McNair Lecture puts different spin on evolution, religion interaction
Laurinburg, N.C. – “When Charles Darwin introduced the concept of evolution by natural selection, he provided a solution to explain the presence of evil in the world.”
This was the thesis presented by Dr. Francisco J. Ayala during the John Calvin McNair Lecture on Science and Theology at St. Andrews Presbyterian College held on Oct. 19 in the William Henry Belk College.
The McNair lecture was established by the 1857 will of John Calvin McNair who asked that “the object of which lecture(s) shall be to show the mutual bearing of Science and Theology upon each other….”
“This is the fifth annual lecture at St. Andrews,” said College President Paul Baldasare. “But it follows more than 50 lectures at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These lectures have featured some of the best minds of the 20th and 21st centuries.”
Dr. Francisco J. Ayala presenting the 2010 John Calvin McNair Lecture at St. Andrews.
Baldasare shared the history of the lecture and how it moved to St. Andrews thanks to the efforts of the late Robert Powell, to whom the evening’s event was dedicated.
“I’ve felt as if over the past 15 years Bob and I were bound together as co-conspirators to bring this lectureship to St. Andrews,” he said. “I valued my relationship with him and I know that he was extremely pleased with how the lectureship has been run at St. Andrews.”
He shared that Powell, who passed away on Sept. 9, had been made aware that Ayala was the featured speaker for this year’s lecture.
“He was very pleased to know that Dr. Ayala was presenting and continuing the quality tradition of lectures of recent years,” Baldasare said.
After providing a brief history of the Copernican scientific revolution, Ayala, a noted biologist, addressed William Paley’s Natural Theology.
“While the Copernican revolution explained inorganic areas, Paley was addressing organisms,” he said. “His book explained the different parts of organisms came together to perform a specific function.”
Ayala shared the basics of Darwin’s introduction of natural selection. “It is an extremely simple concept,” he said. “It is something that breeders have done over the years to change animals with desirable traits. His concept is that if the variations are useful to the organisms themselves, why would it be out of line over a period of time for the organisms to naturally select those qualities of benefit?”
After sharing a variety of evidence to support evolution, Ayala turned briefly to the argument of Intelligent Design.
“Intelligent Design as a critique of evolution is wrong,” he said. “Intelligent Design is not science and is contrary to religion as it implies that God is incompetent and amounts to blasphemy.
“Intelligent Design cannot be tested as we do not know what the intentions of the designer were and we therefore cannot create an experiment to test the theory,” Ayala added. “Intelligent Design is contrary to religion as it is incompatible with an omnipotent, wise and benevolent creator. It implies an imperfect, incompetent, dysfunctional design and does not explain cruelty, oddities or sadism.”
It is from this perspective that Ayala returned to his thesis.
“Darwin’s gift to religion is that evolution explains why there is suffering and modern evil,” he said. “It is not because God is not benevolent, it is because of natural forces at play.”
Ayala is the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. He has been President and Chairman of the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and President of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society of the US. President George W. Bush awarded him the 2001 National Medal of Science at the White House.
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