Darwin Conference Does Not Speak for Vatican, Says Intelligent Design Proponent

A leading intelligent design proponent said Friday that views expressed this week at a Darwin conference in Rome should not be confused with the Vatican's position on intelligent design and Darwinism.

Organizers of the March 3-7 conference, "Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories," at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome had declined to invite intelligent design speakers because they felt the theory lacked scientific merit.

Bruce Chapman, president of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, said he believes the Pope remains in serious "fruitful dialogue" with intelligent design even though speakers of the conference, sponsored by a Catholic Church-related agency, may be critical of the theory.

"The views of the Pope and views of people holding the conference are not the same," Chapman told The Christian Post on Friday. "A large purpose of this conference was to criticize and trash intelligent design and try to make it seem like it's the Vatican's [point of view]. They are intentionally trying to confuse people."

He added, "Not only is the Papal household keeping its distance from this conference, the Pope has said some things friendly to intelligent design and critical of Darwinism."

The intelligent design proponent said Pope Benedict XVI was critical of evolution as a random process during the first homily he delivered. At his coronation, the Pope said, "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God."

Chapman, a Roman Catholic himself, emphasized that the conference's sponsor, The Pontifical Council on Culture, is an office of the Vatican but represented neither the Vatican nor the Pope himself.

"Just because someone has money to come to Rome and have a conference doesn't mean they speak for the Catholic Church, anymore than some Committee in the Senate or the House can speak for the United States government," he said.

Moreover, Chapman pointed out that the event was funded by the John Templeton Foundation, which publicly opposes intelligent design.

In an article published Thursday, the Rev. Tomasz Tramfe, an official of the Pontifical Council on Culture and a Templeton representative told the Associated Press that Templeton did not place any restrictions on who was invited to speak.

"They sent us the proposal after they had most of the speakers already. We decided to make the grant in part because it is a really good speakers' list," Paul Wason, director of the Templeton Foundation's science and religion programs, told AP.

Chapman, however, disputed the report, saying he was told by Tramfre in 2007 that it was the Templeton Foundation that prohibited scientists with views supporting intelligent design from speaking at the conference.

The restriction, according to Chapman, prevented intelligent design proponents such as Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box, who is also Catholic, from defending their views at the conference.

Chapman indicated it wasn't fair for organizers of the Darwin conference to allow staunch critics of intelligent design to speak while silencing a pro-ID voice.

"We are calling attention to their hypocrisy," said Chapman. "You can't attack people and not allow them to defend themselves."

In their announcement of the conference last Fall, organizers emphasized that proponents of creationism and intelligent design would not be invited to participate.

Following the remark, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of "First Things," criticized the way the conference organizers "lump[ed] together" creationism and intelligent design.

"They are quite distinct enterprises; the former is typically in defense of a literal reading of Genesis while the latter is a scientifically based theory of purpose or teleology in natural development," wrote Neuhaus in the December issue of the Catholic-based journal.

In an AP article on Thursday, the conference director said organizers thought the inclusion of intelligent design in the event would make dialogue "very difficult" because they did not consider it to be "a scientific perspective, nor a theological or philosophical one."

Chapman acknowledged that critics, often left-leaning journalists, cause confusion by associating intelligent design with creationism.

He said a headline by FOXNews that read, "Creationists, Intelligent Design Advocates Blast Vatican for Not Inviting Them to Evolution Conference," was misleading.

"The opposite is true. We were defending the Vatican and the Catholic Church," Chapman clarified.

The Discovery Institute president went on to explain the difference between microevolution, changes that takes place over time within the species, with macroevolution, the process by which one species becomes another species.

He said that while intelligent design proponents and the Catholic Church accept microevolution, he believes both reject the proposal by Darwin that unguided random chance and mutation produces new species and how it suggests life was created that way.

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