VATICAN CITY – An upcoming Vatican-sponsored conference on evolution will include critical study of the theory of intelligent design, which, organizers said, represents poor theology and science.
While proponents of intelligent design were not invited to give presentations at the March 3-7 international conference, organizers agreed to discuss how it appeared and developed as a cultural ideology, not as science.
A number of presentations will discuss intelligent design’s “long and complex genesis” in a historical context and its impact on society and culture because it is “certainly not discussable in the scientific, philosophic and theological fields,” said Saverio Forestiero, professor of zoology at Rome’s Tor Vergata University and a member of the conference’s organizing committee.
Mr. Forestiero was one of the speakers at a Vatican press conference Feb. 10 presenting the March event, titled “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories.”
The Pontifical Council for Culture, Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana are organizing the international conference to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” and the 200th anniversary of his birth.
Jesuit Father Marc Leclerc, a philosophy professor at the Gregorian, said the conference was in no way a “celebration in honor of the English scientist.” He said it would be an occasion to critically assess an event that permanently altered the history of science and changed the way people understand humanity.
However, too often people opposed to Darwinian theories confused his scientific work on evolution with the various social and political ideologies that were based on Darwin’s findings in nature, said Father Leclerc.
The mistaken belief that Darwinian evolution was totally incompatible with religion and faith in God could be part of the reason for the emergence of intelligent design, he said.
Intelligent design refers to a view that opposes the evolutionary position of chance and randomness as the process for the development of life and, for some, it also means a kind of “designer God” has intervened at particular points in natural development.
The Jesuit priest said intelligent design as an alternative theory to evolution is “far from scientific discussion,” but its role or impact on philosophy and theology should be examined.
Father Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, a professor of theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, said, “No evolutionary mechanism is opposed to the affirmation that God wanted and, therefore, created humankind.”
“Basically, evolution is the way in which God created” the cosmos, he added.
The conference will look at “a correct exegesis” of biblical accounts of creation, said Father Leclerc.
Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the author of Genesis was not trying to explain the scientific origins of nature, but rather to respond to the theological question “What meaning does mankind have in the cosmos?”
Father Leclerc said that “people of faith, even philosophers, can see God’s presence” in the world and recognize he has a plan for humanity.
He said, “We believe God intervenes, but he doesn’t come like a ‘deus ex machina,’ ” – referring to the device in ancient Greek and Roman drama of a god descending to miraculously save the day.
One cannot say God intervenes to fill in the gaps in scientific theories, because that would be to confuse two separate disciplines – religion and science – which “is, in my opinion, totally unacceptable,” said the Jesuit.
Father Tanzella-Nitti criticized intelligent design’s method of using empirical data or evidence to prove the existence or intentions of an intelligent creator.
“When the Christian theology of creation says an intelligent creator exists and this creator has an intelligent plan for the world, it is simply saying that people of faith share the belief that the essential and ultimate meaning of the world is the creative intention of an intelligent creator,” he said.