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opinion/commentary View Comments

Science and Religion
By The Editor
Source: Tennessee Register
Published: Monday, November 8, 2010
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Can science and religion ever be compatible? Does every scientific discovery pull us further from the realm of the transcendent? Can we ever welcome a scientific advancement without fearing that it is another blow against our belief in God and our trust that he plays a role in our life?

World renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking recently released a book, "The Grand Design," that he wrote with physicist Leonard Mlodinow. In their book they argue that God had no role in creating the universe. "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing," wrote Mlodinow and Hawking, who has been a member of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences since 1986. "Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist."

"Spontaneous creation" seems like a rather hollow answer to the question of why are we here.

Of course, religious leaders from around the world were quick to respond to Hawking and Mlodinow. Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury said "physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing. ... Belief in God is not about plugging a gap in explaining how one thing relates to another within the universe. It is the belief that there is an intelligent, living agent on whose activity everything ultimately depends for its existence."

Jesuit Father Robert J. Spitzer, the former president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and the author of the book "New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy," answered Hawking on his blog and a YouTube video. "If the physical universe had a beginning (a point at which it came into existence) then prior to that point it was nothing," Father Spitzer said in his blog. "And if it was nothing then it could not have created itself (because only nothing can come from nothing).

"So what does that imply?" he asked. "The very reality that Dr. Hawking wants to avoid namely, a transcendent power which can cause the universe to come into existence."

The battle, no doubt, will continue to rage.

This week, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences who had gathered at the Vatican to discuss "The Scientific Legacy of the 20th Century." The pope told the scientists that science is never to be feared, yet its discoveries will never be enough to answer all of the world's questions. In his comments, the pope was trying to carve out space for both science and religion, one complementing the other.

"Scientists do not create the world; they learn about it and attempt to imitate it, following the laws and intelligibility that nature manifests to us," he said.

The fact that there is a constant, a law or logic that exists outside of human control "leads us to admit the existence of an all-powerful reason, which is other than that of man, and which sustains the world," he added. "This is the meeting point between the natural sciences and religion. As a result, science becomes a place of dialogue, a meeting between man and nature and, potentially, even between man and his Creator.

While reiterating that the church esteems and encourages scientific exploration, the pope said science can benefit from recognizing a person's spiritual dimension and the human "quest for ultimate answers" about the world and the meaning of life. He urged scientists to take on a more "interdisciplinary approach tied with philosophical reflection."

Too often in today's culture, we are told that only scientists should determine whether a particular field of research is proper and moral, that all other considerations should melt away in the face of its potential for discovery.

To ask if a method of research is moral or if the end product of that research respects the dignity of human life is seen by some as an attack on science itself. But we all have a stake in the answers to those questions and we should all be included in the discussion, including churches and people of faith. That kind of broad discussion is important to ensure that science is always used to support human development and promote peace and justice. And isn't that exactly what God calls each of us to do?


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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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