From Obama to Darwin

Last week, the world celebrated the English naturalist Charles Darwin’s bicentennial birthday. The Origin of Species, his major work, was published in 1859 and revolutionized biology by proposing an explanation of the main mechanisms that led to the evolution of all species.

Darwin waited more than 20 years before he had his famous manuscript published, knowing that he would receive a hostile reaction from the Church of England since he was questioning whether the world was created in seven days, as described in the Bible, and by extension, the fact that homo sapiens are another animal form that has evolved as time has passed by. His theory, both so simple and so complex, has given rise to some furious discussions for decades, discussions that strictly oppose the role and coexistence of science and faith in our society. Last September, the Anglican Church apologized for its “anti-evolutionist” zeal.

Let’s look back to January 21st. The situation takes place in front of the American Capitol. “We’re going to put science in its right place.” This is no quotation from Darwin, but a few words from Barack Obama’s inaugural speech, echoing several controversies that were then getting around in the United States and also having an effect upon Canada. In a few words, the new president of the United States cast a chill over the people who, in the name of a scientific and strongly political-economical approach, want to put scientific and faith approaches at the same level.

As long as the presidential campaign lasted, Barack Obama wanted to stay aloof to the way his predecessor George W. Bush had reacted to some scientific matters, such as the research relating to strain cells, cloning or the climatic changes.

However, celebrating Darwin means that the acrimonious debates that are presently taking place in the United States and whose backdrop is the theory of evolution can’t be kept quiet. Whenever Obama says that he wants to put science in its right place, it is obvious that his promise comes as a shock to the people who continuously, in a roundabout way and against the opinion of the Supreme Court, lead a political struggle to introduce in science courses creationism, or intelligent design, as an alternative to Darwin’s theory.

The debate is virulent and political in Louisiana, Texas, Iowa and New Mexico where some new laws, such as Louisiana’s Education Act, adopted in 2008, pave the way for the “compared” teaching of the theory of evolution and creationism, just as if both were part of the same science course. The goal of creationists is to fight on the political front and to hide their approach by all kinds of roundabout ways, such as defining the Science Education Act by a form of sophisticated obscurantism aimed at redefining science in order to enable some supernatural explanation that would be difficult to check by a scientific approach.

Barack Obama’s declaration was made to counter this pseudo-scientific approach and has serious consequences on its administration.

Next month, some scientists and theologians will discuss Charles Darwin’s heritage during a conference organized by the Vatican, where creationism won’t be approached. It is obvious that the Catholic Church can’t ignore this anniversary and has to healthily talk about science and faith, trying at the same time to avoid confusion between both. The Church’s challenge is to claim the theory of evolution without calling into question the faith one may have in God. The danger actually lies in a mixing and confusion of them. “None of the mechanisms of the evolution is opposed to God’s will to create mankind,” the archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, “Secretary of Culture” at the Vatican, states. And what about Barack Obama when he wants to put science in its right place? Doesn’t he also claim that religion should be put in its right place? One difference though: it won’t be the same kind of place.

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