September 4, 2006
Pope’s Debate Group to Publish Evolution Talks
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
PARIS -- Pope Benedict and his former doctoral students plan to publish the proceedings of their weekend seminar on evolution to promote a dialogue between faith and science on the origins of life, participants said.
The theory of evolution has long been controversial in the United States, where conservative Christians oppose teaching it in public schools and promote rival views such as "intelligent design" that scientists reject as religion in disguise.
Benedict and some aides have joined the debate in the past year, arguing for evolution as a scientific theory but against "evolutionism" -- which he calls a "fundamental philosophy ... intended to explain the whole of reality" without God.
"He said this meeting could be an impulse to revive the discussion between theologians and evolutionists," said Father Stephan Horn, who organizes the sessions for top students the then Professor Joseph Ratzinger mentored in the 1960s and 1970s.
"He's been concerned for a long time, and especially now that he is pope, about fostering a discussion between faith and reason," Horn said by telephone from Rome.
"He probably believes there is not enough public discussion about this, so that's why he wants to revive it."
PHILOSOPHY, NOT SCIENCE
Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the papal associate most active in presenting the Catholic view of evolution in public, said the proceedings could be published in November.
"It was an important meeting at the highest academic level," Schoenborn, who addressed the gathering at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, told Austria's Kathpress agency.
Advance media speculation had said the debate might shift Vatican policy to embrace "intelligent design," which claims to prove scientifically that life could not have simply evolved, or the "creationist" view that God created the world in six days.
"It wasn't that at all," Father Joseph Fessio S.J., provost of Ave Maria University in Florida, told Reuters. The Pope's session with 39 former students was "a meeting of friends with some scholars to discuss an interesting theme."
Unlike creationists who oppose the theory of evolution, the Catholic Church does not read literally the Biblical account of God creating the world in six days.
Benedict and Schoenborn have said several times over the past year that intelligence in the form of God's will played a part in creation and that neo-Darwinists who deny God any role are drawing an ideological conclusion not proven by the theory.
They say they use philosophical reasoning to conclude that God created the world, not arguments which intelligent design supporters claim can be proven scientifically.
"There's a controversy in the United States because there is a lack of awareness of a thing called philosophy," said Fessio, whose Ignatius Press publishes Benedict's books in English.
"Evangelicals and creationists generally lack it and Catholics have it," he said.
"When you look at the world and see what appears to be order and design, the conclusion that there is a designer is not a scientific conclusion, it's a philosophical one."