ROME — Normally when the Vatican or a pontifical university sponsors a conference within its walls, you’d be pretty lucky to see any footage of it on the nightly news.
Mostly it’s just us Catholic journalists who haunt those halls, sitting hunched over our notepads scribbling down highlights from the talks and tracking down participants to interview. And if you’re the proud reader of Catholic News Service and her client newspapers and magazines, then you’d get to read about the event sometime later.
But this time was different. This time an audience member came armed with his own video camera so he could bring a slice of academia immediately to the wider world.
Dr. Oktar Babuna, a Turkish neurosurgeon, and a colleague of his attended Tuesday’s opening day of a five-day international conference dedicated to the critical appraisal of Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution.
According to Babuna, he tried to pose a question asking where the scientific evidence was for evolution — specifically, where are the fossil records of transitional forms that link the evolution of one species to another? But he told news agencies he was censored because he was challenging the veracity of evolution.
Babuna’s colleague captured the five-minute episode on camera and contacted news media about it soon after. Babuna said they uploaded the footage onto YouTube and the Web site of Harun Yahya, a Turkish author who opposes Darwinian theories as being unscientific. God created the world, but not according to evolutionary processes, Babuna said.
When I asked him by phone today about what happened on Tuesday, he said he had not been allowed to complete his question and had been rudely pushed back to his seat. He said he felt “the atmosphere was very undemocratic.”
He said he believes Darwinism denies the existence of God and that it’s an ideology meant to keep atheism alive in modern society,
He said he was sorry a pontifical university would sponsor such an event because “Rome is the center of Christianity and to get involved with that kind of people – they are all atheists.”
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.
Here’s the YouTube footage. The sound quality is extremely poor, but toward the end you can see Douglas Futuyma, a professor of ecology and evolution at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, at the front of the room behind a microphone explaining to Babuna the scientific evidence for evolution and transitional forms.
Two Vatican officials I spoke with told me they spoke with Babuna afterward, listened to his views and accepted from him a copy of Yahya’s Atlas of Creation.
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.