Vatican City (AsiaNews) Scientific progress, which the Church views with great favour, cannot lead to the denial of the transcendental. Should this be done in the name of the scientific method's supposedly absolute power to predict it would mean the loss of "what is human in man". Failure to recognise man's uniqueness and transcendence could then open the door to his exploitation.
It is these terms that Benedict XVI spoke again this morning about the relationship between faith and science, science's alleged absolute power to predict, and the dangers in denying the existence of God. He did so in an address to the participants to the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Science in the Clementine Hall.
The "increasing 'advance' of science, and especially its capacity to master nature through technology," the Pope said, "has at times been linked to a corresponding 'retreat' of philosophy, of religion, and even of the Christian faith. Indeed, some have seen in the progress of modern science and technology one of the main causes of secularization and materialism: why invoke God's control over these phenomena when science has shown itself capable of doing the same thing?"
Although the Church looks favourably to scientific progress, the Pope said that "Christianity does not posit an inevitable conflict between supernatural faith and scientific progress."
"The very starting-point of Biblical revelation," he insisted, "is the affirmation that God created human beings, endowed them with reason, and set them over all the creatures of the earth. In this way, man has become the steward of creation and God's 'helper'. If we think, for example, of how modern science, by predicting natural phenomena, has contributed to the protection of the environment, the progress of developing nations, the fight against epidemics, and an increase in life expectancy, it becomes clear that there is no conflict between God's providence and human enterprise."
Man cannot however unconditionally place in scientific progress so much trust as to believe that it can explain everything. "Science cannot replace philosophy and revelation by giving an exhaustive answer to man's most radical questions: questions about the meaning of living and dying, about ultimate values, and about the nature of progress itself."
Furthermore, scientists must also be ethically responsible. "[S]cience's ability to predict and control must never be employed against human life and its dignity, but always placed at its service, at the service of this and future generations."
If today the world turns to scientists for solutions to the problems that threaten the environment and the urgent need to find safe, alternative energy sources available to all, science cannot presume it can provide a complete "deterministic" answer to all the issues of our future.
"[T]here is a higher level that necessarily transcends all scientific predictions, namely, the human world of freedom and history. Whereas the physical cosmos can have its own spatial-temporal development, only humanity, strictly speaking, has a history, the history of its freedom. Freedom, like reason, is a precious part of God's image within us, and it can never be reduced to a deterministic analysis. Its transcendence vis-à-vis the material world must be acknowledged and respected, since it is a sign of our human dignity."