Approximately three decades ago, a previous pope proclaimed that Jews were no longer to be held responsible for the death of Christ. A friend of mine, Israel Kaplan, then sent the pope a telegram that read, in toto, "Gee thanks." This is one reaction and will be the sole reaction of many scientists to the current pope's letter concerning biological evolution. There are other perspectives.

The pope's recent letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences shows a sophistication in speaking of "theories" of biological evolution. It acknowledges that these theories concern mechanistic explanations and that the intrinsic interelatedness by descent of every living thing on Earth is not in doubt.

The most interesting section of the pope's letter is No. 5, in which the place of science and religion is delineated and a line in the sand is drawn regarding the biology of consciousness. The pope's argument follows from that...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!