Details of Vatican evolution conference announced

.- The Vatican officially announced today that a conference on evolution will take place in Rome this coming March. The goal of the conference is to re-establish a dialogue between faith and science about evolution.

As CNA reported last week, the conference will be held under the theme, "Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A critical appraisal 150 years after ‘The Origin of Species’," March 3-7. The summit is part of the Vatican co-sponsored STOQ Project (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest).

At a press conference this morning, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said that the purpose of the conference is to "re-establish dialogue between science and faith, because neither of them can fully resolve the mystery of human beings and the universe."

The conference will be divided into nine sessions Fr. Marc Leclerc S.J., the director of the congress, explained. The sessions will address a myriad of issues, such as: "the essential facts upon which the theory of evolution rests, facts associated with palaeontology and molecular biology; ... the scientific study of the mechanisms of evolution, ... and what science has to say about the origin of human beings."

Fr. Leclerc added that attention will also be given to "the great anthropological questions concerning evolution ... and the rational implications of the theory for the epistemological and metaphysical fields and for the philosophy of nature."

Two of the sessions will also be devoted to studying evolution "from the point of view of Christian faith, on the basis of a correct exegesis of the biblical texts that mention the creation, and of the reception of the theory of evolution by the Church," Fr. Leclerc said.

Professor Saverio Forestiero, who teaches zoology at Torvergata University in Rome, proposed an interesting hypothesis about the fruits of the upcoming conference. He observed that "the relative fluidity of contemporary evolutionary theory is largely due to a series of discoveries made in the last quarter of a century, discoveries which require the synthetic theory to be reconfigured and could lead to a theory of evolution of the third generation."

"It is my view," he continued, "that this congress represents an opportunity, neither propagandistic nor apologetic, for scientists, philosophers and theologians to meet and discuss the fundamental questions raised by biological evolution - which is assumed and discussed as a fact beyond all reasonable doubt - in order to examine its manifestations and causal mechanisms, and to analyze the impact and quality of the explanatory theories thus far proposed."

Theology professor Fr. Tanzella-Nitti also offered his opinion on the contributions that theology can make to the conversation about evolution.

Fr. Tanzella-Nitti stated, "from the perspective of Christian theology, biological evolution and creation are by no means mutually exclusive. ... None of the evolutionary mechanisms opposes the affirmation that God wanted - in other words, created - man. Neither is this opposed by the casual nature of the many events that happened during the slow development of life, as long as the recourse to chance remains a simple scientific reading of phenomena."

The professor of Fundamental Theology said that he hopes "that the natural sciences may be used by theology as a positive informational resource, and not just seen as a source of problems. ... I do not believe biological evolution is possible in a materialist world, without information, without direction, without a plan. In a created world, the role of theology is precisely that of talking to us about nature and the meaning it has, of the Logos which, as Benedict XVI likes to say, is the uncreated foundation of all things and of history."

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