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EVOLUTION-RUSSELL Mar-6-2009 (740 words) xxxi

Evolution is not to blame for atheism, says U.S. professor

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Evolution is not to blame for attempts to remove God from the story of life, said a U.S. professor speaking at a Vatican conference.

Scientism, or the use of science beyond its proper sphere of investigating physical nature, is what has reduced the place of the divine in the world, said Robert J. Russell, founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, Calif.

"Evolution is not the problem. The problem is scientism; it's people like (Richard) Dawkins who use evolution as an argument for atheism," he told Catholic News Service March 5.

Russell was one of dozens of experts in science, theology and philosophy invited to speak at an international conference in Rome to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species," in which Charles Darwin put forth his theory on evolution.

The March 3-7 gathering was sponsored and organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture's Science, Technology and the Ontological Quest project, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and several of Rome's pontifical universities.

"If you claim evolution makes you an atheist or legitimates atheism or is the route to atheism, then you're really moving beyond the constraints of science," Russell said.

While people of faith are right to criticize scientism, proponents of creationism or intelligent design are wrong to attack science, he said.

He said if people want to "attack evolution they should do it in an intelligent way, not in an embarrassing way" by putting forth arguments that the scientific community addressed years ago.

Intelligent design, which accepts that life has evolved over eons but asserts that it is so complex that its development must have been guided by a supreme being or intelligent agent, or any other kind of interventionist theology "is really unethical" from a pastoral point of view, he said.

Proponents of intelligent design and creationism offer "a kind of fool's gold" claiming they are the only ones who can keep God's role in explaining the origins of life since "those nasty atheists have co-opted it" with the theory of evolution, he said.

"Well, they should attack the atheists. You don't attack the victim," which in this case has been the scientific theory of evolution, he added.

Darwin's scientific theories have been co-opted for decades by unscrupulous people who use them to put forth and justify "absolutely horrendous social policies," he said, such as Nazi Germany's eugenics program.

But Russell said it is wrong to blame Darwin or his theory of evolution for their being manipulated by others.

Unfortunately, he said, intelligent design and creationist proponents are not addressing the real problem evolution poses, which is how to explain the existence of suffering, disease, death and extinction before the historical event of the creation and fall of man.

The fall represents the first act of disobedience of Adam and Eve whereby humankind lost its primal innocence and happiness and entered into its present condition of sin and suffering.

But evolution demonstrates that suffering and death are not the consequence of the fall, but were part of life "far before humanity came onto the scene and is in fact a part of how we got here," he said.

How to account for the problem of why God would allow all his creatures to suffer is "the really hard challenge of evolution," he said.

One response is that pain and suffering are a consequence of freedom, he said.

But while the father of a child lets her be free to run, fall and scrape her knee, if she were to pick up a gun and start playing with it, "I'd take that gun away," he said.

How then does the heavenly Father allow the extent and horrendousness of suffering seen throughout the world and in history? he asked.

The brutality Darwin witnesses in his studies of nature along with the tragic death of his 11-year-old daughter were two major circumstances that drove the Anglican scientist to abandon his faith in God, Russell said.

"But this doesn't mean that his theories are atheistic," he emphasized.

Almost everyone sees the same cruel world Darwin saw, but he "was tempted and his faith was challenged like mine is and yours is" in the face of seemingly inexplicable evil, he said.

"But we all have the same choice: to see (life) as meaningful or meaningless," said Russell.


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