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Case's Krauss seeks Pope's renewed support for evolution theory

Lawrence Krauss
Lawrence Krauss

Three distinguished scientists, under the signature of Lawrence Krauss, the Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics and Astronomy from Case Western Reserve University, have sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI urging that he clarify and reaffirm the Catholic Churches' position on supporting evolution and science as made in the 1996 statement by Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy and in statements from the International Theological Commission that the Pope led when he was Cardinal Josef Ratzinger.

Their letter urged Pope Benedict XVI, in these "difficult and contentious times" that "the Catholic Church not build a new divide, long ago eradicated, between scientific method and religious belief."

The letter to the Pope responds to a debate between science and theology that emerged over the past two months, ignited by a May 17th opinion piece about the compatibility of evolution and Catholic theology that was penned by Krauss for the science pages of the New York Times.

Prompted in part by Krauss' opinion piece, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, penned a New York Times piece on July 7, writing "an unfortunate new twist on this old controversy, neo-Darwinists recently have sought to portray our new pope, Benedict XVI, as a satisfied evolutionist."

"As reported in the Times on Saturday, this represents a disturbing precedent," said Krauss about the motivation for the new letter to the Pope.

Krauss stated that the Cardinal's statement appeared to "dangerously redefine the Church's view on evolution."

Krauss has been in contact was various scientists around the country on this issue, and received wide feedback and positive support for the letter. In particular, he has discussed its contents with various members of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences who are also actively and independently examining how to respond to this issue. The two co-signers of Krauss' message to the Pope are Francisco Ayala, the University of California's University Professor and Donal Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Logic and Professor of Science; and Kenneth Miller, Professor of Biology at Brown University. Both are members of the Catholic Church, and Ayala was a former Dominican Priest. Miller has written widely of his own reconciliation of his scientific activities and his religious beliefs. Krauss and Miller together appeared before the Ohio School Board in 2002 to defend the teaching of evolution in the state science curriculum.

Krauss, director of Case's Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics, who has crusaded through his popular science writings to separate science fiction from fact, has participated in the evolution debate across the United States and has been on the frontlines in Ohio, Kansas and other places where creationist and now intelligent design proponents have lobbied legislators to include a component of theology to textbooks and discussions in the classroom on evolution.

Krauss and his colleagues wrote to Pope Benedict XVI in their letter that in Pope John Paul II's letter to the Pontifical Academy in 1996 regarding the subject of evolution he "affirmed that scientific rationality and the Church's spiritual commitment to divine purpose and meaning in the Universe were not incompatible."

The letter further states, "The Pope accepted that biological evolution had progressed beyond the hypothetical stage as a guiding principle behind the understanding of the evolution of diverse life forms on Earth, including humans. At the same time, he rightly recognized that the spiritual significance that one draws from the scientific observations and theory lie outside of the scientific theories themselves."

"In this sense, claiming that evolution definitely implies a lack of divinity and or divine purpose is as much an affront to science as it is to the Church," Krauss and colleagues argued.

They add that the Cardinal's views are "worrisome"—especially since scientists had seen a "convergence between the views of the Catholic Church and the scientific community on these issues, in particular on the compatibility between results of scientific investigation and Church theology."

They asked that the Pope publicly confirm the Church's stance on this issue. Copies of the letter were also sent to Cardinal Schönborn and to William Levada, former Archbishop of San Francisco and current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly headed by Cardinal Ratzinger).


About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work.