Discurso del Santo Padre Benedicto XVI a los participantes en la Sesión Plenaria de la Academia Pontificia de Ciencias

speech of the Holy Father Benedict XVI
to the participants at the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

Author: Holy Father Benedict XVI
Published in: conference room Clementine
date of on-line publication: Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Excellencies; distinguished ladies and gentlemen:

I am pleased to greet all of you present here as the Pontifical Academy of Sciences meets for its plenary session to reflect on "The Scientific Heritage of the Twentieth Century". I greet in particular Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Academy. I also take this opportunity to remember with affection and gratitude Professor Nicola Cabibbo, your late President. Together with all of you, I commend in prayer his noble soul to God, the Father of mercy.

The history of science in the 20th century is marked by undoubted achievements and great progress. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the popular image of 20th century science is sometimes characterised by two extreme elements. On the one hand, science is seen by some as a panacea, proven by its major achievements in the last century. Indeed, its innumerable advances have been so decisive and rapid that they seem to confirm the view that science can answer all questions related to man's existence and even his highest aspirations. On the other hand, some fear science and turn away from it because of certain thought-provoking developments, such as the construction and terrifying use of nuclear weapons.

Science is certainly not defined by either of these two extremes. Its task was and is a patient but passionate research search for the truth about the cosmos, about nature and about the constitution of the human being. In this research there have been many successes and many failures, triumphs and defeats. The progress of science has been encouraging, as for example when the complexity of nature and its phenomena were discovered beyond our expectations, but also humbling, as when it was shown that some of the theories that should have explained these phenomena once and for all turned out to be only partial. This does not detract from the fact that also the provisional results are a real contribution to finding of the correspondence between the intellect and natural realities, on which successive generations will be able to build for a further development .

The advances made in scientific knowledge in the 20th century, in all its various disciplines, have led to a decidedly greater awareness of the place of man and this planet in the universe. In all sciences, the common denominator remains the notion of experimentation as an organised method of observing nature. Man has made more progress in the past century than in all the preceding history of mankind, though not always in the knowledge of himself and of God, but certainly in that of the microcosms and the macrocosms. Dear friends, our meeting today is a demonstration of the Church's esteem for the constant scientific research and of her gratitude for the scientific endeavour which she encourages and from which she benefits. In our own day, scientists themselves increasingly appreciate the need to be open to Philosophy in order to discover the logical and epistemological basis of their methodology and conclusions. The Church, for its part, is convinced that scientific activity clearly benefits from the recognition of man's spiritual dimension and his search for definitive answers, allowing the recognition of a world that exists independently of us, that we do not understand exhaustively and that we can only understand to the extent that we can grasp its intrinsic logic. Scientists do not create the world. They learn things about it and try to imitate it, following the laws and intelligibility that nature manifests to us. The experience of the scientist as a human being is, therefore, to perceive a constant, a law, a logos that he has not created, but has observed: in fact, it leads us to admit the existence of an omnipotent Reason, which is different from that of man and which sustains the world. This is the point of meeting between the natural sciences and religion. Consequently, science becomes a place of dialogue, a meeting between man and nature and, potentially, also between man and his Creator.

As we look to the 21st century, I would like to propose two thoughts for further reflection. Firstly, as the ever-increasing achievements of the sciences increase our wonder at the complexity of nature, the need for an interdisciplinary approach linked to a philosophical reflection leading to a synthesis is increasingly perceived. Secondly, in this new century, scientific achievements should always be inspired by the imperatives of fraternity and peace, helping to solve the great problems of humanity, and directing the efforts of everyone towards the true good of man and the development integral good of the peoples of the world. The positive fruit of science in the 21st century will surely depend, to a large extent, on the scientist's ability to seek the truth and to apply his discoveries in a way that is both just and good.

With these sentiments, I invite you to turn your gaze towards Christ, the uncreated Wisdom, and to recognise his face, the Logos of the Creator of all things. Renewing my best wishes for your work, I impart to you with my apostolic blessing Degree .

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