The Magazine of Marquette University | Summer 2006

 

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From President Robert Wild, S.J.

With the theory of intelligent design attracting
significant attention recently, an age-old debate has heated up over how life came into being. Tempting as it may be to characterize this as a pitched battle between Darwinists and Creationists, not everyone is choosing sides.

Marquette’s mission statement reads, “As a Catholic university, we are committed to the unfettered pursuit of truth under the mutually illuminating powers of human intelligence and Christian faith.” We believe that science and faith do not simply coexist under some sort of separate but equal détente, but that both are, if pursued with methodological integrity, independent and yet complimentary sources of truth.

True enough, not all Christians view human reason so positively. And, true as well, there are those who view science alone as a source of truth, dismissing revelation as something that can never be demonstrated in scientific terms. They therefore conclude that discussions about God and God’s activity in the world only impede the search for truth and so do not belong on a university campus. This means that a major aspect of human experience, religious faith in all its forms, is ruled out of bounds on many campuses. As I see it, however, institutions, such as Marquette, that encourage the study of religious faith and revelation are in that respect more open to understanding the human condition in all its varied dimensions.

So where exactly does this place Marquette along the Darwinism/Creationism spectrum? While a university community ought to be open to debate on this as well as anything else, here at Marquette most professors who would concern themselves professionally with this topic might say something like this.

First, while evolution may technically remain a scientific hypothesis, it has proven extraordinarily productive in terms of explaining a great many facts in our natural world and is very strongly supported by a vast array of fossil evidence. Consequently, it must be taken very seriously.

Secondly, the account of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis is not a literal history or scientific statement nor was it ever intended as such. Among other things, Genesis 1 is a conscious parody of a Babylonian creation myth. That is, Genesis argues that God is the sole ultimate creator of the universe, that God accomplished this simply by a word of command, and that God views the created universe as “good.” Because this biblical text is a theological narrative and not a scientific account, it does not contradict evolution or any other scientific theory. On the other hand, if science attempts to explain the ultimate origins of the universe by random causality alone, it really is overstepping its methodological bounds. For just as the Bible does not purport to be a scientific text, so natural science can only speak about the natural world and natural causality and therefore must, if remaining true to its own methodology, leave open the question of ultimate causality. That is, scientific methodology can neither affirm nor deny the existence of God since by definition it only deals with material causes, and in religious understanding God is always deemed to be immaterial.

Having said all this, I well recognize that questions of this magnitude will continue to provoke debate as we humans continue to seek greater understanding of ourselves and the universe around us. Such debates are a necessary part of the intellectual work proper to a university, Marquette most certainly included.

Understanding better how we humans came to be leads naturally to the question of why we are here. Such a consideration also goes very directly to the core of a Marquette education as we strive to graduate men and women who are confident in their abilities, cognizant of their responsibilities to other human beings, and committed to fulfilling the unique purposes for which we believe God has placed each of us on this planet.

 

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