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Originally published Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Froma Harrop / Syndicated columnist

Finding common ground between God and evolution

Ken Miller is an interesting guy. He is co-author of the nation's best-selling biology textbook. It was on his book, "Biology," that schools...

Ken Miller is an interesting guy. He is co-author of the nation's best-selling biology textbook. It was on his book, "Biology," that schools in Cobb County, Ga., slapped a sticker casting doubt on its discussion of evolution theory. And it was this sticker that a federal judge recently ordered removed because it endorsed religion. Miller, who testified against the label, gets a lot of hate mail these days.

But Miller is also a practicing Roman Catholic. "I attend Mass every Sunday morning," he said, "and I'm tired of being called an atheist."

A professor of biology at Brown University, Miller does not believe that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution contradicts the creation passages in the Bible. And he will argue the point till dawn.

"None of the six creative verses (in Genesis) describe an out-of-nothing, puff-of-smoke creation," he says. "All of them amount to a command by the creator for the earth, the soil and the water of this planet to bring forth life. And that's exactly what natural history tells us happened." (Miller has written a book on the subject: "Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution.")

Still, today's emotional conflicts over teaching this science in public schools leave the impression that Christianity and evolution cannot be reconciled. This is not so.

In 1996, Pope John II wrote a strong letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences supporting the scientific understanding of evolution. That's one reason why students in Catholic parochial schools get a more clearheaded education in evolution science than do children at many public schools racked by the evolution debate.

American parents who want Darwin's name erased from the textbooks might be surprised at the father of evolution's burial spot. Darwin was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, an Anglican church and England's national shrine.

Not every illustrious Englishman gains admission to an abbey burial site. Darwin died in 1882. Two years before, friends of George Eliot wanted the famous (female) writer laid to rest at the abbey. Eliot had lived immorally, according to the church fathers, and was denied a place. (She is buried at London's Highgate Cemetery, not far from Karl Marx.)

But Darwin had been an upright man. The clergy were proud both of Darwin's accomplishments and of their own comfort with modern science.

In 1882, during the memorial service for the great evolutionist, one church leader after the other rose to praise Charles Darwin. Canon Alfred Barry, for one, had recently delivered a sermon declaring that Darwin's theory was "by no means alien to the Christian religion."

Nowadays, Catholics and old-line Protestants have largely made peace with evolution theory. Most objections come from evangelicals — and not all of them.

Francis S. Collins is head of the National Genome Project and a born-again Christian. He belongs to the American Scientific Affiliation — a self-described fellowship of scientists "who share a common fidelity to the word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science." Its Web address is www.asa3.org.

But back in Cobb County, the debate rages. The sticker taken off Miller's textbook read: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

Why should Miller care that the Cobb County School Board — having bought his book in great quantity — pastes those words on the cover?

First off, he says, "It implies that facts are things we are certain of and theories are things that are shaky." In science, theory is a higher level of understanding than facts, he notes. "Theories don't grow up to become facts. Rather, theories explain facts."

Then, he questions why, of all the material in his book, only evolution is singled out for special consideration. Miller says that if he could write the sticker, it would say, "Everything in this book should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

Clearly, many religious people regard evolution theory with sincere and heartfelt concern. But theirs is not a mainstream view — even among practicing Christians. Most theologians these days will argue that the biology book and the Good Book are reading from the same page.

Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is fharrop@projo.com

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