The recent evolution conference in Rome
received a lot of press when it opened with Vatican officials welcoming
the engagement of science, theology and philosophy in a critical
assessment of biological evolution in the year of Darwin.
Since then, whatever attention it got focused largely on one participant.
When Oktar Babuna, a Turkish doctor and ally of
prominent Turkish anti-Darwin campaigner Harun Yahya (who has become
famous in recent years) asked for the floor to put forward a question
to proponents of the theory of evolution about whether they had found
any transitional forms – an integral part of the theory of evolution –
during a congress about evolution he was told he didn’t have the right
to ask any questions and removed from the congress altogether.
Not true. When Dr. Babuna lined up to pose a question to the morning
speakers during the Q&A session, he began by launching into a
lengthy presentation of a position, which contained somewhere within it
a challenge that could be construed as a question, but sounded a lot
like a lecture. It was interesting, but the conference protocol allowed
for brief questions in the Q&A, and more elaborated discussion at
the end of each morning and afternoon session. As Babuna continued to
expound on his thoughts, the moderator asked him if he had a question.
This went back and forth several times, with Babuna claiming that he was
asking a question, though he would not wrap it up and pose it as such.
The moderator warned that he was out of order and not observing the
rules, but Babuna persisted. Even after the conference directors turned
off his microphone, Babuna continued to filibuster. It was awkward at
But his colleague, another gentleman from Turkey, captured the whole
thing on video, and their mission was accomplished. It went up on
YouTube and was brought to the attention of news outlets, both
mainstream and alternative. It took on a life of its own, and Babuna is
now seen as the proof that ’Intelligent Design was shut out of the
Most are accepting that allegation. At least CNS admits they weren’t there at the time.
Unfortunately, I got to the conference an hour after the
filmed event on Tuesday and can’t give my impressions. But after
talking with some organizers and participants about it today, they said
the episode hadn’t seem like “that big of a deal,” in the words of one.
They said Babuna had been cut off because there was a limited amount
of time dedicated to the question-and-answer segment after each talk,
and he was not using his time at the microphone to ask a question but
instead “to make a big statement.”
According to people I spoke with, the moderator repeated his request
several times for Babuna to ask a question and when it didn’t seem like
a question was being posed, the microphone was eventually taken away.
When Babuna did not leave the floor, he was asked to return to his seat.
I was there. It wasn’t a big deal, just a bit dramatic at the time.
The moderator and the speaker both repeated the request for Babuna to
ask his question in succinct form, and he wouldn’t comply, leaving the
floor only after being asked by several officials to return to his
seat. He wasn’t ejected from the conference, contrary to some
reporting, and in fact returned each session until about the mid-week
afternoon break, when he and his colleague departed on their own.
This was unnecessary confrontation. Intelligent Design wasn’t shut out of the conference.
Proponents of intelligent design and creationism had not
been invited to give presentations at the conference because these
positions are considered to be ideologies and do not reflect good
science, theology or philosophy, according to Jesuit Father Marc
Leclerc, a philosophy professor at the Gregorian University and member
of the organizing committee.
He told reporters today that a purely ideological position “makes
dialogue very difficult, maybe impossible.” Instead they wanted to
invite people who had made clear contributions to the fields of
science, theology or philosophy to discuss the implications of and open
questions left in Darwin’s theories.
Before the conference, a few months back, Pope Benedict addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on their focus in this key year.
In choosing the topic Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life,
you seek to focus on an area of enquiry which elicits much interest. In
fact, many of our contemporaries today wish to reflect upon the
ultimate origin of beings, their cause and their end, and the meaning
of human history and the universe.
In this context, questions concerning the relationship between
science’s reading of the world and the reading offered by Christian
Revelation naturally arise. My predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John
Paul II noted that there is no opposition between faith’s understanding
of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences. Philosophy in
its early stages had proposed images to explain the origin of the
cosmos on the basis of one or more elements of the material world. This
genesis was not seen as a creation, but rather a mutation or
transformation; it involved a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the
origin of the world. A decisive advance in understanding the origin of
the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the
concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or
transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and
evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into
being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is
such by essence.
This conference was a unique opportunity for different disciplines
to present their particular contributions to the study of origins,
within a certain order. As Cardinal William Levada said on the opening
day of the conference: “The Vatican listens and learns.”