Italy Science Agency Helps Publish Creationism Book

9 December 2009 5:05 pm

It may not hold Italy’s interest like presidential sex scandals, but the country’s premier science funding agency, the National Research Council (CNR), is generating its own unwelcome headlines after it came out that CNR helped fund and support a pro-creationism book compiled by a vice-president at the organization.

The book, Evolutionism: the decline of an hypothesis, is by Roberto de Mattei, a professor of the history of Christianity and Catholicism at the European University of Rome. It was assembled from the proceedings of a meeting that he organized at CNR in February to explain why evolutionism is a flawed, dogmatic theory that relies on wrong assumptions and is not supported by scientific evidence. The speakers at the meeting included a sedimentologist, a chemist, a physicist, the rector of the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein, and other philosophers. The resulting book includes claims that the Earth and fossil dating methods are wrong, that the way fossils were stratified has been determined by the Deluge, and that dinosaurs died only about 40,000 years ago. The book was launched at the beginning of November at a hotel event in Rome.

The book states that it has been published thanks to the financial contributions of CNR, and agency officials haven’t denied that. Through the agency’s press office, CNR president, physicist Luciano Maiani, has acknowledged that CNR hosted the conference in February and then contributed to the expenses for printing the book. He says that that CNR's publication office independently decided to allocate the money and CNR itself did not endorse the book. (The Italian newspaper La Repubblica says the CNR contributed € 9000 to the book.)

In addition to his vice-president position at CNR, which was a political appointment, de Mattei is president of a Catholic association, called Lepanto, that some say has extremist views. In the introduction of the book, which ScienceInsider has reviewed, de Mattei criticizes scientists for failing to accept that the theory of evolution isn’t supported by evidence and for ideologically denying any metaphysical truth, starting with the existence of a God that created the Universe.
Phycisist Nicola Cabibbo, President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, has expressed strong disapproval of CNR funding such a book. “The Catholic Church has accepted the thesis of evolutionism. It is interesting that while the Church has devoted many conferences to the topic this year, the VP of CNR organized conferences in favor of creationism.” Cabibbo adds: “I think the main problem here is that many important roles within the main Italian scientific institutions are decided by politicians, and most of the times the people they choose are not even scientists. [CNR] President Maiani is an exception, as he has been appointed by applying international scientific standards of selection. ”

Among the biologists voicing dismay, zoologist Ferdinando Boero of University of Lecce wrote an open letter to Maiani questioning de Mattei’s fitness for vice-president of CNR. “It is not acceptable that something has been published with the label and money of CNR without any previous control from CNR itself and without going through any peer review evaluation,” Boero tells ScienceInsider. “We are in front of the paradox that, while the Vatican {Pontifical] Academy of Science endorses evolutionism, the VP of the biggest scientific institution in Italy denies it.”

While stressing that de Mattei’s book doesn’t reflect CNR’s position on evolution, President Maiani has, in a media statement, defended the vice-president’s right to publish the book, saying: “I’d like to stress both the fact that the intellectual research is an open enterprise, as well as my personal endorsement against any form of censorship. The freedom of expression is guaranteed by the article 21 of [Italy’s] Constitution.”

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