Vatican, ally defend legitimacy of evolution
VATICAN CITY -- A professor at a Vatican-sponsored university expressed dismay Tuesday that some Christian groups reject the theory of evolution -- implicitly criticizing the literal interpretation of the Bible.
Further emphasizing the official Catholic stance, a Vatican official restated the Church position that evolution is not incompatible with faith.
Both men spoke at a press conference ahead of a March event aimed at fostering dialogue between religion and science, and appraising evolution 150 years after Charles Darwin's landmark "On the Origin of Species."
The forum is being organized by Rome's prestigious Gregorian Pontifical University, which is highly influential in Vatican circles, and by the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. A Notre Dame workshop in November 2009 will focus on the impact of evolutionary theory on other disciplines, the university said.
Popes going back to the mid-20th century have "recognized the scientific value of the theory of biological evolution," Gennaro Auletta, who teaches philosophy of science at the Gregorian, told reporters. "Greater understanding and assimilation of such subject matter by clergy and faithful has been hoped for."
"I would like to point out that unfortunately one cannot say that about the faithful of all Christian confessions, as media reports indicate," Auletta said.
Auletta appeared to be referring to stories about fundamentalist churches that maintain a literal interpretation of the Bible, including the belief that the world was created in six days.
Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi told reporters that: "One thing is sure. Evolution is not incompatible with faith."
"Creationism from a strictly theological view makes sense, but when it is used in scientific fields it becomes useless," Ravasi said.
Quoting the late Pope John Paul II, Ravasi said that "evolution can no longer be considered a hypothesis."
Pope Benedict XVI warned last week against fundamentalists' literal interpretations of the Bible. The pontiff told a gathering of intellectuals and academics in Paris that the structure of the Bible "excludes by its nature everything that today is known as fundamentalism. In effect, the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text," Benedict said.
Benedict, in a book published last year, praised scientific progress, but cautioned that evolution raises philosophical questions that science alone cannot answer. In the book, he stopped short of endorsing what is known as "intelligent design."
Intelligent design proponents believe that living organisms are so complex they must have been created by a higher force, rather than evolving from more primitive forms.
Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, an influential cardinal considered close to Benedict, has condemned a U.S. federal court decision that barred a Pennsylvania school district from teaching intelligent design in biology class.
Schoenborn has said he wants to correct what he says is a widespread misconception that the Catholic Church has given blanket endorsement to Darwin's theories.