Speaker ties Darwinism to religion

Derek Lenehan

Philip Kitcher, professor of philosophy at Columbia University, told a mixture of students, professors, administrators and community members in the Kiva yesterday that there is something wrong with the United States today – a division between people that put their faith in science, and those who prescribe to religion.

While much of his material centered on the controversy caused by the conflict around teaching Darwinism in public schools, Kitcher stressed that the issue is not the real dispute.

“The decision (whether to) teach Darwin in our biology classes is the symptom of a much larger problem,” he said. “There can not be pretension in the classroom. You can’t be phony with high school students.”

Kitcher began by explaining science’s viewpoint on the issue. He said there are three things nearly everyone in the scientific community agrees on:

n The earth is ancient and has been inhabited by many different organisms at different times.

n All living things are related by descent, with modifications. “One single tree of life,” he said.

n Natural selection is the principal cause of the modifications.

“Millions, untold millions of organisms have suffered and died so at the tip of one twig of the tree of life, one species can recognize its own creation,” he said.

Darwinism and religion don’t necessarily need to live in conflict, Kitcher said. He highlighted a spiritualist approach to religion, in which believers find holy texts void of literal truths but more as a guide to human development. Kitcher said members of this category can live unscathed in a world that accepts Darwin.

As a more specific example of religion and Darwin living together, Kitcher pointed to Charles Darwin’s remains.

“Look at where he’s buried,” Kitcher said. “Westminster Abbey. He’s right beneath Newton.”

Kitcher said the scientific community is also largely ignorant of the majority of people in the United States who feel that science prevails except when in conflict with their religious texts or traditions.

Kitcher then said putting faith in holy texts or traditions is illogical, as no faith can claim to be correct in comparison to others.

“No traditions are privileged. None can claim the right to acceptance,” he said, after explaining that all religious traditions formed in the similar ways.

Religion can’t be confined to privacy, Kitcher added, but it also can’t be given the final voice on issues.

Contact academic affairs reporter Derek Lenehan at [email protected].