En último término la tensión ciencia-fe debe resolverse a nivel de la propia persona

Ultimately the science-faith tension must be resolved at the level of the individual (Interview with Rafael A. Martínez, professor of Philosophy de la Ciencia).

Author: Rocío Lancho García
Published in: Zenit
date of on-line publication: Rome, 22 January 2013

Rafael A. Martínez is Professor of Philosophy of Science at the School of Philosophy of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, where he is currently Dean. A physicist and philosopher, he deals with the evolution of scientific concepts and the history of the relationship between science and religion.

The research conducted with M. Artigas in the archives of the Index and the Holy official document led to the publication of an unpublished manuscript related to the Galileo case (certificate Philosophica 10 [2001], pp. 198-272), and of a study - also with Th. F. Glick - on the Vatican's first reaction to the theory of evolution: Negotiating Darwin. The Vatican Confronts Evolution 1877-1902 (Johns Hopkins U.P., Baltimore 2006).

He has published in research y Ciencia, Spanish edition of Scientific American, a article on Science, Philosophy and theology in the Galileo trial (394, July 2009, pp. 60-67). Together with G. Auletta and M. Leclerc he has published the conference proceedings of the congress held in Rome in the Year of Darwin: Biological Evolution. Facts And Theories. A Critical Appraisal 150 Years After "The Origin of Species" (G&B Press, Rome 2011).

In an interview with ZENIT, he talks about the dialogue between faith and science, the encounters and misunderstandings between these two areas of knowledge, faith and reason, the much talked about theory of evolution and many other current issues.

One of the proposals of the Synod held last October speaks of the dialogue between science and faith as a vital field for the new evangelisation. What practices can be applied so that this dialogue contributes to the new evangelisation?

Rafael A. Martínez: Although the Church has always maintained that faith and reason, including science, are fully compatible, science is still often presented as something that would make faith unnecessary or even impossible. Evangelisation today requires an understanding of how faith speaks to us about the world. It does so in a different dimension, but in accordance with all that we know about reality through science: about its origin, its evolution, about what is specific to human beings, such as their capacity to possess a theoretical knowledge , their capacity to love, their freedom. And this requires a certain familiarity with the current scientific knowledge : not to let oneself be carried away only by the commonplaces, so frequent on Education and in the media. And it also requires a deepening of the content of faith: to avoid presenting it in a naïve way, as if it were "another answer" to the problems posed by science. Faith does not want to be "another science", but something that for believers gives meaning to their existence and their relationship with the world (which also necessarily includes science).

Is there a conflict between scientific knowledge and religious faith?

Rafael A. Martínez: No, there can be no conflict. St. Augustine and Galileo remind us that both nature and revelation have the same Author. Reading nature I discover the wonders of creation, which always surpasses us, but which manifests an extraordinary profound rationality. This is the source of beauty that has always filled scientists with wonder and enthusiasm: Einstein is one of the best known cases. And in many other cases, this amazement leads to a deep religious faith. Faith, on the other hand, leads me financial aid to discover the transcendent meaning of that same reality. Without a broader vision, the scientist himself can feel lost and meaningless in the midst of the astonishing world that science makes him discover. In fact, the scientist never resigns himself to remain enclosed in a purely intellectual world: he needs to frame it in his life staff, in his relationship with others, in his affections, in his projects. Science is first and foremost a human activity, and the scientist must necessarily harmonise it with his life if he does not want to fall into a certain imbalance. For the believer, this harmonious vision reaches its plenary session of the Executive Council meaning in faith. And it should be remembered that throughout history this has been the case with most of the great scientists.

Can faith be explained in a rational way?

Rafael A. Martínez: Of course, the Christian faith has always been presented as a rational faith, as Benedict XVI has often repeated. lecture In an address he gave at the Sorbonne in 1999, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he argued that the Christian faith is the option for the priority of reason and rationality, as opposed to other options that always end up disregarding reason. Among these he included some attempts to radically explain the world that end up reducing reality to the irrational case. These are in fact pseudo-scientific ideologies, which seek purely nominal justifications. To say that the world is the way it is "because it could be any way" is to say nothing at all. Christian faith is a response that puts the primacy of the "logos", of the rationality of God as creative love, first and foremost.

Certainly this does not mean that the content of faith is demonstrable on the basis of reason or empirical data . What is demonstrable is its rationality. But for this we must avoid reducing reason to a particular subject of rationality. If one considers "rational" to be "equivalent" to applying the scientific-experimental method, it would be difficult to perceive the rationality not only of faith but also of many other aspects of human reason. But such a position is today totally untenable: contemporary epistemology has clearly shown how the very rationality of experimental science, with all its capacity for success and rigour, requires a wider use of reason if it is to find a solid foundation, and to understand its very rationality.

Werner Arber spoke at the Synod about the Genesis account as a logical sequence compatible with evolution. Is it possible to believe in the Genesis account and admit the theory of evolution?

Rafael A. Martínez: Yes, of course, we can believe in what God reveals to us in Genesis and admit the reality of biological evolution. But this requires us to avoid simplifications. I think we are aware that often, when reading or explaining the creation stories contained in Genesis, there is a tendency to present them as if they were a description of physical and biological processes. Sometimes this may be just a catechetical method, to facilitate understanding. But to stop there would be a big mistake, and should be avoided. Because in that case God can end up being presented as a purely physical cause. We must go deeper into the theological meaning of Genesis, and explain the doctrine of creation in a precise way. God is not a mechanism that sets the world in motion and organises it, but the ultimate foundation of being.

But we must also avoid simplification on the other hand, presenting evolutionary biology as if it were the total explanation and final of reality. We understand its mechanisms and logic better and better, but like all scientific theories we are still on an open road. The latest developments, for example in the field of evolutionary biology development ("evo-devo"), epigenetics, symbiotic mechanisms and convergences along evolutionary lines, help us to avoid reductive interpretations of evolution. I refer in particular to Monod's famous interpretation, so often repeated, according to which the union of the necessity of physico-chemical laws with the case would be the only possible explanation of reality. This, like any other attempt to consider science as an explanation final, incapable of being overcome, can only be considered as an unjustified prejudice.

Was there really a confrontation between the Catholic Church and Darwin's theory of evolution?

Rafael A. Martínez: No, if what is meant by this statement is that the Catholic Church deliberately decided to oppose Darwin's theory and acted accordingly. There were, however, positions against evolution on the part of both sides (no more so in the Catholic Church than in other denominations). These were frequent: any intellectual novelty always brings with it a certain amount of resistance, since it must break the moulds to which we are accustomed. And sometimes what is simply an attachment to a way of looking at reality is justified on religious grounds. The "simplifications" of which I spoke earlier are an example. Of course many Christians, even theologians, identified their faith in creation with a series of images, partly anthropomorphic, partly very dependent on a conception of the cosmos of subject mechanical, typical of modern thought. And the theory of evolution broke these moulds. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that from the very beginning evolution was often presented as a theory that would make religious faith unnecessary. This, too, provoked counter-reactions.

But at the same time there were many Catholic thinkers, scientists, philosophers and theologians, who saw evolution as an opportunity to better understand the relationship between God and the world. This produced certain tensions, but the position adopted by the doctrinal bodies of the Holy See was one of a certain prudence. Neither Darwin, nor any scientist, was the subject of research. And the Holy See never publicly condemned evolution. We are talking about the end of the 19th century. In the first decades of the 20th century, attitudes became calmer, and a clear distinction was made: from the point of view of science, the Church had nothing to say; it was enough that evolution was not presented with a materialistic subject interpretation.

What is the position of the Catholic Church on creationism?

Rafael A. Martínez: Creationism, strictly speaking, is understood as a purely literal interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis, according to which what is narrated in them is an exact description of the origin and training of material reality, specifically including living organisms and human beings. This interpretation emerged in evangelical environments (the so-called fundamentalism), in the south of the United States, from 1920 onwards, and gained great strength there, to the point of enacting laws against the teaching of evolution in schools and, when later federal laws made this impossible, to try to ensure that in biology class the same time was devoted to explaining evolution and to explaining the so-called Creation Science, according to which God created some six thousand years ago all organisms and species exactly as we now know them. Fossils, for example, would have been created already as fossils. Creationism continues to carry some weight, even though its claims have always been rejected. In the last twenty years it seems to have been succeeded by the so-called intelligent design theory. This theory does not oppose the fact of evolution (not all creationists have always been uniform in their ideas) but argues that the biological data leads to the assertion that the laws of nature could not explain the characteristics of living organisms, so it would be necessary to resort to the existence of an intelligence that has "projected" them.

For Catholic doctrine, any claim to this subject means completely ignoring the meaning of the doctrine of creation and the very concept of God, who does not work through physical-chemical or biological mechanisms, but as the ultimate transcendent cause of reality, as the ultimate foundation of the being of everything created. B Catholic authors who propose creationist explanations (there are some groups, although their scope is very limited), show an ignorance of the meaning of faith in creation that the Church has always confessed, from the Fathers of the Church until the Second Vatican Council.

Why do you think the cases of Galileo or Copernicus continue to be controversial in terms of their relationship with the Church?

Rafael A. Martínez: Certain events acquire an "iconic" character, and this leads to their use as a symbol to support a "cause", or simply to avoid a more attentive reflection. Between science and faith, or more generally, between human rationality and the rationality of faith, there will always be a certain tension. Both constitute an "ultimate" written request , albeit in two distinct dimensions, but whose distinction we sometimes fail to perceive sufficiently. But tension does not necessarily mean conflict, unless we try to absolutise the scope of one or the other. And it is true that sometimes faith has been exposed in such a way that it seemed to make science unnecessary, even though Saint Augustine warned against such a danger. At other times, and perhaps this is more frequent today, it is science that pretends to set itself up as the ultimate answer. But in both cases the real problem is not so much that science and religion conflict with each other, but that each betrays its own identity: religion becomes myth, science pretends to usurp the role of faith.

But it must be recognised that the iconic use of figures from the past is not always negative. The reference letter to Galileo appears frequently in the discussions about evolution at the end of the 19th century, to which we referred earlier. Galileo, besides making an extraordinary contribution to the birth of experimental science, always wanted to keep his faith. Ultimately the science-faith tension must be resolved at the level of the individual. And this is where self-awareness and sincere coherence play the key role. 

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