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Papal Address to Academy of Sciences

11/8/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"Cannot Replace Philosophy and Revelation"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 8, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered today to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the occasion of their plenary assembly being held in Rome.

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Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to greet the members of Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the occasion of this Plenary Assembly, and I thank Professor Nicola Cabibbo for his kind words of greeting in your name. The theme of your meeting -- "Predictability in Science: Accuracy and Limitations" -- deals with a distinctive attribute of modern science. Predictability, in fact, is one of the chief reasons for science's prestige in contemporary society. The establishment of the scientific method has given the sciences the ability to predict phenomena, to study their development, and thus to control the environment in which man lives.

This increasing "advance" of science, and especially its capacity to master nature through technology, has at times been linked to a corresponding "retreat" of philosophy, of religion, and even of the Christian faith. Indeed, some have seen in the progress of modern science and technology one of the main causes of secularization and materialism: why invoke God's control over these phenomena when science has shown itself capable of doing the same thing? Certainly the Church acknowledges that "with the help of science and technology , man has extended his mastery over almost the whole of nature", and thus "he now produces by his own enterprise benefits once looked for from heavenly powers" ("Gaudium et Spes," 33). At the same time, Christianity does not posit an inevitable conflict between supernatural faith and scientific progress. The very starting-point of Biblical revelation is the affirmation that God created human beings, endowed them with reason, and set them over all the creatures of the earth. In this way, man has become the steward of creation and God's "helper". If we think, for example, of how modern science, by predicting natural phenomena, has contributed to the protection of the environment, the progress of developing nations, the fight against epidemics, and an increase in life expectancy, it becomes clear that there is no conflict between God's providence and human enterprise. Indeed, we could say that the work of predicting, controlling and governing nature, which science today renders more practicable than in the past, is itself a part of the Creator's plan.

Science, however, while giving generously, gives only what it is meant to give. Man cannot place in science and technology so radical and unconditional a trust as to believe that scientific and technological progress can explain everything and completely fulfill all his existential and spiritual needs. Science cannot replace philosophy and revelation by giving an exhaustive answer to man's most radical questions: questions about the meaning of living and dying, about ultimate values, and about the nature of progress itself. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council, after acknowledging the benefits gained by scientific advances, pointed out that the "scientific methods of investigation can be unjustifiably taken as the supreme norm for arriving at truth", and added that "there is a danger that man, trusting too much in the discoveries of today, may think that he is sufficient unto himself and no longer seek the higher values" (ibid., 57).

Scientific predictability also raises the question of the scientist's ethical responsibilities. His conclusions must be guided by respect for truth and an honest acknowledgment of both the accuracy and the inevitable limitations of the scientific method. Certainly this means avoiding needlessly alarming predictions when these are not supported by sufficient data or exceed science's actual ability to predict. But it also means avoiding the opposite, namely a silence, born of fear, in the face of genuine problems. The influence of scientists in shaping public opinion on the basis of their knowledge is too important to be undermined by undue haste or the pursuit of superficial publicity. As my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, once observed: "Scientists, precisely because they 'know more', are called to 'serve more'. Since the freedom they enjoy in research gives them access to specialized knowledge, they have the responsibility of using that knowledge wisely for the benefit of the entire human family" (Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 11 November 2002).

Dear Academicians, our world continues to look to you and your colleagues for a clear understanding of the possible consequences of many important natural phenomena. I think, for example, of the continuing threats to the environment which are affecting whole peoples, and the urgent need to discover safe, alternative energy sources ...

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