Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP, presented on evolutionary theory.
"My question is how do you explain the appearance of novel traits in the biological realm from a biological perspective that appeals to four causes, one of which is efficient?" said Austriaco, who received his Ph.D., in biology from MIT.
"To invoke a first cause would make no sense to many of my colleagues at MIT who are doing science, but the attempt there is to try within a particular conceptual framework to make intelligible sense of what is actually happening," he continued in a discussion among all of the lecturers.
On the theory of evolution, Legge explained that God's creative activity is not in competition with explanations for the origins of being that are framed with the created universe.
"Creation means not just a first moment in time, but a relation of radical ontological dependence on God as creator. And, at the same time he endows creatures with the power to cause, and that means that creatures really can cause things to change in the world," said Legge.
"We can investigate what's happening with creaturely causes, including a theory of evolution about how you have the diversification of species over time and the emergence of more complex forms of life. That doesn't threaten in any way the fact that God creates the world or that God has a providential plan," he continued.
Dr. Jonathan Lunine, vice-president of the Society of Catholic Scientists and a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, elaborated on that point.
"Science provides us with a way of understanding the natural universe, the processes that occur, how that universe has evolved through time, but it doesn't give us the metaphysical question of why are we here and what is behind it all," he told CNA.
Unlike most scientific conferences, this symposium included an option for daily Mass and a holy hour, giving it a distinctly Dominican flavor.
Catholic speaker Matt Fradd, who has a graduate degree in philosophy, told CNA that the meeting "has been like drinking water from a fire hydrant with people who are about 17,000 times smarter than me giving talks on neuroscience and evolutionary theory, so it has been great."
Legge told CNA that the symposium aimed to help participants grow in love for God through scientific understanding.
"To learn to love the Lord with your mind means to devote everything, all of the resources of your mind, to understanding what God has created and, ultimately, trying to understand as much as it is possible for us -- God himself," Legge told CNA.
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"I think that is an important thing for every Catholic who is engaged in the life of the mind," he said.