"A World Existing Independently From Us": On the Pope and the Scientific Method | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | November 29, 2010
"For her part, the Church is convinced that scientific activity ultimately benefits from the recognition of man's spiritual dimension and his quest for ultimate answers that allow for the acknowledgement of a world existing independently from us, which we do not fully understand and which we can only comprehend in so far as we grasp its inherent logic."
— Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 28, 2010 (L'Osservatore Romano, English, November 3, 2010).
The great worry of the culture of disbelief and death that we call the modern world is over the fact that Catholicism and science are quite compatible and necessary to each other. It is a quietly obvious fact that the principal promoter of reason in its fullest sense in the modern world is the papacy, but not necessarily "Catholic" academia. This view that they are compatible is well spelled out by Robert Spitzer, S.J., in his remarkably clear book, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Eerdmans, 2010).
In some basic sense, the modern world was built on the assumption of such incompatibility. Science and religion, it was claimed, were opponents to each other. One had to get rid of one if the other was to reign. Hostility, not dialogue, was the norm. We thus wanted a world in which we were guided by "scientific reason," not (supposedly) blind faith. Science was assumed to make belief in a transcendent God impossible or absurd. After all, no telescope or astronaut ever encountered God out there in space and time. Where else could He be?
Other things closer to home were also at work. If we could rid ourselves of any "First Cause," or especially any "Intelligent Cause," we would be left a world that could provide no standards of what it is to be human. The human being would not be already human on the basis of something that he did not himself create. His moral life would not be seen against a background of natural law or natural ends. Minus these inconvenient limitations, as he saw it, modern man could do what he wanted. The only exceptions were the ecologists who did not like the fact that man did much of anything with the earth. Freedom, in any case, would not mean conforming oneself to intelligible standards designed for man's own good, but making what he wanted to do to accomplish his self-given law.
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