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Pope and former students ponder evolution, not "ID"

Written by: Staff

PARIS, Sep 3 (Reuters) Pope Benedict and his former doctoral students spent a weekend pondering evolution without discussing controversies over intelligent design and creationism raging in the United States, a participant said today.

The three-day closed-door meeting at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo outside Rome ended as planned without drawing any conclusions but the group plans to publish its discussion papers, said Father Joseph Fessio S J Media speculation had said the debate might shift Vatican policy to embrace ''intelligent design,'' which claims to prove scientifically that life could not have simply evolved, or even the ''creationist'' view that God created the world in six days.

''It wasn't that at all,'' Fessio, who is provost of Ave Maria University in Florida, told Reuters by telephone from Rome. The Pope's session with 39 former students was ''a meeting of friends with some scholars to discuss an interesting theme''.

''We did not really speak much about intelligent design,'' said Fessio, whose Ignatius Press publishes the Pope's books in English.

''In fact, that particular controversy did not arise.'' Creationism -- the view that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible -- was ''almost off the radar screen of the people in this group,'' he added. The Catholic Church does not read the Genesis account of creation literally.

Fessio said Benedict took part in the discussions but said nothing different from previous public statements, in which he has recognised evolution as a scientific fact but argued that God ultimately created the world and all life in it.

As the Pope put it at his inaugural Mass after being elected in April 2005, ''We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God.'' ANNUAL GET-TOGETHERS Benedict, who taught theology at four German universities before becoming archbishop of Munich and then the Vatican's top doctrinal official, has held these annual get-togethers since the late 1970s.

The international group debates in German.

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has long been rejected in the United States by conservative Christians who want to have a Bible-based view of creation taught in public schools, where the church-state separation bars the teaching of religion.

More recently, Darwin's critics have campaigned to have ''intelligent design'' taught as a scientific alternative to evolution. President George W. Bush and other conservative politicians support this drive to ''teach the controversy''.

The ''ID movement'' does not name the designer as God, but its opponents say that is the logical conclusion and call this an unacceptable bid to sneak religion into the teaching of science.

Schools in some parts of the United States teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution but a Pennsylvania court banned it there last year, saying it was religion in disguise.

Catholic teaching accepts evolution as a scientific theory but disagrees with what it calls ''evolutionism,'' the view that the story of life has no role for God as its prime author.

Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a close associate of the Pope, was one of four speakers who addressed the meeting. He raised eyebrows last year with a New York Times article that suggested the Catholic Church supported the ''ID movement''.

Schoenborn and Benedict have said several times over the past year that intelligence in the form of God's will played a part in creation and that neo-Darwinists who deny God any role are drawing an ideological conclusion not proven by the theory.

They say they use philosophical reasoning to conclude that God created the world, not arguments which intelligent design supporters claim can be proven scientifically.

Reuters AB GC2250

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