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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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