Saturday, March 28, 2009

Faith can never conflict with reason - - - - Pope John Paul II 1979

Beginning in 1979, Pope John Paul II placed a high importance on theologians and scientists are together on committees in the Vatican in the search for truth. Pope John Paul II stressed that there are no irreconcilable differences between science and religion, stating “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.”

The 'Galileo case' teaches us that different branches of knowledge call for different methods, each of which brings out various aspects of reality

In 1979 Pope John Paul II expressed the wish that the Pontifical Academy of Sciences would conduct an indepth study of the celebrated and controversial "Galileo case". A Commission of scholars for this purpose was established in 1981 and on Saturday morning, 31 October they presented their conclusions to the Pope.  ... the Holy Father took the occasion to thank the members of the Commission for their work and to speak to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the distinct but complementary roles that faith and science fulfill in human life. Also present were members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See and highranking officials of the Roman Curia.    

The following English translation of the Holy Father's address, which was given in French, appeared in L'Osservatore Romano N. 44 (1264) - 4 November 1992

Your Eminences,Your Excellencies,Ladies and Gentlemen, ...

2. In the first place, I wish to congratulate the Pontifical Academy of Sciences for having chosen to deal, in its plenary session, with a problem of great importance and great relevance today: the problem of the emergence of complexity in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology.

The emergence of the subject of complexity probably marks in the history of the natural sciences a stage as important as the stage which bears relation to the name of Galileo, when a univocal model of order seemed to be obvious. Complexity indicates precisely that, in order to account for the rich variety of reality, we must have recourse to a number of different models.

This realization poses a question which concerns scientists, philosophers and theologians: how are we to reconcile the explanation of the world -beginning with the level of elementary entities and phenomena- with the recognition of the fact that "the whole is more than the sum of its parts"?

In his effort to establish a rigorous description and formalization of the data of experience, the scientist is led to have recourse to metascientific concepts, the use of which is, as it were, demanded by the logic of his procedure. It is useful to state exactly the nature of these concepts in order to avoid proceeding to undue extrapolations which link strictly scientific discoveries to a vision of the-world, or to ideological or philosophical affirmations, which are in no way corollaries of it. Here one sees the importance of philosophy which considers phenomena just as much as their interpretation.           photo  The Pontifical Academy of Sciences 

3. Let us think, for example, of the working out of new theories at the scientific level in order to take account of the emergence of living beings. In a correct method, one could not interpret them immediately and in the exclusive framework of science. In particular, when it is a question of the living being which is man, and of his brain, it cannot be said that these theories of themselves constitute an affirmation or a denial of the spiritual soul, or that they provide a proof of the doctrine of creation, or that, on the contrary, they render it useless.

A further work of interpretation is needed. This is precisely the object of philosophy, which is the study of the global meaning of the data of experience, and therefore also of the phenomena gathered and analysed by the sciences.

Contemporary culture demands a constant effort to synthesize knowledge and to integrate learning. Of course, the successes which we see are due to the specialization of research. But unless this is balanced by a reflection concerned with articulating the various branches of knowledge, there is a great  risk that we shall have a "shattered culture", which would in fact be the negation of true culture. A true culture cannot be conceived of without humanism and wisdom.
4. I was moved by similar concerns on 10 November 1979, at the time of the first centenary of the birth of , when I expressed the hope before this same Academy that "theologians, scholars and historians, animated by a spirit of sincere collaboration, will study the Galileo case more deeply and, in frank recognition of wrongs from whatever side they come, dispel the mistrust that still opposes, in many minds, a fruitful concord between science and faith''.(l) A Study Commission was constituted for this purpose on 3 July 1981. The very year when we are celebrating the 350th anniversary of Galileo's death, the Commission is presenting today, at the conclusion of its work, a number of publications which I value highly. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Cardinal Poupard, who was entrusted with coordinating the Commission's  research in its concluding phase. To all the experts who in any way took part in the proceedings of the four groups that guided this multidisciplinary study, I express my profound satisfaction and my deep gratitude. The work that has been carried out for more than 10 years responds to a guideline suggested by the Second Vatican Council and enables us to shed more light on several important aspects of the question. In the future, it will be impossible to ignore the Commission's conclusions.

One might perhaps be surprised that at the end of the Academy's study week on the theme of the emergence of complexity in the various sciences, I am returning to the Galileo case. Has not this case long been shelved and have not the errors committed been recognized?
That is certainly true. However, the underlying problems of this case concern both the nature of science and the message of faith. It is therefore not to be excluded that one day we shall find ourselves in a similar situation, one which will require both sides to have an informed awareness of the field and of the limits of their own competencies. The approach provided by the theme of complexity could provide an illustration of this.                 photo Giusto Sustermans

5. A twofold question is at the heart of the debate of which Galileo was the centre.     

The first is of the epistemological order and concerns biblical hermeneutics. 

In this regard, two points must again be raised. In the first place, like most of his adversaries, Galileo made no distinction between the scientific approach to natural phenomena and a reflection on nature, of the philosophical order, which that approach generally calls for. That is why he rejected the suggestion made to him to present the Copernican system as a hypothesis, inasmuch as it had not been confirmed by irrefutable proof. Such therefore, was an exigency of the experimental method of which he was the inspired founder.   photo Attribution License 

Secondly, the geocentric representation of the world was commonly admitted in the culture of the time as fully agreeing with the teaching of the Bible of which certain expressions, taken literally seemed to affirm geocentrism. The problem posed by theologians of that age was, therefore, that of the compatibility between heliocentrism and Scripture.

Thus the new science, with its methods and the freedom of research which they implied, obliged theologians to examine their own criteria of scriptural interpretation. Most of them did not know how to do so.

Paradoxically, Galileo, a sincere believer, showed himself to be more perceptive in this regard than the theologians who opposed him. "If Scripture cannot err", he wrote to Benedetto Castelli, "certain of its interpreters and commentators can and do so in many ways".(2) We also know of his letter to Christine de Lorraine (1615) which is like a short treatise on biblical hermeneutics.(3)

6. From this we can now draw our first conclusion. The birth of a new way of approaching the study of natural phenomena demands a clarification on the part of all disciplines of knowledge. It obliges them to define more clearly their own field, their approach, their methods, as well as the precise import of their conclusions. In other words, this new way requires each discipline to become more rigorously aware of its own nature.

The upset caused by the Copernican system thus demanded epistemological reflection on the biblical sciences, an effort which later would produce abundant fruit in modern exegetical works and which has found sanction and a new stimulus in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council.  photo Public Domain

7. The crisis that I have just recalled is not the only factor to have had repercussions on biblical interpretation. Here we are concerned with the second aspect of the problem, its pastoral dimension. Read more (Text from L'Osservatore Romano, 4 Nov 1992)

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