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At a news conference in November 2005, Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, defended Darwin’s theory of evolution over and against Intelligent Design. “The fundamentalists want to give a scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim,” he said. The real message of Genesis is to teach us that “the universe didn’t make itself and had a creator.”

Yet isn’t this what the Intelligent Design people are saying? I think it is. The difference between the Vatican’s view and that of ID is that the Vatican holds that Darwin has revealed the means by which God created the universe, while the ID folks cannot abide the notion that God would allow random chance to determine creation’s outcome.

Should we find the Vatican’s position more enlightened than that of the Fundamentalists? I don’t.

Darwin didn’t deny the existence of a Creator God, he just rendered such a god irrelevant. While the Vatican is right that Creationism and ID are not science and have no place in the science curriculum, they are wrong in assuming that Darwinism and Genesis are compatible.

Genesis says, “In the beginning God ¦.” Darwin does not need to posit God at all to make his theory work.

The only way we can reconcile scientific materialism, the notion that life emerged out of a series of random events, and religion, which holds that life has an intrinsic purpose and direction bestowed upon it by its creator, is to compartmentalize science and theology and never let them talk with one another.

I believe science and religion should be in constant dialogue. I believe that the extent to which religion and science disagree, one has to win in the end. For example, when Genesis tells us that the earth is suspended between two bodies of water, and science shows us that this is not so, religion must yield. When religion insists that Joshua stopped the sun to allow the Israelites to defeat their enemies, and science shows (1) that the sun doesn’t circle the earth, but the earth circles the sun, and (2) that stopping the sun, or rather freezing the earth in its orbit, would destroy the entire planet, religion must yield.

Religionists worry that there is nowhere for them to stand against science. But that is because they use religion as science, mistaking the metaphors of religion for material facts. Religion deals with metaphor and myth, a reality science is incapable of exploring.

Religion isn’t science, it is poetry. Its genius and its value aren’t in physics, but in metaphysics. The threat to religion doesn’t come from science, but from those religionists who think it does. By reducing religion to a pseudo-science and pitting it against real science, these so-called defenders of faith only weaken faith; dumbing it down to literalist absurdities and robbing it of its true grace, grandeur and meaning.

I don’t worry that science will rob religion of its meaning; I worry that religion will strip itself of both meaning and mystery in the attempt to become science. Creationists and ID people aren’t defending religion against science, they are surrendering it to science.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is director of the One River Foundation in Murfreesboro, Tenn. This column appeared originally on his blog.

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