Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition
The belief that God created the universe in six days is an unfounded superstition that both discredits religious faith and demeans science, the Vatican astronomer Guy J. Consolmagno SJ has declared.
Consolmagno, a Jesuit priest who in his scientific work has pioneered the field of gravitoelectrodynamics, described creationism, which proponents want taught in schools alongside or in place of evolution, as a ìkind of paganismî.
Far from being a Christian viewpoint, it harks back to primitive beliefs in ìnature godsî who were held responsible for natural events, he commented.
He added that a ìdestructive mythî has developed in modern societies that religion and science are competing ideologies ñ and that this is fed by creationism, which scholars say is a distortion of the biblical texts it claims as its own.
Fr Consolmagno works in the Vatican observatory in Arizona. He is also curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy. In addition to his work in astronomy, he studied philosophy and theology at Loyola University, Chicago, and physics at the University of Chicago. He has spent several terms as a visiting scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
Consolmagno, who spoke recently at the Glasgow Science Centre in the UK, argues that the distinctive Christian understanding of Godís transcendence recognizes divine creativity in the unfolding of natural phenomena which had been previously attributed to vengeful gods.
He declares: ìReligion needs science to keep it away from superstition and keep it close to reality, to protect it from creationism, which [turns] God into a nature god. And science needs religion in order to have a conscience, to know that, just because something is possible, it may not necessarily be a good thing to do.î
Christian theologians, scientists, secular groups and those working on the conversation between religion and science are concerned about the spread of creationist ideology in the United States and now in some parts of Europe.
A recent Mori poll for the BBC found that only 48 per cent of the British population accept evolutionary theory; 39 per cent of people surveyed apparently preferred to put their faith in creationism or its cousin, ëIntelligent Designí. Over 40 per cent believed that the controversial theories like ID should be taught in school science lessons.
Commented Simon Barrow from the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia: ìThe poll seems to indicate a worrying level of confusion, and the churches are among those who have a clear responsibility to explain why creationist ideology is false ñ and how nature as understood by science is fruitfully related to the divine as understood from the experience of a historical religious community.î
He adds: ìThe situation is not helped by the general mediaís failure to report that Christian scholarship is overwhelmingly opposed to creationism, to seek comment from experts in the theology-science interface, or to understand the use and misuse of biblical texts from an interpretative standpoint.î
Barrow points out that theologians and scientific commentators who are religious believers were among those who gave decisive evidence at the recent landmark Pennsylvania court judgment in the US, which concluded that Intelligent Design has no legitimate place in the science classroom.
Along with senior bishops who wrote to Tony Blair about the issue back in 2002, the Archbishop of Canterbury is among those who have opposed the teaching of creationism in schools, describing it as ìa category mistakeî because it confuses the Christian understanding of the universe as divine gift with a specific theory of origins.
Canon John Hall, chief education spokesperson for the Church of England, has also backed the Archbishopís anti-creationist stance.
But both Christian and Muslim hard-liners are propagating creationism in the UK. A recent creationist conference in the north of England was reported in the Church Times, and during Islamic Awareness Week in February 2006, students at the Guy's Hospital site of King's College London were presented with leaflets attacking Darwinism.
There are concerns that creationism may be creeping into the school system via private trust-backed state schools sponsored by religious groups. But there is also opposition. The Rev Steve Chalke, chair of Oasis Community Learning, a charity that plans to open its first academy in Enfield in 2007 recently told the Independent newspaper: ìTeaching six-day creationism in biology is mad. Genesis is a theological text, and anyone who puts creationism into biology lessons is mixing apples and pears.î
In response to questions raised by the British Humanist Association, Jacqui Smith, schools minister until the latest cabinet reshuffle, drafted a statement saying that the only controversies that could be taught in science lessons are scientific ones, and that ìcreationism [and Intelligent Design] cannot be used as an example of a scientific controversy, as it has no empirical evidence to support it and no underpinning scientific principles or explanations.î
In March 2006 the Royal Society, Britainís oldest learned association for the natural sciences, declared: ìSome may wish to explore the compatibility, or otherwise, of science with various beliefs, and they should be encouraged to do so. However, young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge and understanding in order to promote particular religious beliefs.î
Adds leading geneticist Professor Steve Jones: ìEvolution is a central fact in biology. I am entirely unsympathetic to those who push creationism as an alternative scientific theory. Itís astonishing that they have hijacked a place in the media.î
[Also on Ekklesia: Schools minister says creationism has no place in classroom science ; Creationists target schools and universities in Britain ; Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban ; New education minister walks into row on faith schools ; Christians to explore values in science and technology ; Dawkins attacks creationist plans ; Faith schools may allow extremists in, say critics ; Education Secretary hits back over faith-based academies ; US religious right plans a home-school revolution ; Creationists plan six more schools ; New Christian academy rejects creationism as 'rubbish' ]