Pope sees physicist Hawking at evolution gathering

VATICAN CITY Fri Oct 31, 2008 2:11pm EDT

Pope Benedict XVI (R) greets British professor Stephen Hawking during a meeting of science academics at the Vatican October 31, 2008. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano

Pope Benedict XVI (R) greets British professor Stephen Hawking during a meeting of science academics at the Vatican October 31, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Osservatore Romano

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict told a gathering of scientists including the British cosmologist Stephen Hawking on Friday that there was no contradiction between believing in God and empirical science.

Benedict, who briefly met the wheelchair-bound physicist at an event hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, described science as the pursuit of knowledge about God's creation.

"There is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences," the pontiff said.

"Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God."

The Catholic Church found the 17th-century astronomer Galileo guilty of heresy for insisting the earth revolved around the sun. It did not rehabilitate him until 1992.

Hawking is a guest at the week-long event, which will explore the theme: "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life."

In an interview with Reuters last year, Hawking said he was "not religious in the normal sense."

"I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science," he said. "The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."

The Catholic Church teaches "theistic evolution," which accepts evolution as scientific theory. Proponents see no reason why God could not have used an evolutionary process in forming the human species.

The Pontiff admired the technology that allows Hawking to speak through a voice synthesizer. Hawking is crippled by a muscle disease and has lost the use of his natural voice.

Hawking, author of the best-selling "A Brief History of Time," will speak about the origin of the universe at the closed-door event.

(Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Catherine Bosley)

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