Pope Benedict, elaborating his views on evolution for the first time as Pontiff, says science has narrowed the way life's origins are understood and Christians should take a broader approach to the question.
The Pope also says the Darwinist theory of evolution is not completely provable because mutations over hundreds of thousands of years cannot be reproduced in a laboratory.
But Benedict, whose remarks were published yesterday in Germany in the book Schoepfung und Evolution (Creation and Evolution), praised scientific progress and did not endorse creationist or "intelligent design" views about life's origins.
Those arguments, proposed mostly by conservative Protestants and derided by scientists, have stoked recurring battles over the teaching of evolution in the United States. Some European Christians and Turkish Muslims have recently echoed these views.
"Science has opened up large dimensions of reason... and thus brought us new insights," Benedict, a former theology professor, said at the closed-door seminar with his former doctoral students last September that the book documents.
"But in the joy at the extent of its discoveries, it tends to take away from us dimensions of reason that we still need. Its results lead to questions that go beyond its methodical canon and cannot be answered within it," he said.
Speculation about Benedict's views on evolution have been rife ever since a former student and close advisor, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, published an article in 2005 that seemed to align the Church with the "intelligent design" view.
"Intelligent design" (ID) argues that some forms of life are too complex to have evolved randomly, as Charles Darwin proposed in his 1859 book The Origin of Species. It says a higher intelligence must have done this but does not name it as God.
In the book, Benedict defended what is known as "theistic evolution," the view held by Roman Catholic, Orthodox and mainline Protestant churches that God created life through evolution and religion and science need not clash over this.
"Both popular and scientific texts about evolution often say that 'nature' or 'evolution' has done this or that," Benedict said in the book.
"Just who is this 'nature' or 'evolution' as (an active) subject? It doesn't exist at all!" the Pope said.
Theories to explain life's origins
THE BIBLE: Genesis, the first book of the Bible, says God created the Earth, plants, animals and man all in six days. Christian fundamentalists read this as the literal explanation for life's origin and say scientific theories such as evolution cannot be true. This view is called creationism. The main Christian denominations interpret Genesis as an allegory on how God created life and accept the scientific theory of evolution as an explanation of how living species developed. This view is known as "theistic evolution."
DARWIN: Charles Darwin (1809-82) was a British naturalist whose theory of evolution founded modern evolutionary studies. His 1859 book "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" argued that organisms with more favorable traits were more likely to survive and reproduce. His 1871 book "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex" derived the human race from anthropoid ancestors related to the descendants of the orang-utan, chimpanzee and gorilla.
NEO-DARWINISM: This further development of Darwin's theory emerged in the 20th century as scientists added insights from new discoveries, especially Gregor Mendel's theory of genetics. Supporters say this updated version of evolution is one of the most solidly based theories.
INTELLIGENT DESIGN: "Intelligent Design" argues that some aspects of nature are so complex that they must have been the work of an unnamed creator rather than the result of random natural selection.
Source: China Daily/agencies