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PARIS (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, elaborating his views on evolution for the first time as Pontiff, says science has narrowed the way life's origins are understood and Christians should take a broader approach to the question.
The Pope also says the Darwinist theory of evolution is not completely provable because mutations over hundreds of thousands of years cannot be reproduced in a laboratory.
But Benedict, whose remarks were published on Wednesday in Germany in the book "Schoepfung und Evolution" (Creation and Evolution), praised scientific progress and did not endorse creationist or "intelligent design" views about life's origins.
Those arguments, proposed mostly by conservative Protestants and derided by scientists, have stoked recurring battles over the teaching of evolution in the United States. Some European Christians and Turkish Muslims have recently echoed these views.
"Science has opened up large dimensions of reason ... and thus brought us new insights," Benedict, a former theology professor, said at the closed-door seminar with his former doctoral students last September that the book documents.
"But in the joy at the extent of its discoveries, it tends to take away from us dimensions of reason that we still need. Its results lead to questions that go beyond its methodical canon and cannot be answered within it," he said.
"The issue is reclaiming a dimension of reason we have lost," he said, adding that the evolution debate was actually about "the great fundamental questions of philosophy - where man and the world came from and where they are going."
Speculation about Benedict's views on evolution have been rife ever since a former student and close advisor, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, published an article in 2005 that seemed to align the Church with the "intelligent design" view.
"Intelligent design" (ID) argues that some forms of life are too complex to have evolved randomly, as Charles Darwin proposed in his 1859 book "The Origin of Species." It says a higher intelligence must have done this but does not name it as God.
Scientists denounce this as a disguised form of creationism, the view that God created the world just as the Bible says. U.S. courts have ruled both creationism and ID are religious views that cannot be taught in public school science classes there.
In the book, Benedict defended what is known as "theistic evolution," the view held by Roman Catholic, Orthodox and mainline Protestant churches that God created life through evolution and religion and science need not clash over this.
"I would not depend on faith alone to explain the whole picture," he remarked during the discussion held at the papal summer palace in Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.
He also denied using a "God-of-the-gaps" argument that sees divine intervention whenever science cannot explain something.
"It's not as if I wanted to stuff the dear God into these gaps - he is too great to fit into such gaps," he said in the book that publisher Sankt Ulrich Verlag in Augsburg said would later be translated into other languages.
Schoenborn, who published his own book on evolution last month, has said he and the German-born Pontiff addressed these issues now because many scientists use Darwin's theory to argue the random nature of evolution negated any role for God.
That is a philosophical or ideological conclusion not supported by facts, they say, because science cannot prove who or what originally created the universe and life in it.
"Both popular and scientific texts about evolution often say that 'nature' or 'evolution' has done this or that," Benedict said in the book which included lectures from theologian Schoenborn, two philosophers and a chemistry professor.
"Just who is this 'nature' or 'evolution' as (an active) subject? It doesn't exist at all!" the Pope said.
Benedict argued that evolution had a rationality that the theory of purely random selection could not explain.
"The process itself is rational despite the mistakes and confusion as it goes through a narrow corridor choosing a few positive mutations and using low probability," he said.
"This ... inevitably leads to a question that goes beyond science ... where did this rationality come from?" he asked. Answering his own question, he said it came from the "creative reason" of God.