Well, I have some good news and some bad news.
The bad news is that we know almost nothing concrete about what happened during the discussions between Pope Benedict XVI and his former students this past weekend — those talks about evolution and philosophy. We have clips and snips from here and there, with the spin being that Intelligent Design was not on the agenda. What was on the agenda? Well, precisely the kinds of philosophical concerns that are at the heart of the ongoing debates inside the Vatican about clashing evolutionary theories (plural).
The good news is that the “minutes” of the meeting will be released. I assume that minutes do not equal a transcript. Here is a typical report, from The Register. Note the rejection of ID, while ID is defined with a phrase that sounds a lot like statements by the late John Paul II:
The Vatican will publish the minutes of the Pope’s recent meeting with his former doctoral students in which he discussed the Catholic Church’s position on the origins of life, evolution, and creationism.
The meeting was called, aides say, not to align the Catholic Church with the Intelligent Design camp from the US, but to revive a public discussion of faith and reason. Intelligent Design is presented as a counter to the theory of evolution, suggesting that life is too complex to have evolved without a designer, usually understood to be God. Proponents want it taught in science classes, alongside Darwin’s theory.
Father Joseph Fessio, provost of Ave Maria University in Florida, told Reuters that described the session as “a meeting of friends with some scholars to discuss an interesting theme”. Fessio explained that the conclusion that God created the world is not a scientific position, but a philosophical one. This, he said, is where the Catholic Church differs from the creationist movement in the US.
He told the news service: “There’s a controversy in the United States because there is a lack of awareness of a thing called philosophy. Evangelicals and creationists generally lack it and Catholics have it.”
Pope Benedict has also argued that some scientists go too far in their interpretation of the theory of evolution, and make claims for it that are based on ideology, rather than science.
Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said that the minutes would probably be published in November.
Click here for a longer version of, basically, the same information.
Do we trust the paraphrases of the quotes from Fessio? I do not, because Fessio knows that the arguments over science education are rooted in philosophy and the interpretation of data. Fessio also knows that several of the key critics of the “unguided,” “random” definitions of evolution are either (a) Catholic or (b) scholars with Cambridge University-level doctorates in the philosophy of science.
So the news here is that the statements of John Paul II and Benedict remain on the record. We’ll have to wait for public documents to be released — while the storm inside the Vatican rages. Like I keep saying — stay tuned. We don’t know anything new yet.
P.S. Please try to focus the comments on press coverage. I will strive, again, to kill comments that turn into shouting matches between fundamentalists on both sides.