January 19, 2006

“Intelligent design” not science: Vatican paper

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church has restated
its support for evolution with an article praising a U.S. court
decision that rejects the "intelligent design" theory as

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said that
teaching intelligent design -- which argues that life is so
complex that it needed a supernatural creator -- alongside
Darwin's theory of evolution would only cause confusion.

A court in the state of Pennsylvania last month barred a
school from teaching intelligent design (ID), a blow to
Christian conservatives who want it to be taught in biology
classes along with the Darwinism they oppose.

The ID movement sometimes presents Catholicism, the world's
largest Christian denomination, as an ally in its campaign.
While the Church is socially conservative, it has a long
theological tradition that rejects fundamentalist creationism.

"Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is
no justification for the demand it be taught as a scientific
theory alongside the Darwinian explanation," said the article
in the Tuesday edition of the newspaper.

Evolution represents "the interpretative key of the history
of life on Earth" and the debate in the United States was
"polluted by political positions," wrote Fiorenzo Facchini, a
professor of evolutionary biology at Italy's Bologna

"So the decision by the Pennsylvania judge seems correct."


Confusion about the Catholic view of evolution arose last
year when both the newly elected Pope Benedict and his former
student, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, said humans
were part of an intelligent project designed by God.

An article by Schoenborn in the New York Times in July
seemed to signal a Church shift toward intelligent design
because it played down a 1996 statement by Pope John Paul that
evolution was "more than a hypothesis."

This triggered a wave of "Vatican rejects Darwin" headlines
and attacks from scientists, Catholics among them, who argued
that had been proved man evolved from lower beings.

Schoenborn later made it clear the Church accepted
evolution as solid science but objected to the way some
Darwinists concluded that it proved God did not exist and could
"explain everything from the Big Bang to Beethoven's Ninth

The Church, which has never rejected evolution, teaches
that God created the world and the natural laws by which life
developed. Even its best-known dissident, Swiss theologian Hans
Kueng, echoed this in a recent book in Germany.

Schoenborn said he spoke up because he shared Benedict's
concern, stated just before his election last April, that a
"dictatorship of relativism" was trying to deny God's


Pennsylvania Judge John Jones ruled that intelligent design
was a version of creationism, the belief that God made the
world in six days as told in the Bible, and thus could not be
taught without violating a ban on teaching religion in public

It was not science, despite claims by its backers, he said.

This literal reading of Genesis, the first book of the
Bible, is a tenet of faith for evangelical Protestants, a group
that has become politically influential in the United States.

Many U.S. Catholics may agree with evangelicals
politically, but the Church does not share their theology on
this point. Intelligent design has few supporters outside the
United States.

While not an official document, the article in
L'Osservatore Romano had to be vetted in advance to reflect
Vatican thinking.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute -- the main think
tank of the ID movement -- said on its website that reading the
Osservatore article that way amounted to an attempt "to put
words in the Vatican's mouth."