Evolutionism and the Limits of Science

Interview With Professor Mariano Artigas

PAMPLONA, Spain, SEPT. 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Science marks a key achievement in human history, says a philosopher who nevertheless warns of an “imperialism” that tries to judge everything through the sciences.

Mariano Artigas, a member of Brussels’ International Academy of the Philosophy of Sciences and of the Vatican’s St. Thomas Pontifical Academy, has just published a book on evolutionism and its relationship with philosophy and religion.

Entitled “The Frontiers of Evolutionism” and published by Eunsa, the book states that there are questions that science cannot resolve.

Artigas, a professor of philosophy of nature and of sciences at the University of Navarre, spoke with ZENIT.

Q: The title “The Frontiers of Evolutionism” indicates that there are questions that fall outside the competence of science, yes?

Artigas: I will respond with the words of Stephen Jay Gould, one of the most important evolutionists of the 20th century. He was a professor of Harvard University for most of his life.

Together with Niles Eldredge, he was the author of the theory of “punctuated equilibrium,” which appears in all treatises on evolution. He [Gould] died of cancer in 2002 at 60. He was an agnostic.

In his last years he published two books on the relations between science, the humanities and religion, and upheld that science and religion are “two disciplines that are not superimposed,” because science studies the composition and functioning of the natural world, while religion addresses spiritual and moral questions.

Gould said that it made no sense to seek answers to the questions on the meaning of life in natural science.

Another well-known evolutionist, Richard Dawkins, a professor at Oxford University, is an atheist and attacks religion, but acknowledges that the study of evolution cannot give an answer to moral problems.

Q: Your view on evolution and creation is interesting: “Evolution can only take place if there is something capable of evolving: Evolution from nothing is a contradiction. This is why evolutionist theories cannot be used to affirm or deny creation.” Can you elucidate this affirmation further?

Artigas: The Christian idea of creation states that everything that exists depends on God for its being. Instead, evolution defines beings through mutation and natural selection. They are two different planes.

This was already recognized by not a few Christians in the 20th century, and it has been generally accepted by almost all Christians for some time, except for some fundamentalist Protestant groups, which are in the minority in the United States but very noisy.

The problem is that it is difficult to imagine God’s action, because we do not have other similar examples.

Q: You don’t try to criticize the scientific theories of evolution, but there are some Christians who do. What is your opinion about them?

Artigas: They have a right. Anyone can criticize scientific theories, which are formulated publicly and are based on known arguments.

But for those criticism to be serious, they must be based on well-founded reasons. The North American “scientific creationists” have used quite unconvincing arguments, and have used the Bible as if it were a scientific treatise, extracting from it doctrines that go beyond the meaning of the sacred books.

Q: What, however, should we do about the Book of Genesis?

Artigas: Extract the religious doctrines it contains, which are very important and are the ones that have been emphasized by the Church throughout the centuries. For example, that God is the creator of everything that exists; that he has a special providence with the human being; that at the beginning the human being separated himself from God; that God has plans of salvation for the human race and has developed them through history.

Centuries ago, in the West, the Church was concerned with almost the whole of culture. The development of modern science has helped to identify the realm of religious truths and to distinguish those truths from the metaphors in which they have been presented.

Q: There should be no problem to combine evolution and God; however, there is conflict. How is it resolved?

Artigas: By studying and avoiding prejudices — thinking what it means that God is the first cause of the being of everything that exists, and that creatures are second causes which in turn cause, but depend completely on God, although God respects the capacities that he himself has given them.

Seeing that science is one of the most important achievements of human history, but avoiding scientific imperialism which attempts to judge everything through science. This is no longer science, but a bad philosophy which is generally called scientism.

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