VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI has waded into the evolution debate in the United States, saying the universe was made by an "intelligent project" and criticizing those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order.
Benedict made the off-the-cuff comments during his general audience Wednesday. The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, published the full text of his remarks in its Thursday editions.
Benedict focused his reflections for the audience on scriptural readings that said God's love was seen in the "marvels of creation."
He quoted St. Basil the Great, a fourth century saint, as saying some people, "fooled by the atheism that they carry inside of them, imagine a universe free of direction and order, as if at the mercy of chance."
"How many of these people are there today? These people, fooled by atheism, believe and try to demonstrate that it's scientific to think that everything is free of direction and order," he said.
"With the sacred Scripture, the Lord awakens the reason that sleeps and tells us: In the beginning, there was the creative word. In the beginning, the creative word _ this word that created everything and created this intelligent project that is the cosmos _ is also love."
His comments were immediately hailed by advocates of intelligent design, who hold that the universe is so complex it must have been created by a higher power. Proponents of the theory are seeking to get public schools in the United States to teach it as part of the science curriculum.
Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism _ a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation _ camouflaged in scientific language and does not belong in science curriculum.
Questions about the Vatican's position on evolution were raised in July by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.
In a New York Times op-ed piece, Schoenborn seemed to back intelligent design and dismissed a 1996 statement by Pope John Paul II that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis." Schoenborn said the late pope's statement was "rather vague and unimportant."
Schoenborn attended Wednesday's audience. He was seated on the dais behind Benedict in St. Peter's Square, along with other Austrian bishops making a regularly scheduled visit to the Vatican.