Boy, you don't look that old!
They meet every year, the eminent German professor and his old doctoral students, for a weekend of high-minded talk on a chosen topic. For years it was nothing more than that.
But now the professor, once called Joseph Ratzinger, has become Pope Benedict XVI, and this year, the topic on the table is evolution. An issue perched on the ever more contentious front between science and belief.
Is this merely another yearly seminar? Or is the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics signaling that he may join in earnest the emotional debate over evolution, intelligent design and all that might mean for politics and faith, especially in the United States?
There is no way to know immediately, though many church experts believe that the pope has fewer problems with the science of evolution than with its use to wipe God more cleanly from a secular world.
The seminar comes after a year particularly fraught over the issue of evolution in America — and with the fight over intelligent design in the church. So scientists and believers from around the world, on all sides of an extraordinarily charged debate, are watching the meeting carefully.
Proponents of intelligent design, defeated in a high-profile court case last year in Pennsylvania, say they are pleased that their ideas, which posit that life is so complex that it requires an active creator, may get a fair hearing in the lofty circles of Professor Ratzinger’s seminars.
On the other side, scientists and theologians who support evolution say they worry that, even inadvertently, the church may be driving a wedge between itself and science. “Because like it or not, evolution happened.”
The meeting opened Friday morning at Castel Gandolfo, a papal palace that stands as a sort of symbol for the church’s coexistence with science. Castel Gandolfo houses a world-class observatory — with a telescope that Pope John Paul II enjoyed looking through — built a century after the church acknowledged its mistake in condemning Galileo for his postulation that planets revolve around the sun.
In 1996, Pope John Paul declared evolution “more than a hypothesis,” and in 2004 as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict endorsed the scientific view that the earth is roughly four billion years old and that species changed through evolution. Indeed, there has been no credible scientific challenge to the idea that evolution, the foundation of modern biology, explains the diversity of life on earth.
Given that history, scientists and church experts say they cannot imagine the study session ending with any alignment of the pope or the church with intelligent design or American-style creationism, which often posits that Earth is only about 6,000 years old
Whatever the outcome, the Church will have to walk a very fine line, after all they certainly don't want to make the same mistake they made with Galileo
For inquiring minds;
Allan W Janssen