February 16th, 2006 07:52 PM
The argument the creationists should adopt
If they don't already see the writing on the wall, the creationists will very soon. When they do, they should read what Hans Kuemg is saying very closely. It is the only realistic way they have to retain a role in the discussions about evolution.
Don't preach to scientists in evolution row: Kueng By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor, Reuters
Tue Feb 14, 4:56 PM ET
Hans Kueng is not a man afraid of challenging authority. The liberal Swiss priest has confronted the Vatican so often that he was barred from teaching Catholic theology in 1979 and was long a "persona non grata" in Rome.
He also has clear ideas about where theologians should not tread. The row about evolution and intelligent design, a major issue in the United States, is a case where he says believers should not claim to know more science than the scientists.
As a man of faith, Kueng sees God reflected in creation, but says this does not mean the Almighty tinkers with the laws of nature or creates life forms so complex they could not have evolved.
Supporters of the intelligent design theory, which they say offers scientific proof a higher power designed life on Earth, suffered a setback in December when a Pennsylvania court ruled they could not teach their views as science in public schools.
"There's no use casting doubt on (scientific) results with some little problems, as the intelligent design people or the creationists do," Kueng told Reuters in a telephone interview from his office at Tuebingen University in Germany.
"What's there is there. A theologian should not cast doubt on a scientific consensus, but see how he can deal with it."
This debate has been dominated mostly by evangelical Protestants. Conservative Catholics such as Pope Benedict and Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn have joined in but not openly embraced intelligent design.
A rare liberal thinker in the discussion, Kueng recently published a book in Germany on evolution called "Der Anfang aller Dinge" (The Beginning Of All Things) that tries to reconcile theology with the latest scientific insights.
SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING
At times it reads like a science textbook as it summarizes views from cosmology, quantum mechanics, neuroscience and other fields to shed light on man and his universe. It also cites critics of religion and reviews creation stories in many faiths.
Kueng accepts established science as fact but shows where the boundaries of science lie and where theology or philosophy start. "Along with all scientists, I reject the idea that God could intervene against the laws of nature," he explained.
"For science, God is not a valid category because God is by definition a reality beyond time and space and therefore does not belong to the world of our scientific experience.
"But there are questions that science cannot answer," he added. "The fundamental question of philosophy, according to Gottfried Leibnitz, is 'why is there anything at all and not simply nothing'? Science can't answer that."
Issues beyond science's grasp include what happened before the Big Bang, the explosion scientists say produced the universe 13.7 billion years ago.
The same goes for what Kueng calls the constants of nature.
"Take the speed of light," he said. "Why has it been there from the start? You have to ask where it came from."
After years of discussions with scientists, Kueng is wary about answering such questions too quickly. "As soon as you try to intellectually force scientists to recognize God, you're on the wrong track. That can only provoke reactions," he said.
But he says these questions lead to the conclusion there is a fundamental cause behind the world. After letting science have its say, Kueng makes what he calls a statement not of rational proof but of reasonable trust: "The fundamental cause is God."
Pope Benedict has encouraged both the liberal Kueng, once a colleague at Tuebingen University, and the conservative Schoenborn -- once one of the Pope's students -- to join the evolution debate.
Kueng discussed this with Benedict when the Pope unexpectedly invited him to meet in August, ending a quarter of a century during which he was kept at a distance in Rome.
"We agreed that the reason of the natural sciences can enter into a discussion with the reasonableness of faith," he said. "The Pope does not represent an irrational faith."
Unfortunately, he said, the public debate about evolution is dominated by fundamentalist Christians who ignore science and agnostic scientists who refuse to talk about God.
When faced with the complex mysteries of life, he said, "wonder and reflection is a much better reaction than a dumb 'I don't know' or 'I don't want to know'."
"People naturally assume that physics is very complicated," he remarked. "But who says theology has to be very simple?"
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