St. Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, World Synod of Bishops: on the Catholic responsibility, in the New Evangelization, to Engage Science in an accurate Scholarly manner
More than any popes before them St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI/Ratzinger both embraced and promoted serious cooperation between Catholic Faith and the work of scientists in the broadest sense. Neither pope thought the contemporary version of science constituted the fulness of science. They challenged scientists to a deeper genre of science, one that St. Thomas and St. Albert the Great understood, one still operative in the scientific minds of those like Einstein, Max Plank, Wolfgang Pauli, and Werner Heisenberg. These famous scientists did not shy away from discussing the “God” question (Ratzinger 2004. Kindle Edition, Loc 1499). John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, called people to muster the “courage for the adventure of truth.” He proposed that everyone whatever their station in life can and should, in line with their time and talent, peruse the truth in their lives (no. 102). Pope John Paul II urged natural scientists not to abandon their essential calling as seekers of truth:
I cannot fail to address a word to scientists, whose research offers an ever-greater knowledge of the universe as a whole…. expressing my admiration and in offering encouragement to these intrepid pioneers…. I would urge them to continue their efforts without ever abandoning the sapiential horizon within which scientific and technological achievements are wedded to the philosophical and ethical values which are the distinctive and indelible mark of the human person. Scientists are well aware that “the search for truth, even when it concerns a finite reality of the world or of humanity, is never-ending, but always points beyond to something higher than the immediate object of study” (no. 106).
Those familiar with St. Pope John Paul’s work know that the above quote is an important, but nonetheless a glimpse only at his teaching and direction for Catholics on the many ways in which faith and science interact and mutually support each other. Later we will have the opportunity to see in more detail how John Paul II speaks to the issue of science and faith and how they co-operate and how they can challenge each other to be more authentic.
Pope Benedict XVI/Ratzinger commented on scientific issues early in his scholarly career, often, and continued to do so frequently during his abbreviated pontificate. His are the most well-thought-out and extensive. As we will see later, Joseph Ratzinger returned as pope to questions he had first raised as a young professor and theological expert at Vatican II. Pope Benedict wrote and spoke about faith, reason, and science, always with a definite purpose, politely, but without naivety. He knows the whole subject area well. Here we will introduce Joseph Ratzinger’s thoughts from when he was pope. The content of the points he makes as pope are frequently not new to him; he had already contemplated the content and its implications. Now, however, he speaks, from the Catholic perspective (and that of others of goodwill and mind) with authority. Let us take a look at his general proposals about the relationship between faith, reason, truth, and science:
Today, in this catechesis, I would like to reflect on the reasonableness of faith in God. The Catholic Tradition, from the outset, rejected so-called “fideism”, which is the desire to believe against reason. Credo quia absurdum (“I believe because it is absurd”) is not a formula that interprets the Catholic faith. … The prejudice of certain modern thinkers, who hold that human reason would be, as it were, blocked by the dogmas of faith, is false. Exactly the opposite is true, as the great teachers of the Catholic Tradition have shown. … St Augustine, together with so many other Christian authors, is a witness to a faith that is practiced with reason, a faith that thinks and invites thought. … The power of the relationship between science and faith is also founded on these premises concerning the fertile connection between understanding and believing. Scientific research leads to the knowledge of ever new truths about humanity and about the cosmos…. Faith, lived truly, does not come into conflict with science but, rather, cooperates with it, offering the basic criteria to promote the good of all and asking science to only give up those endeavors which -- in opposition to God’s original plan -- produce effects that are detrimental to humanity. For this reason too it is reasonable to believe: science is a precious ally of faith for understanding God’s plan for the universe, when faith, remaining faithful to this very plan, always encourages scientific progress to be achieved for the common good and the truth of the human person (General Audience, Year of Faith. Catechesis on the reasonableness of faith in God, 21 November 2012).
Pope Benedict XVI/Ratzinger, for more than half a century spoke so often on the subject of reason, science, philosophy, theology and faith that this brief quotation, from one of his Papal Catechetical addresses (teaching authoritatively as pope) is filled with resonances of many of his earlier instructions on these topics. Also, like his colleague (in proclaiming the faith accurately) and his close friend Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict/Ratzinger returned many times to the relationship between Catholic faith and science.
People (not just non-Catholics, even some Catholics themselves) unfamiliar with the history of the Catholic Church might object to the enthusiasm expressed by Pope St. John Paul II and that of Pope Benedict XVI/Ratzinger for the necessary engagement of Catholic Faith with reason and the natural sciences. A critical question could be raised. In this time of renewal and during the promotion of the “New Evangelization” in the 21st century, is a special emphasis on reason and science supported by Catholic bishops around the globe? Not surprisingly, yes. The role of reason and science in proposing the Catholic Faith is essential and necessary. It is no pet project of St. Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI. During the Year of Faith and in preparation for a Renewed Evangelization, bishops from the entire world, after a sufficient period of detailed planning, met with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. The pope did not direct the bishops’ discussions. Instead, Benedict provided the forum for the debate and deliberations amongst the bishops themselves. The task of identifying the indispensable components required today for a New Evangelization of the world was left to the episcopal synod. At the conclusion of their synod, the assembled bishops issued a Message addressed to all people without exception. In their message the bishops noted the indispensable proclamation of the reasonableness of Catholic Faith and the imperative to take into account the truths discovered through the exercise of reason, especially those truths uncovered in the work of scientists in the contemporary world. As a convocation of bishops from virtually every corner of the world they were fully aware of the different needs of people living a vast variety of contexts and cultures. Here then, are significant points highlighted by the bishops concerning the proclamation of the faith in its connections with the work of the sciences and education:
We, the Bishops of the whole world gathered at the invitation of the Bishop of Rome Pope Benedict xvi to reflect on “the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith”, wish to address you all in order to sustain and direct the preaching and teaching of the Gospel in the diverse contexts in which the Church finds herself today to give witness.
The changing social, cultural, economic, civil and religious scenarios call us to something new: to live our communitarian experience of faith in a renewed way and to proclaim it through an evangelization that is “new in its zeal, in its methods, in its expressions”, as John Paul II said (Discourse to the XIX Assembly of CELAM, Port-au-Prince, 9 March 1983, n. 3). Benedict XVI recalled that it is an evangelization that is directed “principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life... to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone fills our existence with deep meaning and peace, and to favor the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life” (Homily for the Eucharistic celebration for the solemn inauguration of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Rome, 7 October 2012) (no. 2).
The New Evangelization is centered on Christ and on care for the human person in order to give life to a real encounter with Him. However, its horizons are as wide as the world and beyond any human experience. This means that it carefully cultivates the dialogue with cultures, confident that it can find in each of them the “seeds of the Word” about which the ancient Fathers spoke. In particular, the new evangelization needs a renewed alliance between faith and reason. We are convinced that faith has the capacity to welcome the fruits of sound thinking open to transcendence and the strength to heal the limits and contradictions into which reason can fall (no. 10).
The encounter between faith and reason also nourishes the Christian community’s commitment in the field of education and culture. The institutions of formation and of research -- schools and universities -- occupy a special place in this. Wherever human intelligence is developed and educated, the Church is pleased to bring her experience and contribution to the integral formation of the person. In this context particular care is to be reserved for Catholic schools and for Catholic universities, in which the openness to transcendence that belongs to every authentic cultural and educational course, must be fulfilled in paths of encounter with the event of Jesus Christ and of his Church (no. 10).
A particular field of the encounter between faith and reason today is the dialogue with scientific knowledge. This is not at all far from faith, since it manifests the spiritual principle that God placed in his creatures. It allows us to see the rational structures on which creation is founded. When science and technology do not presume to imprison humanity and the world in a barren materialism, they become an invaluable ally in making life more humane. Our thanks also go to those who are involved in this challenging field of knowledge (no. 10).
There is no doubt that Catholic scholars and educators have a serious responsibility, especially those serving areas where the culture is scientifically saturated. The responsibility for Catholic scholars is not simply being willing to entertain scientific questions and issues for group discussion. More is required. There is a specific demand for the purpose of the New Evangelization that Catholic scholars provide a highly reasoned and exactingly well-informed apo-logia for the faith in its encounter with contemporary science. Today, and for over a century, the need is highest in the context of questions raised by evolutionary science regarding humans.
Catholic scientists, philosophers, and theologians plainly have an immense task facing them. Biological and Prehistoric archeological evidence document an amazingly convoluted evolutionary history that provided an opportunity for the origin of humans. All of this is very real. Furthermore, the Magisterium has provided us Catholics with its own complicated, sometimes apparently confusing, guidance in this area. Nonetheless, the guidance is there, and I believe it needs to be studied with the utmost attention to the details of a rather voluminous record.