There’s no official declaration of the Pope’s recent consult on evolution, but news is leaking out…and the good news is that Intelligent Design is not going to have a place at the table, and didn’t figure in the discussions at all. Catholic News has one source:

A participant at the Pope’s closed door symposium on creation and evolution, Jesuit Fr Joseph Fessio, has denied speculation about a change in the Church’s teaching on evolution, saying nothing presented at the meeting broke new ground and that American debates on Intelligent Design did not feature in discussions.

Declan Butler, in this week’s Nature, also reports on the impression of the only biologist at the meeting (isn’t that peculiar in itself, that they’d have a conference on the status of evolution in the church, and only have one informed attendee?):

Schönborn was one of four invited speakers at the meeting, which also included Robert Spaemann, a conservative German philosopher, and Paul Erbrich, a Jesuit priest who questions the random nature of evolution. The fourth speaker, the only working scientist present, was Peter Schuster, a molecular biologist and president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

In a break with tradition, the proceedings of the meeting will be published later this year, says Schuster, with a preface written by the Pope. The message will be to promote dialogue between faith and reason, Schuster says. Given the power struggles within the Church, however, the precise outcome of the overall debate is impossible to predict, he says: “We have to wait.”

But discussions at the meeting suggest that the Church will probably affirm a form of theistic evolution, which posits the general principle that biological evolution is valid, although set in motion by God. At the same time, it seems likely to reject the fundamental intelligent-design principle that God was a watchmaker, intervening in the details. “Intelligent design as an intervention of God during evolution will not be an outcome,” predicts Schuster. “I got the impression that there was general agreement that evolutionary biology is a undeniable science and not a hypothesis.”

A few thoughts on the decision:

  • It is good news that ID is not going to get any official endorsement from the Catholic church. The Discovery Institute has taken a beating lately, and this is not the time to slacken the pressure or give them any succor; we need to throttle that toxic weed until it is dead.
  • Backing a form of theistic evolution, while still insupportable nonsense, is the best we could hope for from the Pope, I suppose. My dream that Ratzi would go into a conclave and emerge to announce that it was all a mistake, the papacy was dissolved, and good Catholics should all embrace an enlightened materialistic naturalism hasn’t come true just yet.
  • While we can be pleased that the Vatican hasn’t found common cause with another institutional enemy of good science, ultimately their decision is irrelevant. “Eppur si muove,” and all that—the world keeps spinning, the alleles keep changing, biological history has happened, and all the dogma of old men in funny hats won’t change that.

Butler, D (2006) When science and theology meet. Nature 443:10-11.


  1. #1 David Marjanović
    September 8, 2006

    A universe that expands acceleratingly can never have a heat death.

    Praise Hubble, him of the 1950s.

  2. #2 Steve LaBonne
    September 8, 2006

    Michael, as a trained scientist I won’t stand for misrepresentation of science. And that’s exactly what is happening when someone attempts to drag religious baggage into science. Things like “theistic evolution” are a form of intellectual fraud; an attempt to misappropriate the prestige of science to provide the naked theological emperor with borrowed clothes. Whenever and however this is done, I will strongly object.

    I don’t care that you don’t like this objection. It will stand, no matter how much bandwidth you waste trying to defend the indefensible.


    I only want to dispute the claim of those who say that it is the exclusive property of atheism.

    is a rather stupid category mistake, by the way. First, you’re reifying “atheism” in a totally unwarranted way; it’a a purely negative phenomenon. (And as Dawkins has pointed out, you are an atheist about all of humanity’s many gods, except one. I just go one god further.) Second, you’re free to hold whatever beliefs you wish. If you don’t claim that those beliefs have consequences observable by science, in that version I can live happily enough with the “overlapping magisteria”. If you claim that your supernatural beliefs have observable consequences, scientists will quite legitimately ask you to show your evidence and will want to study those phenomena. There’s no free ontological lunch. And thirdly, as I already noted, why do you care whether I grant any standing to your peculiar metaphysical beliefs? That betrays a strange sort of insecurity, which puzzles me greatly. The believer doth protest too much.

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