Vatican evolution congress to exclude creationism, intelligent design

As a final blow to the Discovery Institute’s attempts to get Intelligent Design into the Catholic ‘door’, the church announced an evolution congress which failed to invited creationists, and intelligent design

The Congress is titled “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A Critical Appraisal 150 years after ‘The Origin of Species’” and is scheduled for March 3-7, 2009 in Rome. The organizers are the Pontifical Council for Culture, Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and the University of Notre Dame as one of a series of events marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”

The reason for the rejection?

He said arguments “that cannot be critically defined as being science, or philosophy or theology did not seem feasible to include in a dialogue at this level and, therefore, for this reason we did not think to invite” supporters of creationism and intelligent design.

It seems to me that the Catholic church has come to understand that intelligent design fails to contribute either to science or to theology in a manner fruitful to be discussed.

I can’t wait to read Denyse O’Leary’s comments on these ‘shocking’ developments.

The reason for having this Congress was explained in a Press Conference which included “Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Fr. Marc Leclerc S.J., professor of the philosophy of nature at the Pontifical Gregorian University; Gennaro Auletta, scientific director of the STOQ Project and professor of the philosophy of science at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Alessandro Minelli, professor of zoology at the University of Padua, Italy. “

“Debates on the theory of evolution are becoming ever more heated, both among Christians and in specifically evolutionist circles”, Fr. Leclerc explained. “In particular, with the approach of the … 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘The Origin of Species’, Charles Darwin’s work is still too often discussed more in ideological terms than in the scientific ones which were his true intention”.

“In such circumstances - as Christian scientists, philosophers and theologians directly involved in the debate alongside colleagues from other confessions or of no confession at all - we felt it incumbent upon us to bring some clarification. The aim is to generate wide-ranging rational discussion in order to favour fruitful dialogue among scholars from various fields and areas of expertise. The Church has profound interest in such dialogue, while fully respecting the competencies of each and all. This is, however, an academic congress, organised by two Catholic universities, the Gregorian University in Rome and Notre Dame in the United States, and as such is not an ecclesial event. Yet the patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture serves to underline the Church’s interest in such questions”.

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers gives us his perspectives on the event. And while PZ has his usual fun with the attempt at combining science with theology, I believe that he is missing the point.

The Catholic Church, and especially the Jesuits, have been bitten by an anti-science stance more than once and have come to appreciate that a good theology needs to include scientific knowledge, not deny it. So while some churches have chosen to ignore science and embrace (Intelligent Design) Creationism, especially the Young Earth variant, the Catholic church, at least in this case, has rightfully rejected (Intelligent Design) Creationism from a conference which focuses on theology and science.

I find such a position quite refreshing even though I disagree with the Catholic Church on many of its teachings regarding the position of women, birth control etc.

PZ points out an interesting fact I had missed

And look! Their exclusivity runs the other way, too!

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the other extreme of the evolution debate – proponents of an overly scientific conception of evolution and natural selection – also were not invited.

I believe that the Archbishop may be referring to a position such as philosophical naturalism, where science is all there is and while theology may have little to contribute to science, good theology needs to embrace the facts of science.

PZ’s somewhat emotional conclusions:

PZ Myers wrote:

Scientists who willingly participate in this obvious game of propaganda are not helping science at all – they are simply selling sectarian Catholic dogma by adding a false luster of rationalism to a body of rank nonsense. The Vatican is asking for a façade of superficially presented science and an illusion of selectivity to make their lies and fantasies look specially favored by the scientific community … and they have even admitted that scientists who reject their teleology and their doctrines and their lunatic beliefs will not be permitted to question.

It seems that in PZ’s world, religion can never ‘win’, either religion denies science and needs to be rejected or it embraces science and should be rejected for playing an obvious game of propaganda. So is there any middle ground where religion is allowed to play?

Given the fact that many if not most people hold to a personal faith and worldview, it seems rather harsh to suggest that their embrace of science is just an act of propaganda rather than a well informed and meaningful embrace of the place of science within religious faith. One may reject religious faith as foolish lies, and I have no problem with such a position, but should one also not accept that religious faith for many plays a much different role than the one stereotyped here?