Reproduction and Orthodoxy:
Should the Vatican Have Observer Status on the UN?
Scientific American (extract) June 94
The world population conference in Cairo which meets once a decade, proposed measures to stabilize the world's population at 7.8 billion from the contemporary 5.7 billion by 2050 instead of the possible 12.5 billion without such measures, but the draft plan of action also included phrases and words never seen before in previous UN population documents such as reproductive rights, sexual health, female genital mutilation and gender equity. This new emphasis reflects the belief of women's health oand family planning organizations that to address population governments have to address the health of women and their economic and social well-being rather than coercive programs that are bound to fail because they ignore clients needs and culture. Part of the change comes from the novel role women are playing in NGOs and the diplomatic process.
However the Vatican has made especially fierce attacks on family planning and abortion. Prior to the New York meeting, Pope John Paul II issued a statement calling the intemational Conference on Population and Development a project to allow the "systematic death of the unborn." The Pope has also written to many national leaders urging them to combat some goals of the conference. At the session itself, the Vatican delegation, led by Monsignor Diarmuid Martin, requested that many references to women and all references to abortion and contraception be bracketedthat is, resmed from approval. The Vatican's offensive has encountered deeply felt opposition. 'One of the extraordinary breakthroughs has been the degree to which women have been outspoken about their distaste for and opposition to the Vatican," Dunlop explains. Some women from countries that are largely Catholic have denounced the Vatican's claim to represent their sex. Many of these women have presented data on the schisms apparent between the church's male leaders and its followers. In the U.S., for example, 87 percent of Catholics bebeve couples should make their own decisions about birth control, according to a Gallup poll; 84 percent believe abortion should be legal in all or some circumstances. In a tactical session Frances Kissling, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Catholics for a Free Choice, wearing a black dress that resembled a priest's robe, urged humor in dealing with the Vatican. Other NGOs have questioned the right of the Vatican to maintain permanent observer status at the U.N., given that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Episcopalians and other religious groups do not have the same privilege. Nevertheless, the Vatican's success in bracketing many terms could ultimately mean that the language of the plan of action is not as far-reaching as some family-planning experts and women's health advocates would like. If phrases addressing the need for safe abortions-even in countries where the practice is illegal-remain bracketed when they appear in Cairo, the conference may become focused on the abortion debate rather than on population issues. (A study presented at the preparatory meeting by the Alan Guttmacher Institute reported that every year about 2.8 million women have abortions and 550,000 are hospitalized for related complications in six of the Latin American countries where the practice is illegal: Brazil, Peni, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.) -Marguerite Holloway
Darwin Denied Scientific American Jul 95 (extract)
Anti-evolutionists are using a new weapon in their fight to bring the supernatural into science curriculums. The U.S. Supreme Court held eight years ago that compelling public schools to teach 'creation science,' a doctrine that argues that science supports special creation, was unconstitutional. But opponents of Darwinian evolution are currently pushing "intelligent design," a theistic formula that posits an unnamed intelligent force to explain the diversity of life. Volume orders of a glossy textbook promoting this thesis, Of Pandas and People: The Centrul Question of Biological Origins, by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, have been shipped to public schools in more than 12 states, according to the book's copyright holder, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics in Richardson, Texas. Director Jon A. Buell says the organization has sold 19,000 copies. The text informs students that evolutionary theoy is incompatible with life's complexity which "owes its origin to a master intellect"; it fails to mention that almost all biologists conclude that evolution is the only plausible scientific explanation of life. Buell has written to supporters asldng for prayers and inviting readers to become part of a "quiet army" opposing the "metaphysical naturalism" of other textbooks. Because Pandas scrupulously avoids suggesting divine creation, it may elude the 1987 Supreme Court ruling, which was based on the condusion that creation science is actually religion The book leaves its intelligent force unnamed. Buell counters that Pandas is not religious, although it is "congenial to theism.' Critics are, however, underwhelmed by the distinction. One reviewer, Kevin Padian of Berkeley, wrote that the book was "fundamentalism in disguise.'
Eugene C. Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Berkeley, Calif., which monitors creationist activity, says anti-evolutionary sentiment is strong in many small towns. Although there are no national data, a 1991 survey of Kansas biology teachers by J. Richard Schrock of Emporia State University found that one in four favored giving creationism and evolution equal time. Schrock also notes there was a flurry of pro-creationist pickets of schools after last November's elections. 'Anti-evolutionism seems to be having a resurgence," agrees Ellen Chatterton of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. She points out that groups headed by the Christian Coalition are placing supporters on school boards and state committees across the country. The representatives typically argue that children should be given the benefit of a variety of theories. Scott notes that almost all seminail,trained rabbis and ministers from most Christian denominations accommodate evolution. Only biblical literalists are genuinely conflicted by Darwinism. Yet among the lay public the perception is widespread that natural selection is inimical to all religious belief. 'The only thing we are against is bad science," Scott says. 'Sooner or later we are going to have to go to court over Pandas.' Given the depth of feeling on both sides, perhaps nine important justices in Washington had better start reading up on intelligent design. -Tim Beardsley
Postdiluvian Science from Science versus Anti-science? Scientific American Jan 97 (extract)
As his working years draw to a close, Henry Morris [the father of creationism] seems undaunted by the fact that many of the battles he helped to inspire over the past 35 years have concluded with a court barring the teaching of creation science on constitutional grounds. To Morris, these losses vindicate his advocacy of a grassroots strategy that bypasses the political system entirely. Morris may have judged correctly by making his appeal at such a downhome level: pollsters say that currently almost half the American public believes God created humans sometime within the past 10,000 years. Morris maintains that outreach should be accomplished through books and pamphlets or ICR conferences. The ICR mailing list exceeds 100,000 names, and Morris points to societies of scientists and engineers who remain steadfast advocates. "When I started this 35 years ago, I couldn't find any other scientists who were creationists. Now there are thousands of them," he says. Morris does not fret either that he and his colleagues may even be out of step with other creationists. In recent years the most dynamic segment of the movement has moved away from the literalist interpretations put forward by the "young earth" school. Proponents of so-called intelligent design-some of whom even eschew the creationist title do not waste their time on critiques of radiometric dating. Instead they question whether random mutations coupled with natural selection could have given rise to complex biological processes such as blood clotting. Morris believes intelligent design is a bid by creationists for broader acceptance that will ultimately fail. "I don't think we'll ever get the approbation of the majority of mainstream scientists," he says. But intelligent-design proponents owe a debt of thanks to Morris. He was a leader in the early 1970s in casting creationism in the guise of "creation science" as an altemative theory to -evolution-and one that could describe the details of physical 'origins without any direct reference to the Scriptures. Other creationists used Morris's arguments to get State laws passed mandating equal time for their views in the classroom. The legislation was subsequently overturned by federal courts, including, in one case, the U.S. Supreme Court. But even today the intelligent design community pursues a similar strategy, reducing evolution to a speculative theory that needs to be examined against other hypotheses. It is true that creationists on local school boards will continue to goad science educators. But the prospects for creationism as a larger political force-a Christian version of the Taliban, the religious fundamentalists who have wrested political control in Afghanistan-are relatively bleak. The societal mainstream pays creationists little heed. A recent Time magazine cover story on a nationwide revival of interest in the stories recounted in Genesis mentioned literal creationism only to discredit it. Among the clergy, Pope John Paul II recently endorsed evolution as "more than just a hypothesis.' Even the Christian right would rather devote its lobbying effort to abortion and school prayer. "Creationism, like loyalty to Taiwan or fear of rock music, has been more a sideshow," writes Toumey in his book God's Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular World. -Gary Stix
Naked apes New Scientist 4 May 96
ONE in five Germans does not believe that humans are descended from apes. Among Catholics and those over 45 years old the proportion is even higher, with more than a quarter rejecting the theory of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin nearly 140 years ago. The Allensbach institute for Opinion Research interviewed 1112 Germans in March. Asked if they believed humans and apes shared the same ancestors, 21 per cent said they did not believe it, 62 per cent said they did and 17 per cent did not know. The proportion of unbelievers rose to 27 per cent among Catholics, and dropped to 15 per cent among Protestants. Age also seems to affect what people believe. Some 29 per cent of Germans over 45 years old refuse to accept Darwin's theory, compared with 13 to 14 per cent of the under-45s. Biologists can draw some comfort from the fact that scepticism about the origin of Homo sapiens is declining. When the Allensbach Institute conducted a similar survey in 1970, 40 per cent of those interviewed refused to believe that humans had descended from apes.