosophical Darwinism that presents itself as "Science" is no more valid than any doctored-up creationism would be. The trouble is, tell that to the Richard Dawkins of the scientific world. Tell that to the teacher-preparation professoriat. That and a buck will get you on the subway!

I've already made my case on ID--especially on it's role in the classroom here. I'll leave with this question: Why can't the media get the real story? Why can't they cover the far more engaging story of how an academic elite, who subscribe to an atheistic materialism, want to legitimize their philosophical perspective as a science and do so through current science education? Why can't they address just why ID may not be appropriate for HS education because it's too specialized? Why create a false dichotomy and label it a "Culture War" issue? Is the Cha-ching! factor really that entrenched in newsrooms? Sad. Reasonable, but sad.