Vatican Observatory Plans Symposium on Evolution

Event to Scrutinize a Widely Accepted Scientific Worldview

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 20, 2004 ( The Vatican Observatory has convoked a range of experts to reflect on a question that at times seems to be forgotten in scientific research: Is there purpose in evolution?

«The effectiveness and integration of biological systems is little less than startling,» the Vatican press office said in a statement when announcing the symposium.

«Yet in scientific circles, there is a very deep-seated distrust of teleological language, even though researchers may occasionally use the word ‘design’ in an attempt to grapple with the often astonishing adaptive complexes they study,» the statement said.

Hence, the Vatican Observatory from June 24-26 will be host for a symposium organized by the John Templeton Foundation.

«Put crudely,» the Vatican statement continued, «the widely accepted scientific worldview is that human beings or any other product of evolutionary diversification is accidental and, by implication, incidental.»

«Add the sheer diversity of the biosphere (both past and present) and the random nature of mutations to the occasional environmental disruption, be it bolide [meteor] impact, snowball Earth, or sudden greenhouse, and the overwhelming impression is of an evolutionary process that could have gone in a myriad of separate directions,» the statement added.

«The purpose of this symposium is not to dispute this worldview, but to inquire whether it is sufficient and, if it is not, to consider what we need to know and ultimately how we might discover the requisite information with one or more research programs,» the note announced.

The symposium at the Vatican Observatory will gather 13 participants, researchers in the areas of biology, biochemistry, ecology, geology, neurosciences, paleontology, philosophy of science and theology.

They are asked to address these five questions:

— Can we speak of a universal biochemistry?

— How do levels of complexity emerge, and are they inevitable?

— Can we properly define evolutionary constraints?

— What does convergence tell us about evolution?

— What do we mean by intelligence? Is intelligence an inevitable product of evolution?

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