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Seattle University


Can Science and Religion Coexist?

Written by Mike Thee
October 25, 2010

Seattle University kicks off the Catholic Heritage Lecture series this week by welcoming a prominent voice in the ongoing national debate over evolution. Biology Professor Kenneth Miller of Brown University will deliver the inaugural lecture, “Darwin, God, and Design: America’s Continuing Problem with Evolution,” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 28, in Pigott Auditorium.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the lecture series, the first element to come online of what will be The Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture. Due to launch next fall, the institute is a collaboration between Academic Affairs and Mission and Ministry that will bring together established programs like the Arrupe Seminar and the Catholic Studies Program with new initiatives such as faculty research grants, a Summer Seminar in Catholic Social Teaching and, of course, the lecture series.

“I am delighted that we have launched the Catholic Heritage Lecture series,” says Provost Isiaah Crawford. “The intellectual tradition of Catholic social thought has a great deal to contribute to our understanding of the challenges that confront contemporary society.”

Peter Ely, vice president for Mission and Ministry, agrees. “I believe that the Catholic Heritage Lectures can provide a forum for exploring Catholic thought in relation to the most crucial issues of our time.” 

Kenneth Miller, a noted biology professor from Brown University will deliver the inaugural Catholic Heritage Lecture.

The subject of the first lecture clearly fits that bill. “The relation between science and religion is the center of controversy in our society among scientists and religious people,” says Ely. “Kenneth Miller is a scientist and believer who has developed a carefully balanced way of recognizing the creative activity of God with the discoveries of modern science. Ely hopes people will leave the Oct. 28 lecture “with a clearer understanding of how faith in God and respect for scientific exploration can be reconciled.” 

Some may recognize Miller’s name from his extensive scholarship on evolution or his television appearances—which range from C-SPAN to “The Colbert Report”—or his prominent role in the so-called Dover case in 2005. Miller was the lead expert witness for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover School District. The case challenged a Pennsylvania school district’s mandate that “intelligent design,” which critics consider a watered-down version of creationism, be taught alongside Evolution. 

The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and Miller lauded the decision, writing, “(Intelligent design) has no factual grounding, and…it represents a thinly-veiled attempt to insert a religious doctrine into schools under the guise of science.

“Placing science and religion in opposition to each other, as a mandate to teach (intelligent design) inevitably would, dishonors both science and religion, and would require young people to make the false choice of rejecting their faith to accept science, or turning their backs on modern science to maintain their faith.”

The Catholic Church, for its part, has come to embrace the theory of evolution, Ely explains. “(Pope) John Paul II reminds Catholic universities that their privileged task is the integration of two ways of seeking truth, the way of faith and the way of understanding.”

Miller’s talk will be followed by two other lectures in 2010-2011 that examine the contemporary challenges of an evolving universe to the understanding of God and God’s relationship to the natural world.

“Over the years, I believe that the Catholic Heritage Lectures can provide a forum for exploring Catholic thought in relation to the most crucial issues of our time,” Ely says.

Crawford echoes that: “I look forward to the impactful and thought-provoking presentations and discussions this great new lecture series will bring to our university community.”