Beliefnet reports that the Vatican has inched a wee bit closer to that long-rumored merger with the First Holiness Storefront Church of the Republican Creator:
Pope Replaces Intelligent Design Critic at Observatory
Pope Benedict XVI has appointed a new director of the Vatican Observatory, replacing the Rev. George Coyne, a long-serving Jesuit astronomer and a vocal opponent of "intelligent design" theory.
It was unclear if the replacement of Coyne, the observatory's director since 1978, reflected a sense of disapproval within the Vatican over his opposition to intelligent design -- the idea that the world is too complex to have been created by natural events alone....
In his staunch defense of evolution, Coyne, 73, has frequently crossed swords with Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, a former protege and close adviser to Benedict whose support of intelligent design has been instrumental in introducing the theory into Catholic discourse....
Although Benedict has referred to the "cosmos" as an "intelligent project," he has yet to explicitly weigh in on the merits of intelligent design, a question that has generated an explosive debate in the United States.
In a November interview, Coyne suggested the pope should withhold judgment on the issue, adding that Benedict "doesn't have the slightest idea of what intelligent design means in the U.S." ...
Benedict may or may not know about this battle in America, but Schonborn certainly does -- in July 2005 he published this attack on "neo-Darwinian dogma" on the op-ed page of The New York Times; the article, as the Times subsequently noted, was written at the urging of Mark Ryland of the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute, and "was submitted to The Times by a Virginia public relations firm, Creative Response Concepts, which also represents the Discovery Institute." The op-ed echoed Discovery Institute talking points.
The Beliefnet story notes that evolution will soon be discussed at the Vatican:
In early September, Benedict will conduct a weekend seminar on the impact Darwin's theory has on the church's teaching of Creation. Schonborn, who has described evolution as "incompatible" with church teachings, will speak at the event, along with evolution advocate Peter Schuster, president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
Other speakers at the event include the Rev. Paul Erbrich, emeritus professor of natural philosophy from the University of Munich, who has described evolution as a "fundamentally inadequate" explanation of the origins of life; and Robert Spaemann, a conservative German philosopher who has challenged "evolutionism," or the philosophical applications of Darwin's theory.
That panel sounds about as politically balanced as the Fox News prime-time lineup.
UPDATE: Some related stateside news, from The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Like a gap in the fossil record, evolutionary biology is missing from a list of majors that the U.S. Department of Education has deemed eligible for a new federal grant program designed to reward students majoring in engineering, mathematics, science, or certain foreign languages.
That absence apparently indicates that students in the evolutionary sciences do not qualify for the grants, and some observers are wondering whether the omission was deliberate....
The awards in question -- known as Smart Grants, for the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent program -- were created by Congress this year, with strong support from the president. The grants are worth up to $4,000 and are awarded in addition to Pell grants.
Recipients must be college juniors or seniors enrolled in one of the technical fields of study that the Department of Education has deemed eligible for funds. Many different topics, as varied as astronomy and Arabic, qualify.
But evolutionary biology is absent....