Sunday, October 5, 2008

Our (Unofficial) Apologies, Mister Darwin

I’m loathe to bring up the topic of religion and evolution. Surely, we’ve covered that topic enough last week? Certainly, Professor Jeff Wine, a panelist from the Eugenie Scott discussion, put the matter in perspective for us quite nicely. I thought the professor of psychology, human biology, neurosciences, and pediatrics, though the least spoken, had a few wonderfully understated end points for the night.

For starters, Professor Wine asked, Why is it necessary to have this conversation in the twenty-first century? Then he added, “Faith is not susceptible to argument. It also serves people and individuals in a very personal way,” and, well, that’s essentially fine. It’s when, he adds, that "faith comes out of the personal and into the public – into medicine, foreign policy, economics. Then you see the trouble.” I could (and perhaps should) stop there, but a few newswire items caught my eye last week. From my perspective, these seemingly innocuous news items are what largely keep faith in the public realm.

For those not in a habit of scanning traditional newswires, here's a brief explanation: The Associated Press and Reuters have subscription-based, bare-bone databases that literally stream breaking headlines and in-process stories. It’s like a stock ticker running across your computer screen. Sometimes it interesting, sometimes it’s horrifying, but usually it’s quite dull and repetitive. On Friday, the news cycle typically slows down (as in the journos leave their offices) and people turn off their computers for the weekend. Not surprisingly, it proves to be a good time for organizations to issue retractions, clarifications, and rotten earning reports – all the cock-ups that most marketeers prefer to go unnoticed. (Truly serious, "let's keep this under the wire" cock-ups go out Sunday morning.)

One so-called news flash caught my eye: a clarification to the Vatican’s September announcement that “the theory of evolution was compatible with the Bible,” but – again – there would be no official apology to Charles Darwin. There’s no more information on the story (as in who happens to be confused or concerned by the matter), but here’s a link to the initial Reuters story. Interestingly – and really my "Hot and New" (er, "Mild and Molding") item – comes from some subsequent digging.

In all honesty, I was hoping for some juicy Vatican drama with U.S. priests behaving badly around election time. But there’s no apparent news there. I was surprised to see that the clarification is tied to the Anglican Church’s apology to Mister Darwin for, well, 150 years of “misunderstanding,” “getting our first reaction wrong, and encouraging others to misunderstand.” Reverend Malcolm Brown writes more on the church’s official website, and it was posted to mark the upcoming 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. The posting appears to have been well-covered in the U.K., then subsequently picked up by Scientific America. But SA learned from an Associated Press interview with Church of England officials, apparently more in the know than their official blogger, that the posted "position on Darwin isn’t an official apology.” (And yes, a few other announcements came out from some more bit-player religions clarifying their positions on the matter.)

For me these news items and clarifications, which would have been put at least in the front of the eyes of a few million in Europe and the U.S., somehow pushes Professor Wine’s question about, Why is it necessary to have this conversation in the twenty-first century? to something, but I’m not quite sure what. The expectedly absurd? A matter bigger than the United States? The biggest non-news news item of the week? Or must-know information? Gee, did any ministers or priests rewrite their Sunday sermons after the Friday news?

It may seem a non-issue to many, but it's still news – or seeming – news to potentially more.

Laura Moorhead

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