El diálogo ciencia-fe en la Encíclica «Fides et ratio»

The science-faith dialogue in the Encyclical "Fides et ratio".

Author: Mariano Artigas
Published in: yearbook Filosófico, 32 (1999), pp. 611-639.
Publication date: 1999


Scientific realism

Science, reason and faith

Reflective capacity, science and truth

Modalities of truth

Truth and belief

The unity of the knowledge

Science and wisdom


The Galileo case, the other way round

The assumptions of science and the impact of its progress

Three concluding considerations


One of the most unique cultural phenomena of our time is a renewed interest in the relationship between science and religion. The interest is mutual. More than a few scientists discuss, sometimes in books devoted entirely to these topics, the possible theological implications of their science, and many theologians are embarking on a dialogue between science and religion that is giving birth to a new discipline: in recent years, a number of university institutions have created courses on the relationship between science and faith, and even Centres entirely devoted to this line of work. Moreover, the general public is interested in these questions.

As sample of the interest in these issues, we can mention the creation, in October 1995, within the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of a programme that began as Dialogue between Science and Religion and, since 1999, has been entitled Dialogue on Science, Ethics, & Religion, which has three objectives: (1) to promote the knowledge of progress in science and technology within the religious realm, (2) to provide opportunities for dialogue between members of the scientific and religious communities on issues of mutual understanding, and (3) promote the partnership between members of these communities on projects that explore the ethical and religious implications of scientific progress. The programme includes the organisation of Conferences. In 1998 a multi-disciplinary lecture was held at the Chicago Museum of Natural History under the title degree scroll The Epic of Evolution. In April 1999 another three-day multi-disciplinary lecture on Cosmology was held in Washington, D.C., covering the following three topics: Was there a beginning, Is the universe planned, Are we alone, and Are we alone? The second day was a public discussion on the second topic, which pitted Steven Weinberg, award Nobel laureate in physics for his work in electroweak theory, against Sir John Polkinghorne, a particle physicist who is now an Anglican minister. The discussion made the pages of the New York Times and other international speech media.

I will now analyse what the encyclical Fides et ratio has to say on this issue, focusing attention on some particularly important issues for a fruitful dialogue between science and faith.

Scientific realism

At the beginning of the encyclical (no. 5), the Pope says that he is going to focus his attention on Philosophy and explains his motive guide: "I am prompted to do so by the fact that, especially in our time, the search for ultimate truth often seems to be obscured". How has this obscurity come about? The status is paradoxical. Great progress has been made in many areas of human knowledge; the Pope quotation "anthropology, logic, the natural sciences, history, language... in a way, all branches of knowledge have been covered". However, the wide variety of positive results achieved has meant that the orientation towards a unifying truth has been forgotten, so that pragmatic criteria have triumphed and technical efficiency has been used as the patron saint . Thus it has come about that the modern Philosophy , "instead of relying on man's capacity to know the truth, has preferred to emphasise its limits and conditioning factors".

This diagnosis is completely valid as far as the Philosophy of science today is concerned. The Philosophy of science was constituted as an autonomous discipline from the 1930s onwards, thanks in large part to the extraordinary impetus it received from the members of the Vienna Circle, who published their programmatic manifesto in 1929. The development of the Philosophy of science was too much conditioned by the limits of the neopositivism upheld by the authors belonging to the Vienna Circle. It started with an extreme empiricism and, although this empiricism was later mitigated and other complementary approaches emerged, on the whole the modern Philosophy of science has not achieved sufficient clarity about the problem of truth. A curious status is thus created: on the one hand, everyone is convinced that science is progressing spectacularly, but on the other hand it seems very difficult to specify what scientific truth consists of, or even to agreement agree that such truth exists.

Scientific realism affirms that scientific truth exists and that we can attain it. Realism has to face serious difficulties which, in different ways, boil down to one basic difficulty: namely, it is obliged to admit that science consists of our constructions which are not mere snapshots of reality. Especially in mathematical physics very abstract models are formulated which often do not have a clear correspondence with reality. The Philosophy of science has been, until the 1960s, almost exclusively focused on mathematical physics, the most developed branch of science, and this has created difficulties for scientific realism. In recent decades, the enormous development of biology, made possible by the great progress in physics and Chemistry, has clearly shown that, at least in the biological domain, scientific truth exists and can be achieved.

For years I have held a scientific realism according to which in experimental science we can reach true knowledge, with a truth that is always contextual and therefore partial, but which is, at the same time, authentic truth. Scientific truth is always "contextual" because it must be interpreted within the conceptual context we use in each theory. Because it is contextual, that truth is also "partial", and does not exhaust all that can be said about the object under study. But, at the same time, it can be an "authentic" truth in the classical sense of correspondence with reality. Logically, this correspondence will have to be established according to the concepts and data used in each case * (1).

Scientific realism is, obviously, a philosophical position that must be sustained by a description of how the sciences proceed and an analysis of the validity of their contents. But it can be pointed out that the defence of scientific realism, at least in its most general aspects, is a task very much in accordance with the intention expressed by the Pope in the encyclical Fides et ratio. We can hardly affirm the human capacity to know the truth in the deepest questions if we deny it when it comes to the scientific knowledge of the natural world. It is difficult, to say the least, to approach a metaphysical study of reality with guarantees if we do not have an adequate physical basis. It can be argued, moreover, that the dialogue between science and faith must be bridged by a philosophy of nature, which is able to connect the two participants in the dialogue * (2).

Science, reason and faith

In no. 9 of the encyclical, the Pope recalls the teaching of the First Vatican Council on the distinction between the two orders of knowledge, that of reason and that of faith. He recalls that "the Philosophy and the sciences have their place in the order of natural reason, while faith, enlightened and guided by the Spirit, recognises in the message of salvation the 'fullness of grace and truth' (cf. Jn 1:14) which God has willed to reveal in history and in a definitive way through his Son Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Jn 5:9: Jn 5:31-32)".

There is a widespread agreement about the distinction between the perspectives of science and faith. However, this distinction can be further concretised in two opposing ways: for some, science and faith are complementary, for others they are opposed to each other. Both positions exist today. Most philosophers, theologians and scientists are generally in favour of complementarity and dialogue, but some claim a cognitive monopoly that would leave no room for the other parties. We will come back to this later on topic, when commenting on what the Pope says about scientism.

One of the classic themes in the relationship between science and faith is the proofs of God's existence that come from the knowledge of nature. The Pope alludes to these proofs in no. 19 of the encyclical, commenting on texts from the Book of Wisdom, such as the one in which it is affirmed that "from the greatness and beauty of creatures, one comes by analogy to contemplate their Author" (Wis 13:5). The Pope comments: "A first step of divine Revelation is thus recognised, constituted by the marvellous "book of nature", by reading which, by means of the instruments proper to human reason, one can reach knowledge of the Creator. If man, with his intelligence, does not come to recognise God as the Creator of all, it is not so much due to the lack of an adequate means, but above all to the impediment placed by his free will and his sin". In this perspective, reason is valued as an instrument for knowing God who reveals himself through nature.

The current discussions about the proofs of God's existence that are based on the contemplation of nature focus especially on the teleological argument. designIn the abundant literature that exists in the English-speaking world on this topic , the "argument from design" is commonly referred to as the "argument from design". It seems that this argument, and the discussions that accompany it, does not correspond with all propriety to the arguments of the subject of the "fifth way" of St. Thomas, which, rather than the "design", stress the "finality". Undoubtedly, there are elements common to both approaches: the divine government of creation is closely related to the concrete plans or designs as they are manifested in the functioning of nature. But when we speak of "design" (design), we are dealing with an intelligent activity that consists in ordering previously existing materials, and when we speak of "purpose", as in the classical arguments, we are dealing with the behaviour of nature, which arises from internal principles. The "design" suggests a Great Architect, "purpose" suggests a Creator.

This difference becomes apparent when one considers "self-organisation", which is the central metaphor of today's scientific worldview. If nature possesses amazing capacities for self-organisation, so that successive levels of complexity are produced through the unfolding of natural potentialities, the corresponding image of God is that of the author of nature, who has placed in it the seeds that develop progressively according to the circumstances and the levels of organisation that have already been reached.

Although there is no unanimity on these issues, it is significant that, far from being outdated, they provoke an abundance of scientific, philosophical and theological reflection. The Philosophy of science used to be centred on physics and stressed the characteristics of inert entities; today's worldview stresses that there are no inert entities and places at the centre, as in ancient times, the living: the progress of physics and of Chemistry has made possible an explosive progress of biology, which has provoked a new interest in issues related to finality. The world of biology is the world of finality, and teleology is a topic core topic to unite the fields of science and theology * (3).

Reflective capacity, science and truth

John Paul II stresses that man has the capacity to know the truth, and not only particular truths, but ultimate truths which give meaning to our lives. In no. 24 of the encyclical he writes: "There is, then, a path which man, if he wishes, can travel, and which begins with the capacity of reason to rise beyond the contingent to go towards the infinite. In different ways and at different times man has shown that he knows how to express this intimate desire. Literature, music, painting, sculpture, architecture and any other fruit of his creative intelligence become channels through which he can manifest his desire to search. The Philosophy has taken up this movement in a special way and has expressed, by its own means and according to its own scientific methods, this universal desire of man". In no. 25, the Pope takes up the beginning of Aristotle's Metaphysics: "All men desire to know", adds that "truth is the proper object of this desire", and continues with a consideration whose importance is difficult to exaggerate: "Man is the only being in all visible creation who is not only capable of knowing, but who also knows that he knows, and therefore is interested in the real truth of what is presented to him..... This is the reason for so much research, particularly in the field of science, which has led in recent centuries to such significant results, favouring genuine progress for the whole of humanity".

Later, the Pope quotation to Galileo. But already now we can point out that the birth of experimental science was made possible by the passionate search for truth. It is known that Galileo would have avoided his problems with the Holy official document if he had limited himself to presenting heliocentrism as a simple hypothesis useful for mathematical calculations. But he thought that the theory was more than a hypothesis, and he fought for it. He was rightly convinced that there could be no civil service examination between scientific truth and biblical truth, and he even provided, based on the best Catholic tradition, the means to show that there was no such civil service examination. Unfortunately, a variety of circumstances came together to defeat, for the time being, his project. The important thing to note here is that the search for truth is a necessary condition of scientific progress, and that it presupposes the existence of peculiar human capacities that make it possible.

Indeed, the search for truth would be meaningless without the capacity for self-reflection. Argumentative capacity is the basis of science, and implies self-reflection, a sense of evidence, the ability to evaluate different knowledge, the ability to plan experiments to test hypotheses and to interpret the results of those experiments. In experimental science we seek a knowledge of nature that can be subjected to experimental control and thus can serve as a basis for a controlled mastery of nature, and scientific progress sample that we can achieve these goals. The ontological and epistemological assumptions of science, namely the existence of a natural order that we can know, are retro-justified, extended and refined by the progress of science. The same is true of ethical assumptions: scientific activity would be meaningless if we do not admit that the goals of that activity are values worth pursuing.

Therefore, the search for truth, together with the verification that, through the sciences, we can make progress in the knowledge of truth, has a profound anthropological significance. Some see in scientific progress an advance of naturalistic positions, which leave less and less room for metaphysics and theology. On the contrary, we can see that a rigorous reflection on this progress, including its conditions of possibility and its meaning, sheds new light on the image of man as a being who possesses capacities that enable him to participate in God's plans in a conscious way* (4).

In fact, in no. 29 of the encyclical, the Pope sets out some reflections that are clearly along the lines just indicated, when he writes: "It cannot be thought that a search so deeply rooted in human nature is completely useless and futile. The very ability to search for truth and to ask questions already implies a first answer. Man would not begin to search for what he did not know at all or considered absolutely unattainable. Only the prospect of being able to reach an answer can induce him to take the first step. In fact this is what normally happens on the scientific research . When a scientist, following his intuition, sets out on a search for a logical and verifiable explanation of a given phenomenon, he is confident from the outset that he will find an answer, and does not stop in the face of failure. He does not consider the original intuition useless just because he has not reached goal; rather he will rightly say that he has not yet found the right answer".

The birth of modern experimental science in the 17th century owes much to Christian ideas. Christian faith in a God staff creator, who freely creates a contingent world (he could not have created it, or could have created a different world) and who creates human beings in his image and likeness, with the capacity to know and master the world, provided the basis for the scientific research . In this view, the world, as the work of God, possesses an order, but being contingent we have to resort to experimentation to know it; and man is capable of knowing the natural order and using it to gain a controlled mastery of the world. The great pioneers of modern science were driven by such convictions. It is a B paradox that Galileo, who was undoubtedly deeply guided by these ideas, encountered the civil service examination of ecclesiastical authorities, most notably a Pope who was influenced by nominalist ideas that were opposed to Galileo's ideas. Urban VIII argued that, although our reasoning may suggest that there are certain laws in nature, we must admit that God could have made the phenomena we observe respond to different causes that we do not know. The Pope was concerned to save the transcendence and omnipotence of God, without limiting him with our theories; it is a clearly Christian idea, as much as those that moved Galileo.

The epistemological battle between Galileo and Urban VIII is extremely topical. Today, the Philosophy of science insists on the "underdetermination of theories", to indicate that no set of data can force us to admit a particular theory. However, there are sometimes powerful arguments in favour of theories, and in many cases we can arrive at a sufficient certainty, which, however, is always at the level of what has traditionally been called "physical certainty". The natural order is contingent, and we now know that the universe has in fact been changing throughout its history; but there is a certain natural necessity insofar as there are stable aspects to nature: and experience sample tells us that there are.

Modalities of truth

I will now turn to the traditional terminology about ontological truth and logical truth. Ontological truth" refers to reality as it is in itself, to its intelligibility, and relates to the deeply realistic idea that things are as they are, regardless of whether we want them to be or like them to be. No doubt, when we speak of artefacts and, in general, of products of our activity, we cause something to exist from agreement with our will; but, even then, we are forced to use the natural laws that exist in reality, we cannot create them at our whim. In this sense, truth is completely objective, it is one, and it is the goal towards which our effort to know reality tends.

However, we can also speak of the truth of our knowledge, of "logical truth", of the adequacy of our statements with reality. And at this level there are different modalities and Degrees. In no. 30 of the encyclical, the Pope refers to the "various forms of truth" and writes: "At this point it may be useful to make a quick reference letter reference to these various forms of truth. The most numerous are those which are based on immediate or experimentally confirmed evidence. This is the order of truth proper to everyday life and the scientific research . On another level are truths of a philosophical nature, which man arrives at through the speculative capacity of his intellect. Finally, there are religious truths, which to some extent also have their roots in the Philosophy. These are contained in the answers which the various religions offer in their traditions to the ultimate questions".

This is a point core topic in the dialogue between science and faith. It is a matter of avoiding the various "imperialisms" that claim a monopoly of truth to a particular approach , however important or noble it may be, forgetting that there are different approaches to objective truth and that the sincere search for truth requires mutual respect between them. Part of this respect consists in not seeking to solve metaphysical or theological problems, or to deny their legitimacy, through the method of experimental science. Nowadays it is easily recognised, and even difficult to admit that anyone could ever have thought otherwise, that in the 17th century one should not have argued against heliocentrism using Sacred Scripture; however, it is not difficult to find the opposite attitude, that is, that of those who try to solve the deepest metaphysical problems by resorting to quantum gravity or natural selection. The current excesses are often presented as if they were backed by science, and this seems to give them a certain legitimacy, but they are just as wrong as the opposite errors of the 17th century. A fruitful dialogue between science and faith requires that the respective perspectives be respected and that in each case the perspective required by the subject problem at hand be adopted.

Truth and belief

The relationship between truth and belief is one of the basic themes of the Philosophy of knowledge and of religion. In no. 31 of the encyclical, the Pope underlines the social dimension of the human being, who receives much of the knowledge he possesses through other people: "In the life of a man the truths simply believed are far more numerous than those acquired through observation staff. Indeed, who would be able to critically discuss the innumerable results of the sciences on which modern life is based? Who would be able to control on their own the flow of information that is received from all parts of the world on a daily basis and which is accepted as true? Finally, who could reconstruct the processes of experience and thought by which the treasures of humanity's wisdom and religiosity have been accumulated? Man, a being in search of truth, is therefore also one who lives by beliefs".

Science is often opposed to religion precisely in relation to this topic: tradition and authority are said to be central to religion, whereas science is characterised by openness to critical discussion. It is easy to see, however, that trust in what others pass on and the argument from authority are also central in science. One might even say that it is difficult to find an institution that attaches more importance to mutual trust and authority than science. This is true from the very beginning, at teaching of science, where the student is required to have unlimited trust in the authorities of his or her specialization program.

There is, of course, a fundamental difference, for in science everything can, as a matter of principle, be called into question, and nothing is considered to be definitively and completely established. In revealed religion, the argument from authority has an irreplaceable place. But it can be argued that it is reasonable to admit religious authority and under what conditions.

"Authority versus criticism" seems to represent the core difference between religious and scientific perspectives. Without denying the part of truth that is contained therein, it would, however, be desirable to recognise that, in both religion and science, the main driving force must be the search for truth, following paths that partly coincide but are partly different. agreement Therefore, if authority is admitted in religion, it is because there are good reasons to do so, and to the extent that this authority is exercised in the modalities proper to it. Moreover, the mystery proper to religious truths has the counterpart that, in the light of these truths, a much broader, deeper and more reasonable vision of the meaning of human life is achieved.

The unity of the knowledge

One of the strongest aspirations of humanity today is the search for the unity of knowledge. The fragmentation of knowledge, typical of our times, has already been alluded to. After alluding to the different modalities of truth, and to the relationship between truth and belief, the Pope refers to the relationship between partial knowledge and the search for meaning that leads to God. In no. 33 he writes: "It can thus be seen that the terms of the problem are gradually becoming more complete. Man, by his nature, seeks the truth. This search is not aimed only at the conquest of partial, factual or scientific truths; he does not seek only the true good for each of his decisions. His search tends towards an ulterior truth that can explain the meaning of life; it is therefore a search that cannot find a solution except in the absolute". And in no. 34, John Paul II underlines the complementarity between revealed truth and the truth that can be attained through reason: "This truth, which God reveals to us in Jesus Christ, is not in contrast with the truths that can be attained by philosophising. Rather, the two orders of knowledge lead to truth in its fullness. The unity of truth is already a fundamental postulate of human reason, expressed in the principle of non-contradiction. Revelation gives the certainty of this unity by showing that the creator God is also the God of salvation history. The same and identical God, who founds and guarantees the intelligibility and rationality of the natural order of things on which the entrusted scientists rely, is the same God who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ".

It is in this no. 34 that we find grade 29, in which the Pope quotation to Galileo, taking verbatim an excerpt from his speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1979: "(Galileo) explicitly declared that the two truths, that of faith and that of science, can never contradict each other. "Holy Scripture and nature, both coming from the divine Word, the former as dictated by the Holy Spirit, and the latter as the most faithful executor of God's commands", as he wrote in the letter to Fr Benedetto Castelli on 21 December 1613. The Second Vatican Council does not express itself in a different way; it even uses similar expressions when it teaches: "The methodical research in all fields of knowledge, if carried out in an authentically scientific manner and in conformity with moral norms, will never really be contrary to faith, because profane realities and those of faith have their origin in the same God" (Gaudium et spes, 36). In his scientific research Galileo feels the presence of the Creator who stimulates, prepares and financial aid his intuitions, acting in the depths of his spirit" * (5).

At the time, Galileo's letter to Castelli was sent to the Roman Inquisition together with an accusation against Galileo, arguing that Copernican heliocentrism clashed with various passages of the Sacred Scripture. The Pope quotation in his document, as a historical testimony of the profound unity between science and faith, as perceived from the beginning by one of the great pioneers of modern science. The deep root of the unity of knowledge is indeed to be found in God himself, the author of nature and of revelation, who has provided us with the means to reach the truth through both ways.

Intellectual modesty plays an important role in the search for the unity of knowledge. In no. 40 of the encyclical, John Paul II also quotes St. Augustine at quotation , who refers to his own experience, narrating that, even before consolidating his Catholic convictions, he had begun "to give preference to Catholic doctrine, because it seemed to me that here it was more modestly, and by no means fallaciously, commanded, to believe what was not proved - either because, even if the proofs existed, there was no subject capable of them, or because they did not exist - than not there, where faith was scorned and science was promised with reckless arrogance and then forced to believe an infinity of absurd fables that could not be proved". Christian faith is a guarantee in the search for the unity of knowledge. It is easy to see that, when one seeks the unity of knowledge from an atheistic or materialistic perspective, one easily ends up admitting, with a kind of irrational faith, thesis that can neither be demonstrated nor proven nor really understood. One is asked, for example, to admit that the universe could have arisen from nothing without being the work of a Creator; or that the nature we know is the result of purely blind forces; or that human characteristics are reduced to being simple epiphenomena of the underlying biological reality.

The Pope warns that the Christian life elevates and perfects human knowledge, and writes in no. 44: "One of the great intuitions of St Thomas is that which refers to the role of the Holy Spirit in making human knowledge mature in wisdom".

On the other hand, in no. 45 the Pope refers to the medieval synthesis between scientific knowledge and theology, and regrets the later separation of the two in modern times: "With the appearance of the first universities, theology was confronted more directly with other forms of research and scientific knowledge. St Albert the Great and St Thomas, while maintaining an organic link between theology and Philosophy, were the first to recognise the necessary autonomy that Philosophy and the sciences need in order to engage effectively in their respective fields of research. However, from the leave Age onwards average the legitimate distinction between the two fields of knowledge was gradually transformed into an unfortunate separation".

Here we come to one of the central points of the encyclical. The Pope refers forcefully to the separation between science, Philosophy and theology. In no. 46 he writes: "The most influential radicalisations are well known and well visible, especially in the history of the West. It is no exaggeration to say that a large part of modern philosophical thought has developed progressively away from Christian Revelation, to the point of explicit opposition. In the last century, this movement reached its peak". And further on: "In the field of scientific research a positivist mentality has gradually taken hold, which has not only distanced itself from any reference letter to the Christian worldview, but has mainly forgotten any connection with the metaphysical and moral worldview. The consequence of this is that some scientists, lacking any ethical reference letter , are in danger of no longer placing the person and the globality of his or her life at the centre of their interest. Moreover, some of them, aware of the potentialities inherent in technical progress, seem to yield not only to the logic of the market, but also to the temptation of a demiurgic power over nature and over human beings themselves".

Here we speak of a separation between theology on the one hand, and science and Philosophy on the other. I would venture to say that the main protagonist of the separation is the Philosophy, and that it is the Philosophy that is primarily responsible for achieving a new unification of knowledge that respects the autonomy of each of the different fields of knowledge. Indeed, only the Philosophy provides a common basis for both the sciences and theology. A Christian synthesis certainly requires a Philosophy that acts in the light of theology.

The role that Philosophy is called to play in the search for the unity of knowledge is underlined when the Pope points out, in no. 61, that Philosophy cannot be replaced by the human sciences. He regrets the low esteem in which Philosophy is sometimes held and says that one of the reasons for this is "the misunderstanding that has arisen especially in relation to the "human sciences". knowledge The Second Vatican Council has repeatedly stressed the positive value of the scientific research for a deeper understanding of the mystery of man. The invitation to theologians to become acquainted with these sciences and, if necessary, to apply them correctly in their research should not, however, be interpreted as an implicit authorisation to marginalise Philosophy or to replace it in the pastoral training and lapraeparatio fidei". In the same vein, the Pope writes in no. 69: "It may perhaps be objected that in today's status the theologian should have recourse, rather than to Philosophy, to the financial aid of other forms of human knowledge, such as history and above all the sciences, whose recent and extraordinary progress is admired by all.... The reference letter to the sciences, useful in many cases because it allows a more complete knowledge of the object of study, must not, however, make us forget the necessary mediation of a typically philosophical reflection, critical and directed towards the universal, which is also required by a fruitful exchange between cultures".

Science and wisdom

The unity of knowledge is not an end in itself. It is a means to ensure that the various modalities of knowledge help man to achieve his end. And for this an organising principle is needed, capable of providing a hierarchy between particular knowledge and of framing it in a global perspective. This is what has traditionally been called "wisdom".

In the last chapter of the encyclical, graduate "Today's demands and tasks", the Pope expressly addresses this question. In no. 81, he describes today's status and its relationship to the progress of science in a very vivid way, underlining the fragmentary nature of knowledge and the crisis of meaning: "It must be borne in mind that one of the most important elements of our present condition is the 'crisis of meaning'. The often scientific viewpoints on life and the world have multiplied to such an extent that we can observe the phenomenon of the fragmentariness of knowledge. This is precisely what makes the search for meaning difficult and often futile. Even more dramatically, in the midst of this jumble of data and of the facts among which we live and which seem to form the very fabric of existence, many people wonder whether it still makes sense to ask the question of meaning. The plurality of theories that dispute the answer, or the different ways of seeing and interpreting the world and the life of man, only exacerbate this radical doubt, which easily leads to a state of scepticism and indifference or to the various manifestations of nihilism. The consequence of this is that the human spirit is often subject to a form of ambiguous thinking, which leads it to become even more closed in on itself, within the limits of its own immanence, without any reference letter to the transcendent. A Philosophy devoid of the question of the meaning of existence would run the serious risk of degrading reason to merely instrumental functions, without any authentic passion for the search for truth".

Undoubtedly, faith makes known to us the ultimate meaning of human existence. It is true today, as it has always been true, that a person who possesses an authentic faith in the revelation of Christ automatically possesses a knowledge of the meaning of his life which is sufficient for him to reach his goal. Moreover, no matter how much we advance in the sciences and in Philosophy, we will not reach the level of knowledge provided by revelation. Under these conditions, it would seem to be of little use to strive to attain, with great effort, the knowledge attainable by human reason. Moreover, it is difficult to reach a consensus among thinkers on these questions: since these are not easy problems, the solutions proposed by Catholic authors, even if they fall within the range of possibilities in conformity with faith, offer a broad spectrum that cannot be reduced to a outline that pleases everyone equally. What is the point, then, of human effort to achieve a synthesis of knowledge which, even if it has a sapiential character, belongs to the purely rational level?

It is not difficult to see that the Church has always sought, throughout her history, the natural support which in every circumstance can be found for her supernatural doctrine. The Church is fully aware that this natural support needs to be complemented by the supernatural, and respects the legitimate plurality that exists in this area, without seeking to impose a uniformity that goes beyond what is necessary. If we were to Withdrawal to this effort, with all that it has of being limited, temporary and precarious, we would Withdrawal to express and live the faith of agreement with our human nature and, on the other hand, we would lack the necessary means to realise the apostolic mission statement of the Church: we would fall into a fideism that would soon prove unintelligible to human ears. It does not seem too far-fetched to say that, in part, this danger is a reality today, since the neglect of the Philosophy has led to the drawbacks just pointed out.

In fact, in the same passage of the encyclical, John Paul II encourages philosophical thought to fulfil its sapiential function: "In order to be in harmony with the word of God, it is necessary, first of all, that the Philosophy should rediscover its sapiential dimension of the search for the ultimate and global meaning of life. This first requirement, if we think about it, is a very useful stimulus for the Philosophy to adapt itself to its own nature. In fact, by doing so, the Philosophy will not only be the decisive critical written request that points out to the various branches of scientific knowledge their foundation and their limits, but it will also be the ultimate written request of unification of knowledge and human action, pushing them to advance towards a definitive goal and meaning. This sapiential dimension is all the more indispensable today insofar as the immense growth of mankind's technical power requires a renewed and acute awareness of ultimate values. If these technical means lack an orientation towards an end that is not merely utilitarian, they could soon prove to be inhuman, and even become potential destroyers of the human race".

Still in the same passage, the Pope refers to "the crisis of confidence in the capacity of reason that is going on in our time" as one of the reasons for the current crises.


There is, of course, the opposite danger, which occurs when one trusts reason in such a way as to absolutise it, denying the validity of anything that falls outside its scope. This danger occurs in philosophical systems, but it also occurs, in a particularly insidious way in our time, in scientism.

In no. 88 of the encyclical, the Pope gives a clear and penetrating description of scientism, even alluding to some of the forms it has taken throughout history. It is worth reproducing these considerations in full, even if they are somewhat lengthy: "Another considerable danger is scientism. This philosophical current does not admit as valid forms of knowledge other than those proper to the positive sciences, relegating to the realm of mere imagination both religious and theological knowledge and ethical and aesthetic knowledge. In the past, this same idea was expressed in positivism and neo-positivism, which considered metaphysical statements to be meaningless. Epistemological critique has discredited this position, which, however, is re-emerging in the new form of scientism. In this perspective, values are relegated to mere products of emotionality and the notion of being is marginalised in favour of the pure and simply factual. Science is poised to dominate all aspects of human existence through technological progress. The undeniable successes of the scientific research and contemporary technology have contributed to the spread of the scientistic mentality, which seems to know no bounds, considering how it has penetrated the various cultures and how it has brought about radical changes in them. It is regrettable to note that the question of the meaning of life is considered by scientism as something that belongs to the realm of the irrational or the imaginary. No less discouraging is the way in which this school of thought deals with other major problems of Philosophy , which are either ignored or dealt with by analyses based on superficial analogies, without any rational basis. This leads to the impoverishment of human reflection, which is deprived of the fundamental problems that the rational animal has constantly asked itself since the beginning of its earthly existence. In this perspective, by marginalising the criticism coming from the ethical evaluation , the scientistic mentality has led many to accept the idea that what is technically feasible is therefore morally admissible".

We see that John Paul II affirms that scientism is a "philosophical current". However, it is presented as if it were a part of science, or a necessary consequence of the analysis of science or its progress. This is its strength: it is a philosophical current that is presented as being backed by the prestige of science. For this reason, a first reaction to scientism is to notice its circular character; in effect, it denies the value of knowledge to what is not science, but its basic thesis does not belong to science: consequently, if its own canons are applied to it, it is meaningless.

Today's scientism generally has a rather pessimistic air about it. Classical positivist scientism claimed that science could eventually address and solve all problems. From 6 August 1945, it became clear that science could not only solve problems: it could also create new problems far more serious than those previously known, such as atomic destruction. Moreover, the Philosophy of science has been pointing out the limits of science, which are neither few nor small. If, in spite of everything, the scientistic doctrine continues to be accepted, we arrive at a position that is typical of the present time: the limits of science are acknowledged, the dangers of its uncontrolled application are warned, but, at the same time, it is said to be the best we have at our disposal. To those who claim that the creation of the universe is a problem that exceeds the possibilities of physics and belongs to metaphysics, one replies: what chance does metaphysics have of solving a problem that not even physics, with its powerful conceptual and experimental tools, can solve?

John Paul II rightly affirms that, despite the criticisms that have been made of it from the Philosophy of contemporary science, scientism is present in our culture, often in the form of a pragmatism that denies the validity of meta-scientific instances and is ready to use scientific achievements without any ethical barriers whatsoever subject. In no. 91 of the encyclical, the Pope affirms that "it is true that a certain positivist mentality continues to nourish the illusion that, thanks to scientific and technical achievements, man, as a demiurge, can achieve by himself the plenary session of the Executive Council mastery of his destiny".

The Galileo case, the other way round

Up to this point I have followed the teachings of John Paul II in the encyclical Fides et ratio. I have pointed out the points which, in my opinion, are of greatest interest in addressing the relationship between science and faith, and I have commented on them without abandoning the style of the encyclical. I will now offer some more personal reflections that may serve to illustrate what has been considered so far.

The dialogue between science and faith is currently encountering, as has just been pointed out, the resistance of a scientism that is obstinate in a doctrine that we could summarise, paraphrasing the ecclesial adage, with these words: "outside of science there is no truth". The difference is that the Church admits that God acts directly in each soul and knows its dispositions perfectly, so that, always through the merits of Christ and therefore through the Church, salvation is possible for those who do not belong externally, through no fault of their own, to the body of the Church; on the other hand, according to scientism, outside of science everything is poetry, in the pejorative sense of the expression, and even poetry itself would be an epiphenomenon of biology.

I have nothing staff against Edward O. Wilson, one of the pioneers of sociobiology. But Wilson has recently published a book that was a best seller in the United States and which is a perfect counterexample to the ideas I have put forward so far. So I am going to use his ideas to contrast mine.

Wilson received his PhD in biology from Harvard University in 1955, and has taught there ever since. He has twice won the award Pulitzer Prize, for his books On Human Nature (1978) and The Ants (1990). His book Sociobiology (1975) was a major milestone in the development of this scientific discipline that studies the relationship between genes and behaviour. He has published six other books. He has received several honorary degrees and is considered an authority on the study of social insects (especially ants), sociobiology and the environment (biodiversity).

In his new book, graduate Consilience. The Unity of knowledge* (6), Wilson sets out to build a bridge between science and Humanities (pp. 164 and 266), thereby resolving humanity's spiritual dilemma (pp. 48, 61, 224-225, 262 and 264). The work sets out a very ambitious goal , because, indeed, one of the most important problems of our time is the fragmentation of knowledge, and Wilson proposes a solution. But his solution is, at heart, a biological subject materialism. The unity of knowledge, the basis for the solution of the great human problems, would be achieved, according to Wilson, by putting biology at the centre of everything and somehow solving all problems in biology. This is the central thesis of sociobiology, and Wilson has been repeating it since 1975, but now presents it updated and in new clothes. His message is that the natural sciences are the core topic to unify everything else: the social sciences, the arts, ethics and religion should be interpreted in core topic biology. To the materialist, this idea may sound great. To the non-materialist, it may seem profoundly wrong.

The degree scroll of the book, Consilience, is an unusual term in English. Wilson takes it from William Whewell, who used it in his work Philosophy of the inductive sciences, published in 1840, to indicate that the "coincidence" or "confluence" of results obtained in different fields serves to prove the truth of a theory.

In the first chapter, graduate "The Ionian Spell", Wilson makes an apology for the unity of knowledge as, according to him, it was realised by the Ionians in Greek antiquity and as he experienced it while studying at the University. As he explains, he was educated in the fundamentalist religion of the Southern Baptists in the United States, but he discovered the contradictions of that religion and, above all, he discovered evolution, of which the biblical authors said nothing. He says he did not become a definite agnostic or atheist, but simply left his church; and he adds: "Such, I believe, is the origin of the Ionian spell: preferring the search for objective reality to revelation is another way of satisfying religious longing. It is a business almost as old as civilisation and is interwoven with traditional religion, but it follows a very different course.... Its fundamental motto, as Einstein knew, is the unification of knowledge. When we have sufficiently unified a certain knowledge, we will understand who we are and why we are here" (p. 14). Of course, if Wilson prefers to find the meaning of his life in evolution rather than in religion, that is his problem; but he is not content with this: he opposes "the search for objective reality" and "revelation", implying that the search for objective reality is science, objective reality is evolution, and revelation is a tall tale. Yes, he says it elegantly. But why does he say it, who guarantees that it is true? Science does not: no science says so, nor is this idea the result of an analysis of scientific methods. It is, rather, an unjustified and gratuitous extrapolation.

After several chapters on the scientific ideas that would serve to unify knowledge (Chapter 7 is entitled "From Genes to Culture"), Wilson devotes three of the last four chapters to a specific examination of the social sciences (Chapter 9), the arts (Chapter 10), ethics and religion (Chapter 11). The conclusion, set out in the last chapter, is clear: "I have argued that there is intrinsically only one class of explanation.... The central idea of the consilient worldview is that all tangible phenomena, from the birth of stars to the functioning of social institutions, are based on material processes that are ultimately reducible, however long and tortuous the sequences, to the laws of physics..... The main thrust of the consilient worldview is that culture, and with it the unique qualities of the human species, will only make complete sense when they are connected by causal explanations to the natural sciences" (pp. 389-390).

Wilson continues a scientistic line that deserves to be forgotten once and for all. Wilson asks: "Could Scripture be only the first learned attempt to explain the universe and to make us significant in it? Perhaps science is a continuation, on new and better tested ground, to achieve the same goal. If so, then in this sense science is religion liberated and great scripture" (pp. 13-14). But science is not religion. Wilson seeks to extract from science a kind of religion, or rather worldview, that serves to explain who we really are and what the meaning of our lives is. But it is a new version of the old materialist ideas, which in every age are presented in the garb of the most recent achievements of science.

In a way, the Galileo case is being repeated, but in reverse. The differences are undoubtedly remarkable. Fortunately, most scientists are not scientism, and it cannot be said, because it is not true, that science institutionally persecutes religion. But it is also true that scientism, while keeping to form, seeks to annihilate religion in the name of science. Religion does not always encounter institutional force (sometimes it does); rather, it encounters an orchestration of scientific air that, in reality, has little to do with science: it is an illegitimate extrapolation of some of science's characteristics.

I wish to express my sincere respect for Edward O. Wilson as a person and as a scientist, and I certainly prefer freedom of expression to authoritarianism. I have referred to some of Wilson's ideas, contained in a book that has been widely disseminated and criticised by other authors of very different ideologies, because they clearly express the importance of the search for unity of knowledge and the search for meaning today, and because they are an example of the role that natural science can play in attempts to solve these problems. With the allusion to Galileo I intend to draw attention to the present danger of a scientism that exploits the enormous social prestige of science to its advantage when, in fact, it can receive no support from science. Wilson's book is one example among several possible ones that, although not many in number, have an impact on our society B .

The assumptions of science and the impact of its progress

I will now present an attempt staff to relate science and religion through a philosophical bridge. It is an attempt made in the full awareness that, as stated above, there are several possible bridges and none should claim to have a monopoly.

In order to establish a bridge between science and religion we need a Philosophy which has a sapiential character, which is able to establish an order between the different forms of knowledge. In our case, when it comes to overcoming scientism and materialism, it is enough to appeal to the sapiential character of the Philosophy of nature and science.

Experimental science is one of mankind's greatest achievements, and serves to understand our capacities and thus our way of being. I developed this idea in the third part of my book The Mind of the Universe* (7). In that book I try to show that experimental science has assumptions that are like necessary conditions of its existence and progress. There are three types of assumptions: ontological (there is a real natural order, which has its own consistency), epistemological (we have the capacity to know, partially but truly, that natural order), and ethical (the search for a knowledge that allows us to control nature is a value that deserves to be cultivated). The book consists of four parts. The first is devoted to analysing why we have to admit these assumptions, what sense they make, and how they coincide with and differ from the assumptions admitted by various authors. The other three parts are devoted to analysing, in that order, ontological, epistemological and ethical assumptions. I also try to show that scientific progress has an impact on these assumptions: it retro-justifies them, broadens them and eventually clarifies them.

In the case of epistemological assumptions, the analysis of scientific activity sample shows that our cognitive capacity includes the capacity for self-reflection, argumentation, grasping the truth, evidence, interpretation and evaluation, creativity. These capacities place us on a different level from other natural beings. We are part of nature but, at the same time, we transcend it. Scientific progress sample that, in fact, we achieve the cognitive goal of science. We are able to represent the various aspects of nature to ourselves as objects, constructing ideal models that represent them so that we can operate on those models (formulating calculations, for example). We are able to construct concepts that go beyond what experience manifests to us, so that we can operate with them, assign values to them through measurement, and use them to establish inter-subjective agreements that make possible the objectivity characteristic of experimental science. We are capable of constructing enormously abstract theories which, nevertheless, serve to represent reality and to know many aspects that are unavailable to ordinary experience. We are capable of devising highly sophisticated experiments by which we subject our theoretical constructs to experimental control.

The aforementioned capacities require the constant use of creativity and interpretation. It is a cliché in the current Philosophy of science to speak of the underdetermination of theoretical constructs, which are not dictated by pure experience or by the data. Experimental science is a business in which we achieve a knowledge goal of natural spatio-temporal patterns, because we bring into play a whole series of capacities that clearly show that we are both part of nature and above it.

The Philosophy of science leads to a evaluation of the subject who does science and has, therefore, a sapiential character. Obviously, it is not the ultimate wisdom, not even the highest wisdom that can be achieved with natural forces. But it plays an irreplaceable role when it comes to assessing the different knowledge provided by the sciences. It respects the sciences, which it cannot and must not replace, and it must recognise the legitimate autonomy that leads the sciences to progress using their own canons; but it is indispensable for analysing what the nature of the sciences is, what their value is, and how they are integrated into a harmonious unity within the total field of human life. The Philosophy of science is not metaphysical, but it participates in it: it allows us to avoid the absolutisation of natural science, i.e. scientistic naturalism, by showing that the scientific study of nature is one of the clearest proofs of the transcendence of the human being with respect to the nature of which he is a part.

Reflection on the epistemological assumptions of science leads to the recognition of human uniqueness. I will not stop here to make explicit all the implications of this reflection. Instead, if only in passing, I will mention that a similar reflection can be done on the other two levels mentioned, the ontological and the ethical. On the ontological level it can be shown that the current scientific worldview is very congruent with the action of a God staff creator who is immanent to the world and who has endowed nature with a marvellous capacity for self-organisation. On the ethical level it can be argued that scientific activity only makes sense if one accepts that the search for truth and service to humanity are values that deserve to be cultivated, and that these values are very congruent with the idea that represents the human being as created by God in his image and likeness to collaborate with him in his creative project .

Three concluding considerations

In conclusion, I will take up three considerations found in the final part of the encyclical Fides et ratio.

In No. 105, the Pope addresses those who have responsibility for training in the Church, and exhorts them to "pay particular attention to the philosophical preparation of those who will have to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today and, above all, of those who will devote themselves to the study and teaching of theology. Let them strive to carry out their work in the light of the prescriptions of the Second Vatican Council and its subsequent provisions, which present the undeniable and urgent task, to which we are all called, of contributing to an authentic and profound speech of the truths of the faith. Let us not forget the serious responsibility of a previous and adequate preparation of the teachers destined to the teaching of the Philosophy in the Seminaries and in the ecclesiastical Schools . It is necessary that this teaching be accompanied by the appropriate scientific preparation, that it be offered in a systematic way by proposing the great patrimony of the Christian tradition and that it be carried out with due discernment in the face of the current needs of the Church and of the world". It is difficult to carry out a Christian work that is up to the present circumstances without dedicating some effort to knowledge of questions related to the sciences.

Continuing along these lines, in no. 106 the Pope addresses "philosophers and professors of Philosophy, that they may have the courage to recover, in a perennially valid philosophical tradition, the dimensions of authentic wisdom and truth, even metaphysical, of philosophical thought. That they allow themselves to be challenged by the demands that come from the word of God and be ready to carry out their reasoning and argumentation in response to them. They should always be oriented towards the truth and be attentive to the good it contains. In this way they will be able to formulate the authentic ethics that humanity urgently needs, particularly in these years. The Church follows your research with attention and sympathy; you may rest assured, then, of the respect she has for the rightful autonomy of your science. In a particular way, I wish to encourage believers who work in the field of Philosophy to enlighten the various fields of human activity with the exercise of a reason that is more sure and perspicacious because of the financial aid it receives from faith". These are words that hardly need comment. Since I have placed myself in the perspective of science and of the Philosophy of science, I will limit myself to pointing out that the Pope's recommendations extend, logically enough, to this field, which occupies an increasingly important place in today's Philosophy .

In the same No. 106, the Pope also addresses the scientists, "who by their research offer us a progressive knowledge of the universe as a whole and of the incredibly rich variety of its elements, animate and inanimate, with their complex atomic and molecular Structures . The journey they have made has reached, especially in this century, goals that continue to astound us. In expressing my admiration and encouragement to these valuable pioneers of scientific research , to whom humanity owes so much of its present-day development , I feel it my duty to exhort them to continue in their efforts, always remaining within the sapiential horizon in which scientific and technological achievements are accompanied by philosophical and ethical values, which are a characteristic and indispensable manifestation of the human person. The scientist is well aware that "the search for truth, even when it concerns a limited reality of the world or of man, never ends, it always refers back to something beyond the immediate object of the programs of study, to the questions that open access to the Mystery" * (8) ". Science is first and foremost a search for truth. Its progress is a triumph of the realist programme which, in a way, has an ethical character. It can be argued that science has an ethical instructions and leads to the dissemination of values which, in themselves, have an ethical character * (9). Rigorous reflection on science is the best antidote to materialistic reductionism and provides valuable bridges to communicate, through meta-scientific and metaphysical reflections, the world of science with the world of religion.


  1. A proposal that admits scientific truth and points out its modalities can be found in: M. Artigas, Philosophy de la ciencia experimental. La objetividad y la verdad en las ciencias, 2nd ed., Eunsa, Pamplona 1992.
  2. Cf. W. Pannenberg, "Theologie der Schöpfung und Naturwissenschaft", in: N. H. Gregersen, M. W. S. Parsons and C. Wassermann, eds, The Concept of Nature, part I, Labor et Fides, Geneva 1997, p. 84.
  3. Cf. M. Artigas, "Teleology as a Bridge between Nature and Transcendence", ibid. pp. 46-51.
  4. This is one of the central themes set out in: M. Artigas, La mente del universo, Eunsa, Pamplona 1999.
  5. John Paul II, speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 10 November 1979: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, II, 2 (1979), pp. 1111-1112.
  6. E. O. Wilson, Consilience. La unidad del knowledge, Galaxia Gutenberg, Círculo de Lectores, Barcelona 1999.
  7. M. Artigas, The Mind of the Universe, cit.
  8. John Paul II, speech on the occasion of the VI Centenary of the Jagiellonian University, 8 June 1997, 4: L'Osservatore Romano, weekly edition in English language , 27 June 1997, pp. 10-11.
  9. Ibid., Part 4.