ROME — A Vatican cardinal said Tuesday that the Catholic Church does not stand in the way of scientific realities like evolution, though he described as "absurd" the atheist notion that evolution proves there is no God.
Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reiterated church teaching about faith and science at the start of a Vatican-sponsored conference marking the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species."
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Levada said the Vatican believed there was a "wide spectrum of room" for belief in both the scientific basis for evolution and faith in God the creator.
"We believe that however creation has come about and evolved, ultimately God is the creator of all things," he said.
He said that while the Vatican did not exclude any area of science, it did reject as "absurd" the atheist notion of biologist and author Richard Dawkins and others that evolution proves there is no God.
"Of course we think that's absurd and not at all proven," he said. "But other than that ... the Vatican has recognized that it doesn't stand in the way of scientific realities."
The Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI has been trying to stress its belief that there is no incompatibility between faith and reason, and the five-day conference at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University is a key demonstration of its efforts to engage with the scientific community.
Church teaching holds that Catholicism and evolutionary theory are not necessarily at odds. But the Vatican's position became somewhat confused in recent years, in part because of a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece written by a close Benedict collaborator, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.
In the piece, Schoenborn seemed to reject traditional church teaching and back intelligent design, the view that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone, and that a higher power has had a hand in changes among species over time.
Vatican officials later made clear they did not believe intelligent design was science and that teaching it alongside evolutionary theory in school classrooms only created confusion.
The evolution conference will explore intelligent design later this week, although not as science or theology but as a cultural phenomenon.
In his remarks, Levada referred to both Dawkins and the debate over teaching creationism in schools in the United States. He declined to pinpoint the Vatican's views, saying merely: "The Vatican listens and learns."
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