By Hilary White

ROME, February 10, 2009 ( – An upcoming Vatican conference on Darwin’s theory of evolution, set to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of the “Origin of Species,” will present a “critical appraisal” of the great naturalist’s contributions, the Holy See Press Office said this morning. The international conference, entitled, “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories” will take place in Rome from the 3rd to 7th of March.

The conference will focus 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,” organisers said. Two sessions will be reserved to examine evolution from the point of view of Christian faith and the origin of man.

Saverio Forestiero, professor of zoology at Rome’s Torvergata University, said that the conference presents an opportunity 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.”

The purely materialist position of Darwinism – that life came into existence and developed as a result of a series of random, chance mutations – is not, however, accepted “beyond all reasonable doubt” by the Catholic Church.

Another conference organiser, Fr. Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, professor of fundamental theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, said, “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.”

Many members of the academic community, particularly in the field of natural sciences, are increasingly under criticism for attempts to suppress any interpretation of the origin of life other than that of the strictly atheistic position that precludes the hand of a divine creator.

The Vatican conference is bound to garner headlines as polls show a backlash in public opinion in some countries against the exclusion of God in the origin of life. The London Telegraph reported last week that over half of the British public agreed with a poll statement that evolution is not enough to explain the complex structures of living things and that a designer’s hand would be needed at key stages. In 2008, a poll revealed that 36 percent of British teachers said they believed a divine hand played a role in the creation of humanity and 28 percent said this idea should be raised in lessons.

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