Zenit is reporting on an upcoming conference to be held in Rome at the Pope Pius V University Nov. 9 in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” Unlike other conferences on the subject, this commemoration is built upon the theme “The Scientific Impossibility of Evolution” and is advertised as an conclusive rebuttal to Darwinian evolution.
Being held at a Roman university, and framing their research “in response to Pope Benedict’s call that both sides be heard,” the event’s organizers are clearly seeking some degree of a religious imprimatur on their work. While the Church and other scientists may be open to new research, it may not be clear the group’s obvious motivations are congruent with the Church’s views on evolution.
Evolution has been in the news recently, not only on account of the sesquicentennial of the Darwin's theory. In early October, findings were released by scientists studying the fossils of a ancient ape known as "Ardi" (short for Ardipithecus) that recast much of the thinking on evolution. The 4.4 million-year-old fossil is believed to be the oldest common ancestor of apes and human beings on record, pushing back the previous mark by 1.2 million years. The fossil also revealed that many of the assumptions about the origins of upright walking and ingrained primate aggressiveness may need to be rethought, as well as the idea that human beings evolved from something like a chimpanzee.
Peter Wilders and H.M. Owen, the movers behind the anti-Darwin conference, intend to prove much deeper flaws in evolution than simply a correction in the fossil record. Using cross-disciplinary research and a heavy emphasis on new findings from sedimentology, they plan to posit data “fatal for Darwinism.”
However, as long as conference organizers are referring to Pope Benedict's call to let both sides be heard, it might be helpful to look at exactly what the pope said.
Their reference is most likely from then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1999 talk at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he discussed faith and reason:
Has the last word been spoken? Have Christianity and reason permanently parted company? There is at any rate no getting around the dispute about the extent of the claims of the doctrine of evolution as a fundamental philosophy and about the exclusive validity of the positive method as the sole indicator of systematic knowledge and of rationality. This dispute has therefore to be approached objectively and with a willingness to listen, by both sides -- something that has hitherto been undertaken only to a limited extent. No one will be able to cast serious doubt upon the scientific evidence for micro-evolutionary processes.
First, it is worth noting his discussion of evolution is occurring, as one would expect, in a larger context of philosophy. The closest he comes to questioning the scientific, explanatory power of evolution in his Sorbonne address is by citing two evolutionists:
Within the teaching about evolution itself, the problem emerges at the point of transition from micro to macro-evolution, on which point Szathmary and Maynard Smith, both convinced supporters of an all-embracing theory of evolution, nonetheless declare that: ‘There is no theoretical basis for believing that evolutionary lines become more complex with time; and there is also no empirical evidence that this happens.’
In an 1996 interview with Peter Seewald, published in book form as Salt of the Earth, the pope acknowledged that the stories of creation in the Bible are a "theological framework" not a literal history, and were meant that the world is God's creation. He goes further however, saying that while creation in the Bible is an open question, "I think that in great measure the theory of evolution has not gotten beyond hypotheses and is often mixed with almost mythic philosophies that have yet to be critically discussed."
Running through all his commentary has been Ratzinger's assertion that reason, or Logos, must stand at the beginning of things, not simply evolutionary mechanisms of chance and cunning, though he doesn't preclude the latter altogether. What he did question was the philosophy of evolution, which makes universal claims for itself beyond its proper bounds. From his Sorbonne speech:
Every explanation of reality that cannot at the same time provide a meaningful and comprehensible basis for ethics necessarily remains inadequate. Now the theory of evolution, in the cases where people have tried to extend it to a "philosophia universalis," has in fact been used for an attempt at a new ethos based on evolution. Yet this evolutionary ethic that inevitably takes as its key concept the model of selectivity, that is, the struggle for survival, the victory of the fittest, successful adaptation, has little comfort to offer. Even when people try to make it more attractive in various ways, it ultimately remains a bloodthirsty ethic.
Pope Benedict’s call for a dialogue, then, had a somewhat more philosophical scope in mind, regarding more fundamental questions. It was not simply a call for a scientific challenge to evolution, which the pope has before confirmed does not necessarily stand in opposition to Christian faith.
He was clear enough in 2008, when he addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences’ plenary assembly on "Scientific Insight Into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life." Then, he affirmed that “there is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences," and that "scientific truth, which is itself a participation in divine truth, can help philosophy and theology to understand ever more fully the human person and God's revelation about man, a revelation that is completed and perfected in Jesus Christ.”
If there is truly new and revolutionary evidence to be brought to bear on the evolutionary theory, then science itself demands that it be heard. As recent news events have shown, the theory continues to be shaped. Let’s hope however, that the planners of this latest conference on Darwin, realize that faith itself does not require the debunking of Darwin's theory.
Paul Ciarcia, Communications