VATICAN CITY, 10 FEB 2009 (VIS) - In the Holy See Press Office this morning, the presentation took place of an international conference entitled: "Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A critical appraisal 150 years after 'The Origin of Species'". The event is due to take place in Rome from 3 to 7 March.
The congress has been jointly organised by the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, U.S.A., under the patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture and as part of the STOQ Project (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest).
Participating in today's press conference were Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture and president of the Committee of Honour of the congress; Fr. Marc Leclerc S.J., professor of the philosophy of nature at the Gregorian University and director of the congress; Fr. Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, professor of fundamental theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, and Saverio Forestiero, professor of zoology at Rome's Torvergata University and a member of the organising committee.
Archbishop Ravasi pointed out that the forthcoming congress responds to the need "to re-establish dialogue between science and faith, because neither of them can fully resolve the mystery of human beings and the universe".
For his part Fr. Leclerc explained that the congress will be divided into nine sessions, focusing on "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". 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". Finally, he said, "there will be two theological sessions to study 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".
Saverio Forastiero 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 went on, "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 analyse the impact and quality of the explanatory theories thus far proposed".
For his part, Fr. Tanzella-Nitti highlighted how "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".
"I hope", he went on, "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".