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Exotic Science and Theology in Rome

This week’s conference in Rome on Darwin and evolution, nominally sponsored by the Gregorian University and Notre Dame “under the High Patronage of the Pontifical Council on Culture,” has a public relations budget to promote some conclusions that would seem to vary from the positions of Pope Benedict. The Council on Culture has little or no funding of its own for such science conferences and has had to accept non-Vatican funding — and the guidance and other strings that go with it.

Intelligent design scientists not only are not present, as a consequence, but their views were misrepresented and trashed ahead of time by the conference organizers. Instead, alongside some rather interesting speakers, you will hear a parade of atheists, agnostics and theistic evolutionists whose common theme is that intelligent design is not science, not theology, nothing at all, really — merely a reactionary sociological phenomenon, a “Protestant” idea, as one source opined recently. This last will be news to the likes of biochemist Michael Behe, biologist Dean Kenyon and neuroscientist Michael Egnor. Such faithful, church-going Catholics “never got the memo,” it seems

But who sent the memo?

Certainly not Pope Benedict XVI. Easily obtained at dozens of kiosks around Vatican City are holy cards with the message from the Holy Father’s very first homily as pope: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution,” it says. “Each of us is the result of a thought of God.”

Later in 2005, Pope Benedict greeted one of his Wednesday audiences with a statement affirming our Earth as “this intelligent project of the Cosmos.” (It was also translated as “this intelligent design of the Cosmos.”) At the famous Castel Gandolfo meeting with his former theology students in 2006, the pope said that “…(T)he theory of evolution is still not a complete, scientifically verified theory.”

Given the outstanding lectures on Creation and the Fall that he gave in Munich — printed in English as “In the Beginning…” (Eerdmans, 1986) — these positions of Pope Benedict are hardly surprising. Indeed, given the Catholic Catechism and, oh, about half the Psalms, Romans 1-20 and many other books, chapters and verses of the Bible, it would be remarkable (as philosopher Benjamin Wiker has stated) if the Catholic Church did not support some version of intelligent design. Of course, to define intelligent design accurately, you really ought to let scientists who support it explain it.

In contrast, brought together to attack ID this week are a number of experts in the erection of straw man arguments — and whose own, seldom inspected theological presuppositions are heterodox, to say the least. It shouldn’t matter, of course, what they think about religion. But if it doesn’t matter, as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things asked last fall when he read about the conference plan, why hold the conference down the way from St. Peter’s?

In the December First Things Fr. Neuhaus noted the organizers’ statement that “proponents of ‘creationism and intelligent design’ will not be invited.”

“The lumping together of creationism and intelligent design is telling,” he continued. “They are quite distinct enterprises; the former is typically in defense of a literal reading of Genesis while the latter is a scientifically based theory of purpose or teleology in natural development.”

In other words, the conference, Neuhaus went on to observe, will exclude “scientists who, on the basis of scientific evidence, contend, as the Catholic Church contends, for design and purpose in nature. The organizers seem to think they are being even-handed, but it is all quite confusing. One would not like to think that the purpose of the March conference is to secure for the Catholic Church a clean bill of health from (those) who condemn any deviation from scientistic ideology as anti-intellectualism.”

Very droll and very correct.

The conference this week takes place in Rome, but it actually is a rally of the organizers, by the organizers and for the organizers. It will reflect their views, not the Vatican’s. The issue of evolution and design is still very much alive in the Catholic Church, just as it is — if truth be known — in science.