Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
Some few months back I wrote a post in which I advised that the Church should be more cautious in giving its seeming imprimatur to various different scientific theories. The post was widely misunderstood (my fault) as saying that the Church shouldn't discuss science. I wish to be clear here that I do not suggest such a thing. The Church should and must speak to science and scientists about the proper limits and morals that should govern scientific inquiry.
But I would like to re-emphasize my previous suggestion that the Church hierarchy, and in particular Popes, should refrain from suggesting acceptance of or even specifically endorsing particular theories about the origins of the universe, the origins of life on earth, or any other in vogue unproven theory.
By way of example, I think specifically of the "theory of evolution" as it is commonly understood by people. I am not saying that the Church opposes or should oppose the theory of evolution. God could have used any mechanism which pleases Him to arrive at us and the rest of the world. The Church has no problem with such things and nor do I. The question about whether the Church (or anyone for that matter) should endorse the theory of evolution rests on one question. Is it correct?
Well, since we are trying to describe things that happened in the ancient past many millions of years ago, the best we can do is ask this question. Is Darwinian evolution (macro-evolution) the best possible explanation for the evidence we have so far uncovered? Even more specifically, does random mutation and natural selection (the cornerstone of neo-Darwinism) have the creative ability to generate all kinds of new functions, organs, and organisms? There is growing evidence and recognition among scientists that it might not.
Since we have learned about the coded information in DNA and begun to unravel the complexity of the information encoded there, it seems increasingly unlikely that random mutation and natural selection can account for the enormous complexity of the digital information encoded within. In our experience, the only way that such "information" can be encoded in such a way is when an intelligence is responsible for it. Hence, the scientific theory of proposing such things is called "intelligent design."
One common counter argument proposed to the idea that an intelligence is behind the coding of information in the genome is that why would an intelligence code junk? Good question. If God designed us and created us, as I believe, why would he code junk? Why would there be junk DNA (DNA that serves no function) in the genome? Or, why would an intelligence create an appendix? Why would a vestigial organ that serves no purpose be found in multiple species? Doesn't mutation and natural selection better explain such things?
This question is what brought me back to this topic today. I came across an article this week that says researchers have discovered that the appendix is not a vestigial useless organ after all. It has a purpose, an intelligent purpose if you will.
Researchers now say that the appendix acts as a safe house for good bacteria. The body uses this to essentially “reboot” the digestive system when one suffers from a bout of dysentery or cholera.Moreover, new research increasingly shows that the "junk DNA" that has no purpose is not junk after all. It just took us a while to figure it out. This is just one example. Maybe the intelligence behind intelligent design is ahead of us.
Conventional wisdom used to claim that this small pouch protruding from the first part of the large intestine was simply redundant or an evolutionary shadow of a once useful organ. For years doctors advised people have their appendix removed and in spite of it’s now-apparent use, most seem none the worse for having it removed.
Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina researchers say that following a severe bout of cholera or dysentery, which can purge the gut of bacteria essential for digestion, the appendix acts as a reserve for good bacteria to emerge.
There may be elements of evolutionary theory that are quite correct, particularly on the micro-evolutionary scale. But there may be parts of the theory, even as widely accepted and in vogue as they may be, that might simply be wrong. That is why they call them theories after all. Thus great caution should be used by those in the hierarchy of the Church when addressing scientifc theories.
If you are even remotely interested in this topic, I highly recommend this very entertaining and informative interview of Dr. Stephen Meyer at Socrates in the City. It covers in much more detail what I ineptly try to describe above while at the same time being very entertaining.