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A cardinal asks faithful not to discount science

VATICAN CITY -- A Vatican cardinal said yesterday that the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, and warned that religion risks turning into ''fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, a Frenchman who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, made the comments at a news conference on a project to help end the ''mutual prejudice" between religion and science that has been an issue for the Roman Catholic Church, and that 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's discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun; church teaching at the time placed the Earth at the center of the universe.

''The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines," Poupard said.

But he said that science, too, should listen to religion.

''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," he said.

''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," he added, ''just as we ask that knowledge of the faith be taken in consideration as an expert voice."

Poupard and others were asked about the religion-science 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.

The Rev. Monsignor Gianfranco Basti of the Vatican project Science, Theology and Ontological Quest, affirmed John Paul's 1996 statement that evolution was ''more than just a hypothesis."

''Evolution is more than a hypothesis," Basti said, ''because there is proof."

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