'Intelligent design' not science: Vatican paper

Vatican City - The Roman Catholic Church has restated its support for evolution with an article praising a U.S. court decision that rejects the "intelligent design" theory as non-scientific.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said that teaching intelligent design -- which argues that life is so complex that it needed a supernatural creator -- alongside Darwin's theory of evolution would only cause confusion.

A court in the state of Pennsylvania last month barred a school from teaching intelligent design (ID), a blow to Christian conservatives who want it to be taught in biology classes along with the Darwinism they oppose.

The ID movement sometimes presents Catholicism, the world's largest Christian denomination, as an ally in its campaign. While the Church is socially conservative, it has a long theological tradition that rejects fundamentalist creationism.

"Intelligent design does not belong to science and there is no justification for the demand it be taught as a scientific theory alongside the Darwinian explanation," said the article in the Tuesday edition of the newspaper.

Evolution represents "the interpretative key of the history of life on Earth" and the debate in the United States was "polluted by political positions," wrote Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at Italy's Bologna University.

"So the decision by the Pennsylvania judge seems correct."

Confusion about the Catholic view of evolution arose last year when both the newly elected

Pope Benedict and his former student, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, said humans were part of an intelligent project designed by God.

An article by Schoenborn in the New York Times in July seemed to signal a Church shift toward intelligent design because it played down a 1996 statement by Pope John Paul that evolution was "more than a hypothesis."

This triggered a wave of "Vatican rejects Darwin" headlines and attacks from scientists, Catholics among them, who argued that had been proved man evolved from lower beings.

Schoenborn later made it clear the Church accepted evolution as solid science but objected to the way some Darwinists concluded that it proved God did not exist and could "explain everything from the Big Bang to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony."

The Church, which has never rejected evolution, teaches that God created the world and the natural laws by which life developed. Even its best-known dissident, Swiss theologian Hans Kueng, echoed this in a recent book in Germany.

Schoenborn said he spoke up because he shared Benedict's concern, stated just before his election last April, that a "dictatorship of relativism" was trying to deny God's existence.


Pennsylvania Judge John Jones ruled that intelligent design was a version of creationism, the belief that God made the world in six days as told in the Bible, and thus could not be taught without violating a ban on teaching religion in public schools.

It was not science, despite claims by its backers, he said.

This literal reading of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is a tenet of faith for evangelical Protestants, a group that has become politically influential in the United States.

Many U.S. Catholics may agree with evangelicals politically, but the Church does not share their theology on this point. Intelligent design has few supporters outside the United States.

While not an official document, the article in L'Osservatore Romano had to be vetted in advance to reflect Vatican thinking.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute -- the main think tank of the ID movement -- said on its website that reading the Osservatore article that way amounted to an attempt "to put words in the Vatican's mouth."