The Vatican has announced an upcoming international conference on "Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A Critical Appraisal 150 years after 'The Origin of Species'", to mark the Darwin celebrations and build the science-theology dialogue.
The conference is due to be take place in Rome from 3 to 7 March 2009. Along with other major churches, the Catholic Church proclaims the compatibility of evolutionary biology and Christian faith in the world process as God's creative purpose.
The Vatican opposes creationism, which misconstrues ancient texts to deny the findings of the natural sciences and oppose them to divine fiat. However, a few Catholic academics have joined those toying with 'Intelligent Design', a close cousin.
The Vatican congress is being jointly organised by the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA, under the patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture and as part of the STOQ Project (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest).
Participating in the press conference announcing the event were Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Fr Marc Leclerc SJ, professor of the philosophy of nature at the Pontifical Gregorian University; Gennaro Auletta, scientific director of the STOQ Project and professor of the philosophy of science at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Alessandro Minelli, professor of zoology at the University of Padua, Italy.
"Debates on the theory of evolution are becoming ever more heated, both among Christians and in specifically evolutionist circles", Fr Leclerc explained. "In particular, with the approach of the ... 150th anniversary of the publication of 'The Origin of Species', Charles Darwin's work is still too often discussed more in ideological terms than in the scientific ones which were his true intention".
"In such circumstances - as Christian scientists, philosophers and theologians directly involved in the debate alongside colleagues from other confessions or of no confession at all - we felt it incumbent upon us to bring some clarification. The aim is to generate wide-ranging rational discussion in order to favour fruitful dialogue among scholars from various fields and areas of expertise.
He added: "The Church has profound interest in such dialogue, while fully respecting the competencies of each and all. This is, however, an academic congress, organised by two Catholic universities, the Gregorian University in Rome and Notre Dame in the United States, and as such is not an ecclesial event. Yet the patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture serves to underline the Church's interest in such questions".