VATICAN CITY – A Vatican cardinal said Thursday the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into “fundamentalism” if it ignores scientific reason.
Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, made the comments at a news conference on a Vatican project to help end the “mutual prejudice” between religion and science that has long bedeviled the Roman Catholic Church and is part of the evolution debate in the United States.
The Vatican project was inspired by Pope John Paul II’s 1992 declaration that the church’s 17th-century denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from “tragic mutual incomprehension.” Galileo was condemned for supporting Nicolaus Copernicus’ discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun; church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.
“We know where scientific reason can end up by itself: the atomic bomb and the possibility of cloning human beings are fruit of a reason that wants to free itself from every ethical or religious link,” said Poupard.
“But we also know the dangers of a religion that severs its links with reason and becomes prey to fundamentalism,” he said.
“The faithful have the obligation to listen to that which secular modern science has to offer, just as we ask that knowledge of the faith be taken in consideration as an expert voice in humanity.”
Poupard and others at the news conference were asked about the debate raging in the United States over evolution and “intelligent design.”
Intelligent design’s supporters argue that natural selection, an element of evolutionary theory, cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms.
Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican project Science, Theology and Ontological Quest reaffirmed John Paul’s 1996 statement that evolution was “more than just a hypothesis.” “A hypothesis asks whether something is true or false,” he said. “(Evolution) is more than a hypothesis because there is proof.”