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Science-faith dialogue to build a culture of respect for human beings, human dignity and freedom

Author: speech of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the participants in the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Published in: conference room Clementina
date of on-line publication: Thursday, November 8, 2012

Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen:

I greet the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the occasion of this plenary assembly, and I express my gratitude to your President, Professor Werner Arber, for the cordial words of greeting on your behalf. I am also happy to greet Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, your Chancellor, and thank him for the important work he is doing for you.

The present plenary session on "Complexity and Analogy in Science: Theoretical, Methodological and Epistemological Aspects" touches on an important argument that opens up a number of perspectives pointing to a new vision of the unity of the sciences. Indeed, the important discoveries and progress of recent years invite us to examine the great analogy between physics and biology that is clearly evident whenever we achieve a deeper understanding of the natural order. While it is true that some of the new insights gained in this way also allow us to draw conclusions about past processes, this extrapolation also highlights the great unity of nature in the complex structure of the universe and the mystery of man's place in it. The complexity and greatness of contemporary science in all that it allows man to know about nature has direct implications for human beings. Only man alone can constantly expand his knowledge of truth and order it wisely for his own good and that of his environment.

In your discussions you have tried to examine, on the one hand, the ongoing dialectic of the constant expansion of scientific research , methods and specialisations and, on the other hand, the research of a comprehensive vision of this universe in which human beings, endowed with intelligence and freedom, are called to understand, love, live and work. Today, the availability of powerful instruments of research and the possibility of very complex and precise experiments have enabled the natural sciences to approach the very foundations of material reality as such, even if they have not succeeded in fully understanding its unifying structure and ultimate unity. The infinite succession and patient integration of various theories, where the results obtained in turn serve as budget for further research, testify both to the unity of the scientific process and to the constant drive of scientists for a more appropriate understanding of the truth of nature and a more inclusive view of it. Here we can think, for example, of the efforts of science and technology to reduce the various forms of energy to an elementary fundamental force that now seems to be best expressed in the emerging approach of complexity as a basis for explanatory models. If this fundamental force no longer appears to be so simple, this challenges scientists to develop a broader formulation capable of encompassing both the simplest and the most complex systems.

This interdisciplinary approach of complexity sample also shows that the sciences are not intellectual worlds separated from each other and from reality, but rather that they are linked together and oriented towards the study of nature as a unified, intelligible and harmonious reality in its undoubted complexity. This vision contains fruitful points of contact with the vision of the universe adopted by Christian theology and Philosophy , with the notion of participatory being, in which each creature, endowed with its own perfection, also participates in a specific nature, and this within an ordered universe that has its origin in the creative Word of God. It is precisely this intrinsic "logical" and "analogical" organisation of nature that animates the scientific research and drives the human mind to discover the horizontal co-participation between beings and the transcendent participation on the part of the First Being. The universe is not chaos or result of chaos, but rather appears more and more clearly as ordered complexity that allows us to rise, through comparative analysis and analogy, from specialization to a more universal point of view, and vice versa. Although the first instants of the cosmos and of life still elude scientific observation, science can reflect on a vast series of processes that reveals an order of constants and obvious correspondences and serves as an essential component of permanent creation.

In this broader context I would like to note how fruitful the use of analogy has proved to be in Philosophy and in theology, not only as an instrument of horizontal analysis of the realities of nature but also as a stimulus for creative reflection on a higher transcendent plane. Precisely because of the notion of creation, Christian thought has used analogy not only to investigate earthly realities, but also as a means of rising from the created order to the contemplation of its Creator, with due consideration of the principle that God's transcendence implies that every resemblance to his creatures necessarily entails a greater dissimilarity: while the structure of the creature is that of being a being by participation, that of God is that of being a being by essence, or Esse subsistens. In the great human business of trying to unravel the mysteries of man and the universe, I am convinced of the urgent need for constant dialogue and cooperation between the worlds of science and faith in order to build a culture of respect for man, for human dignity and freedom, for the future of our human family and for the long-term sustainable development deadline of our planet. Without this necessary interaction, the great questions of humanity leave the realm of reason and truth and are abandoned to irrationality, myth or indifference, to the great detriment of humanity itself, world peace and our ultimate destiny.

Dear friends, as I conclude these reflections, I would like to draw your attention to the Year of Faith which the Church is celebrating to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. In thanking you for the specific contribution of the Academy to strengthening the relationship between reason and faith, I assure you of my deep interest in your activities and my prayers for you and your families. On all of you I invoke the blessings of the almighty God of wisdom, joy and peace.

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