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Creationism and evolution can co-exist, says cardinal

Darwin gets thumbs-up (again) from the Catholic church

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Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, considered a contender in the recent papal race, has apparently distanced himself from remarks he made in the New York Times in July when he said that an "unguided, unplanned process of natural selection" was not "true".

His remarks were widely interpreted as a signal that the Vatican no longer accepted that the theory of evolution could co-exist with a belief in the teachings of the Roman Catholic church.

In 1996, Pope John Paul II issued a formal statement on the compatibility of science and religion. Schoenborn is considered something of an expert on church doctrine, so Schoenborn's apparently revisionist reading of that statement came as something of a surprise.

However, in a lecture given at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna on Sunday, Schoenborn said that it was possible he had not expressed himself clearly.

"Such misunderstandings can be cleared up," he said, according to a Reuters report.

The 60-year-old cardinal now says that there need not be an inherent conflict between divine creation and evolution. He says that one is a matter for religion, the other for science, and that the two disciplines are complementary.

Schoenborn said: "Without a doubt, Darwin pulled off quite a feat with his main work and it remains one of the very great works of intellectual history. I see no problem combining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, under one condition - that the limits of a scientific theory are respected."

He explained that in his view, those limits would be overstepped if scientists claimed that evolution proves that there could be no creator. Since science has never made any such claim on evolution's behalf*, it looks like it's still OK by the Vatican.

But as much as he has paid tribute to Darwinian theories, Schoenborn has not totally distanced himself from the Intelligent Design camp: "It is fully reasonable to assume some sense or design even if the scientific method demands restrictions that shut out this question," he said.®

*Abiogenesis, the theory that life can spontaneously arise from non-living matter, is another field entirely. Harvard University recently launched a multi-million dollar research effort into just this question.

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