For this week's online essay, go read "Nonoverlapping Magisteria," a widely-cited 1997 essay by Stephen Jay Gould. Here is its central thesis:
The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack of overlap between their respective domains of professional expertise—science in the empirical constitution of the universe, and religion in the search for proper ethical values and the spiritual meaning of our lives. The attainment of wisdom in a full life requires extensive attention to both domains ...
Gould's short essay makes fascinating reading, especially for those who think Richard Dawkins speaks for all scientists or all biologists. Gould labels vocal, atheistic scientists like Dawkins "hard-liners," and bluntly comments regarding the Dawkins hard-line anti-religion agenda: "I do not think that this attitude is common among scientists." The alternative he sketches out in the essay Gould describes as "a principled position on moral and intellectual grounds, not a mere diplomatic stance," and argues for "mutual humility" in regard to the domain of each:
If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions properly under the magisterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world's empirical constitution.
In the course of the essay, Gould also cites papal documents outlining comments by Pope Pius XII in 1950 about evolution (choosing not to contest it as a scientific theory, but pronouncing it only a theory and implicitly suggesting a hope that additional facts would prove it wrong) and 1996 comments by John Paul II admitting that the additional facts have (as summarized by Gould) "placed the factuality of evolution beyond reasonable doubt."
So here's a thought question: Which of the two Catholic statements better represents the present LDS view on evolution? I think Pius' 1950 position corresponds roughly to the present CES position (only 50 years behind the times — they're catching up!). I think John Paul's 1996 position corresponds roughly to what most LDS scientists think. As for which view better represents present LDS leadership, I express no opinion. Interestingly, the 1931 First Presidency statement on evolution (which is quoted verbatim in the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry "Evolution") sounds an awful lot like Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria view:
Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church ....
[Ellipsis in the EOM entry, from which I am quoting.]