Like many CBS viewers over a certain age, Pope Francis is a fan of the Big Bang Theory.
Addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Monday, the pontiff observed that “when we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so.”
God is not a magician, with a magic wand? Well, as The Tweet of God quipped, “there goes My Halloween costume.”
Maybe I know what caused this. One anonymous Internet person “proudhousewife” has been sedulously rewriting the Harry Potter books to have a Christian message and not seduce children into dark magic. (Harry now attends the Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles. In one passage, Hermione tells Harry: “There is a man named Voldemort who wants to destroy all that we stand for. He is pushing an agenda in congress which will stop us from practicing our faith freely.”
“But that is what our founding fathers built this nation for!” Harry cried indignantly. “The freedom of religion!”
“Voldemort doesn’t care,” Hermione remarked sadly; and she shook her head. “And he is gaining power. The freedom of Christians to practice our faith is disappearing by the day. Soon, it will be like it was in Rome.” Lovely, ladylike tears began to roll down her delicate, terrified face. “And I don’t like lions!”) Just in case this person was not joking, did the pope feel compelled to intervene, clearing up any God-Wizard confusion once and for all?
Next the pope will roll out a big PowerPoint explaining that God and Dumbledore were two very different people and that if you got a note inviting you to the Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles, you should politely pass.
Anyway, so much for those holdouts who thought that God was a magician with a magic wand. (Who were these people? Isn’t magic frowned on by the Church? And why were these people demoting God to wand magic, when everyone knows that an omnipotent creator would CLEARLY have gone wandless by now?)
This isn’t actually massive news — the Catholic Church has moved pretty far since the days of Galileo, even going so far as to admit in 1992 that Galileo may have had a point about that whole revolution thing. (Hey, better 350 years late than 350 years never.)
The point that the pope is making is well taken: Science and religion not only can coexist, but should.
It is interesting to hear this coming from the pontiff in days when people often make the mistake of thinking of science — especially evolution — as something to be believed in or not. Science, properly observed, is independent of belief. Whether you believe in the Big Bang Theory is immaterial. If you stop believing in “The Big Bang Theory,” it might go off the air. If you stop believing in the Big Bang Theory, the same facts that cohered around it will continue to do so, independent of you. A scientific theory is liable to testing in a way that a religious belief simply isn’t. You can’t run an experiment to test the validity of the Book of Job. But the whole point of the scientific method is that you make a hypothesis, you see if the facts support your hypothesis, and if they don’t, you change the hypothesis. Hypotheses that are consistently supported by the evidence become theories. If the facts stop proving that a theory is true, the theory no longer stands.
This is all entirely removed from belief. Evolution doesn’t need you to believe in it. It is doing just fine on its own. As Keith Blanchard wrote in the Week, “Evolution is nothing more than a fairly simple way of understanding what is unquestionably happening. You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t. But pretending evolution is a matter of faith can be a clever way to hijack the conversation, and pit it in a false duality against religion … Reconciling is easy: Believe, if you want to, that God set up the rules of evolution among His wonders, along with the laws of physics, and probability, and everything else we can see and measure for ourselves. But don’t deny evolution itself, or gravity, or the roundness of Earth. That’s just covering your eyes and ears.”
That’s what the pope said, too. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.” He observed that God “created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.” These beliefs operate on different levels — factual and metaphorical.
Galileo had the right idea, if he said what we believed he said, getting up from his recantation before the tribunal of the Inquisition. “E pur si muove” — “and yet it moves.” He knew it didn’t matter whether he officially proclaimed his belief in heliocentrism. You can believe or disclaim what you like; the facts are the facts.