The day after the Church of England issued an “apology” for having “misunderstood” the work of Charles Darwin, the Vatican has announced that it will organise a debate on the thorny question of Christian belief and the theory of evolution.
Two Cambridge lecturers, the archaeologist Lord Renfrew, and the paleontologist Simon Conway Morris. will join an international line-up of scientists, theologians, philosophers debating faith and evolution at a Vatican-sponsored event in Rome. The five-day encounter, entitled Biological Evolution, Facts and Theories. A critical appraisal 150 after “The Origin of Species” has been timetabled to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin’s seminal work on the theory of evolution. Forty-eight speakers will speak at the conference, which begins on March 3rd 2009.
The organisers said today that the Roman Catholic Church had never condemned either evolution or Charles Darwin. Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said that evolution was not “a priori incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church, with the message of the Bible”. He added that On the Origin of the Species had never featured on the “index”, a list of books once banned by the Roman Catholic Church as it was considered that their contents could endanger the morals of believers.
Mgr Ravasi termed the Anglican apology for having condemned Darwin both “curious and significant”. He said that it showed “a mentality different than ours”. An open dialogue between faith and science especially in the light of new developments should be encouraged, “without forcing an accord that doesn’t exist,” Mgr Ravasi added. Other organisers cited Pope Pius XII who said in 1950 that the Church did not prohibit the study of evolution, and Pope John Paul II who said in 1995 that Darwinism was no longer considered “a mere hypothesis”.
The debate, part of a Vatican-sponsored project called STOQ (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest) which seeks to explore the relationship between science and ethical and moral questions, is said to have the full blessing of Pope Benedict, a fervent advocate of what he views as the compatibilty of faith with reason. The March conference is being jointly organised by the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome, and Notre Dame University, Indiana.