Interesting conference in Rome planned for next March on Evolution to commemorate Darwin’s achievement and discuss the science. Thankfully, according to John Allen, it looks like the Church is definitely distancing itself from “Intelligent” Design.

Professor Philip Sloan of Notre Dame, who took part in the Vatican press conference, told me afterwards that he’s seen a clear shift in Catholic attitudes.

“When I started in the 1970s, my Catholic students said the following: ‘God works by natural ways, so there’s no problem with evolution,'” Sloan said. “When I taught Darwin, the only ones who had a problem were the Protestants. Now I get Catholic students who think it is impossible to be a Catholic and accept the theory of evolution.”

“If you look at the condensed versions of the Catechism that end up in high school textbooks, it just gets stronger and stronger toward an almost literal kind of creationism,” Sloan said. He attributed that development in part to “an alliance, sometimes an unfortunate one, between right-to-life groups and anti-evolution groups, often developing within Evangelical Protestant circles, which then gets transferred into Catholic discussion.”

Ravasi and his colleagues obviously hope to offer a different perception of the church’s message. During Tuesday’s press conference, I asked Ravasi if one could say that neither creationism nor intelligent design form part of Catholic teaching.

“There is a doctrine of creation which is obviously part of the church’s teaching, and which is elaborated in a strictly theological context,” Ravasi said. “But if I use this doctrine ideologically in the scientific field, then it breaks down.”

That’s putting it diplomatically. Here’s a taste of the Program:

First Session: The Facts that we Know

09:00 a.m. Addresses of the Authorities
10:00 a.m. Paleontological Evidences (Conway Morris)
10:45 a.m. Bio-Molecular Evidences (Werner Arber)
11:25 a.m. Coffee Break
11:55 a.m. Taxonomic Issues (Douglas J. Futuyma)
12:35 p.m. Discussion
01:30 p.m. End of the Session and Lunch

Second Session: Evolutionary Mechanisms I

03:30 p.m. History of the Evolution Theories (Jean Gayon)
04:15 p.m. The Standard Theory (Francisco Ayala)
05:00 p.m. Tea Time
05:30 p.m. Symbiosis (Lynn Margulis)
06:15 p.m. The Speciation Problem (Jeffrey L. Feder)
07:00 p.m. Discussion
07:30 p.m. End of the Session and Dinner

Wednesday 4 March

Third Session: Evolutionary Mechanisms II

9:00 a.m. Evo-Devo (Scott Gilbert)
09:45 a.m. Complexity and Evolution (Stuart Kauffman)
10:25 a.m. Coffee Break
10:55 a.m. Evolution and Environment (Robert Ulanowicz)
11:35 a.m. Title to be defined (Stuart A. Newman)
12:15 p.m. Discussion
1.00 p.m. End of the Session and Lunch

Fourth Session: The Origin of Man

03:00 p.m. History of the Research (Giorgio Manzi)
03:45 p.m. Molecular Approach (Olga Rickards, Gianfranco Biondi)
04:30 p.m. Tea Time
05:00 p.m. Palaeontological Approach (Yves Coppens)
05:45 p.m. Palaeontological Approach in the Hominization and Possible Philosophical Implications (Fiorenzo Facchini)
06:30 p.m. Paleontological Data (Robin Dunbar)
07.15 p.m. Discussion
07.30 p.m. End of the Session and Dinner