The conference is seen as a landmark in relations between faith and science. Conceding that the Church had been hostile to Darwin because his theory appeared to conflict with the account of creation in Genesis, Archbishop Ravasi argued yesterday that biological evolution and the Christian view of Creation were complementary.
The "time has come for a rigorous and objective valuation" of Darwin by the Church, he said. Professor Leclerc said that too many opponents of Darwin - above all Creationists - had mistakenly claimed that his theories were "totally incompatible with a religious vision of reality", as did proponents of Intelligent Design.
He said it was time that theologians as well as scientists grappled with the mysteries of genetic codes and "whether the diversification of life forms is the result of competition or cooperation between species". As for the origins of Man, although we shared 97 per cent of our "genetic inheritance" with apes, the remaining 3 per cent "is what makes us unique", including religion. "I maintain that the idea of evolution has a place in Christian theology," Professor Tanzella-Nitti added.
The Church of England is seeking to bring Darwin back into the fold with a page on its website paying tribute to his "forgotten" work in his local parish, to illustrate how science and Church need not be at odds. Several pages celebrate Darwin's "significant scientific progress" to mark his bicentenary and also the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species.
The Church wants to correct the impression that Darwin's relationship with Anglicanism was contentious. The Anglican Church as a whole did not condemn Darwin or his beliefs. It says that although he lost his faith, he did not become antiChurch or antireligious.