Cardinal: Schools Quiet Evolution Debate

New York, USA - An influential Roman Catholic cardinal whose comments on evolution are closely followed condemned a court decision Wednesday that barred a Pennsylvania school district from teaching "intelligent design" in biology class.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna said in a lecture that restricting debate about Darwin's theory of evolution amounts to censorship in schools and in the broader public.

"Commonly in the scientific community every inquiry into the scientific weaknesses of the theory is blocked off at the very outset," Schoenborn said of Darwinism. "To some extent there prevails a type of censoring here of the sort for which one eagerly reproached the church in former times."

The cardinal said he found it "amazing" that a U.S. federal court ruled in 2005 that the Dover, Pa., public school district could not teach the concept of "intelligent design" as part of its science class. The judge had said that the theory, which says an intelligent supernatural force explains the emergence of complex life forms, was creationism in disguise.

The cardinal said the Dover ruling meant that schoolchildren would only be taught a materialistic, atheistic view of the origin of universe, without considering the idea that God played a role.

"A truly liberal society would at least allow students to hear of the debate," he said.

Schoenborn's comments came in a speech Wednesday night sponsored by the Homeland Foundation, a philanthropy that funds cultural and religious programs, many involving the Catholic Church.

It is the latest in a series of remarks he has made on the topic. The cardinal, who is close to Pope Benedict XVI, has said he wants to correct what he calls a widespread misconception that the Catholic Church has given a blanket endorsement to Darwin's theories.

The "intelligent design" concept has been promoted most prominently by the Discovery Institute, a think tank in Seattle. Asked after the speech if he was endorsing the institute's beliefs, Schoenborn would say only "listen to my arguments," cautioning that his views should not be put "in a box."

"I don't belong to any kind of boxes," he said.

The lecture was based on a talk Schoenborn gave in a private meeting in Italy last year with Benedict, a former professor, and several of his old students, where they discussed evolution.

Schoenborn affirmed that the Catholic Church rejects creationism, saying "the first page of the Bible is not a cosmological treatise about the coming to be of the world in six days." He also said that "the Catholic faith can accept" the possibility that God uses evolution as a tool. But he said science alone cannot explain the origins of the universe.