Posted tagged ‘evolution’


May 20, 2008

Welcome to the Behind the Science blog, which is meant to peer behind the scenes of some of the science stories I write for various media outlets, most often National Geographic News ( Let there be no implication that these media outlets have endorsed the content of these entries; in most cases, they haven’t. The point is to provide insight and commentary that goes a bit beyond the scope of the stories that are appropriate for the original outlet—for reasons of space, most often, and occasionally just plain focus.


My first entry is a perfect example, and in fact it helped fuel my desire to start the Behind the Science blog.


On April 18, 2008, I wrote a story the National Geographic News called Pope’s Views on Science Invoke Spirited Debate. I’ll put the link on the right, in case that text doesn’t stay linked to the story. Usually, I write about single, quantifiable points of discovery: the finding of a new exoplanet or supernova remnant, for example. I love those stories, but this one really got my blood flowing. It was a perfect opportunity to delve not only into science, but also into a bigger question about the role of science in the world at large, or at least one of its major religions. Plus, I was raised Catholic, but haven’t practiced it in years—and this research would be a chance to catch up on some of the Church’s recent thinking.


The basic question was: Is Pope Benedict science-friendly? I won’t summarize my findings here. My hope is they’re clear in the story! But something happened during the reporting of that story that I didn’t expect. And despite the fact that my editor gave me extra stretching room on this one, there was simply no space to include what was for me a very satisfying intellectual epiphany. You see, I didn’t imagine that by reporting this story, I’d be led to a peaceful solution, even just in my own mind, for the horribly polarized and, too often, mean-spirited debate between ardent proponents of creationism and evolution … ism.


The catalyst for this delightful understanding was a phone interview I conducted with Father Christopher Corbally, vice director at the Catholic Church’s Vatican Observatory. He’s a priest and an astronomer; you have to know that was a fascinating talk. But the best part for me, on a personal level, was when he indulged my question about his own views on evolution.


Background: I had decided years ago that the best way to stay out of arguments with scientific colleagues and religious friends was to suggest that God got the ball rolling, and evolution took over from there. But it never sat quite right with me. Father Corbally articulated a solution that acted like a salve to my long-dissatisfied mind when he spoke of “God-inspired evolution – not just inspired, but God present with the development.”


Corbally believes the potential for evolution is made real by the possibility of randomness, and that very potential comes from God. 


And the process of evolution is also God, he thinks: “God’s power. That’s the most powerful thing is to let things be, and to develop in ways that are natural to themselves. It’s the balance between guiding and letting be … the gift of a parent.”


Thanks, Christopher Corbally!