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Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Galileo case: science and faith - Pope John Paul II

The Galileo case: science and faith

From the century of the Enlightenment down to our own today, the Galileo case has been a kind of myth in which the account of what happened has been very remote from the facts. Seen like this, the Galileo case was a symbol of the alleged rejection of scientific progress by the Church, or of 'dogmatic' obscurantism opposed to the free quest for truth. Culturally speaking, this myth has played a considerable role; it has helped to wed many scientist, acting in good faith, to the idea that the scientific spirit and its research ethic are incompatible with the Christian religion. A tragic mutual incomprehension has been construed as reflecting a constitutive opposition between science and faith. Clarifications afforded by recent historical studies allow us to state that this unhappy misunderstanding is now a thing of the past.
Galileo, who virtually invented the experimental method, had understood, through his brilliant physicist's intuition and by relying on various lines of reasoning, why only the sun could act as the centre of the world as it was then known, or as we should say, of the planetary system. The error of the theologians of the day in upholding the centrality of the earth was that of the thinking that our knowledge of the structure of the physical world is in some way imposed by the literal sense of Holy Scripture. But we should remember the famous quip attributed to Baronius: ' Spiritui Sancto mentem fuisse nos docere quomodo ad coelum eatur, non quomodo coelum gradiatur.' For the fact is, Scpriture is not concerned with the details of the physical world, knowledge of which is entrusted to human experience and reasoning. There are two fields of knowledge: that which has its source in Revelation, and that which reason can discover by its own efforts. To this last belong the experimental sciences and philosophy. The distinction between the two fields of knowledge must not be understood as opposition. The two sectors are not at all aligned to one another, but have points in contact. The methodologies proper to each allow different aspect of reality to be brought to light.
I am Happy to take as the starting point for my reflection one of the bronze inscriptions unveiled here today: " Science and faith are both gifts of God". This synthesizing statement not only precludes science and faith from regarding each other with mutual suspicion, but points out the deeper reason summoning them to establish a constructive and cordial relationship: God, the common foundation of both... In God therefore, despite their different paths, science and faith find their unifying principle.
If human life incurs enormous dangers today, this is not because of the truth discovered by scientific research; rather, it is due to the deadly application of technology. ' As in the time of spears and swords, so in the age of missiles,' the Holy Father said, quoting another inscription in the Centro Majorana: 'First to perish by these weapons if the human heart."

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