Image: Pope Benedict
AP file
In this photo from the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict XVI talks to a child after he celebrates Mass in St. Ann's parish at the Vatican last Sunday.
updated 2/10/2006 2:59:24 PM ET 2006-02-10T19:59:24

Science made such rapid progress in the 20th century that people may sometimes be confused about how the Christian faith can still be compatible with it, Pope Benedict XVI said Friday.

But science and religion are not opposed to each other and Christians should not be afraid to try to understand how they complement each other in explaining the mystery of life on Earth, he told the Vatican’s doctrinal department.

The pope made his comments at a time of heated debate, mostly in the United States, about intelligent-design arguments challenging evolution. A Pennsylvania court ruled in December that intelligent design could not be taught as science in public schools.

“The church joyfully accepts the real conquests of human knowledge and recognizes that spreading the Gospel also means really taking charge of the prospects and the challenges that modern knowledge unlocks,” he said.

The dialogue between religion and science would actually help the faithful see “the logic of faith in God,” said the Pope, speaking to members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He headed this Vatican department for nearly 25 years until his election last April.

Scientific discoveries sometimes came so rapidly “that it becomes very complicated to recognize how they are compatible with the truth revealed by God about man and the world,” said the German-born pontiff, 78.

The church, however, should not fear the challenge of reconciling faith and reason because God was “in fact, the Lord of all creation and all history.”

The intelligent-design debate in the United States has pitted scientists — some of whom may be atheists or agnostics — against believers who claim that science can prove some life forms are so complex that they must have had a supernatural “designer.”

Intelligent-design supporters have been trying to get it taught as science in biology classes alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution, which some Christian conservatives oppose. Intelligent design's opponents rejected this as having no scientific basis at all.

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