Scientists, Theologians Gather for Vatican Conference on Evolution

Pope Benedict XVI opened a five-day Vatican meeting on evolution Friday morning by affirming that the world did not emerge out of chaos but was intentionally created by "the First Being."

"In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being," the pontiff told an audience of 80 scientists, philosophers and theologians who have gathered for the conference, themed "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life."

"It must be created, in other words, by the First Being who is such by essence," he added, according to Zenit News.

Benedict also went further to assert that the Creator was not only involved in the origins of the universe but continually sustains the development of life and the world.

The Creator, he said, "is the cause of every being and all becoming."

The five-day conference, sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the latest initiative in an effort by the Vatican to promote dialogue between scientists and theologians. It also comes as debates over creation and evolution continue to rage on.

Like many Christians today, most members of the Catholic Church accept a brand of evolution known as "theistic evolution," which teaches that evolution was a tool used by God in the creation process.

During a press gathering in September, the Vatican said the theory of evolution was compatible with the Bible and that it was even planning to hold a new interdisciplinary conference to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species next March in Rome.

The Catholic Church rejects a fundamentalist interpretation of the Creation story in Genesis, regarding the six-day account as an allegory. Though this view aligns with that of many Protestant Christians, many conservatives maintain the belief in a literal six-day Creation.

On Friday, Benedict said he saw no contradiction between believing in God and empirical science.

"There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences," he said, quoting from Popes Pius XII and John Paul II.

He also cited Galileo, whom, he said "saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author."

"It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose 'writing' and meaning, we 'read' according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the Author who has wished to reveal Himself therein," said the pontiff, according to Catholic News Service.

Following Benedict's opening remarks, world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, a professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, was scheduled to give a lecture Friday afternoon entitled "The Origin and Destiny of the Universe."

The physicist's appearance was to mark his second at a Vatican scientific conference since 1981, when Hawking had attended at Vatican conference on cosmology.

Though he has never professed a belief in God, Hawking has never denied the existence of God either. Furthermore, in his 1988 publication, A Brief History of Time, Hawking discussed the possibility of a creator.

"So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator," wrote Hawking, who later said that his theories show the possibility for the laws of science to dictate how the universe began.

The world renown physicist has also admitted to being religious, though not "in the normal sense," in an interview with Reuters last year.

"I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science," he told Reuters.

"The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws," he added.

Aside from Hawking, other notable scientists scheduled to speak at the five-day Vatican conference, which concludes Nov. 4, include Swiss chemist Albert Eschenmoser, who will discuss the search for the chemistry of life's origin; U.S. biologist David Baltimore, who will examine evolution at the genetic level; and Greek biologist Fotis Kafatos, who will speak on evolution and the insect world.

Those addressing the theological and philosophical aspects of evolution will include Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini and Father Stanley L. Jaki, a professor of physics and the philosophy of science at Seton Hall University.

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