Lynn White's ecological concerns signal a shift that has occurred in the relationship between natural science and Christian (and, specifically,
Catholic) faith in God as creator. This science has given rise to modern technologies that utilize, and sometimes ravage, created realities. Nowadays tensions and challenges concern practice; from Galileo's time to the nineteenth century they arose mainly from theoretical knowledge.
In 1633 the Roman Inquisition condemned Galileo Galilei (1564—1642) for endorsing the system first proposed by Nicolaus Copernicus (1473—1543), the Polish astronomer who had argued that the earth moves around the sun and not vice versa. The condemnation of Galileo still symbolizes the enduring image of an official church refusing to accept new discoveries and trying to curb scientific freedom. The negative stand of many Christians towards the theory of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin (1809—82) further reinforced the image of an anti-scientific church. The evolutionary process, which Darwin detected in biological development and which later science extended in all directions, highlighted the need for the appropriate interpretation of biblical texts, as discussed in Ch. 3 above. In the twentieth century scientific discoveries and technological advances developed in a spectacular fashion. Along with that growth, many came to question the conviction, widely held in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that science alone could answer ultimate questions about meaning and value. Scientists of the calibre of the Nobel prize-winner, Ilya Prigogine (b. 1917), have turned to philosophical and theological issues, while astrophysicists such as Stephen Hawking (b. 1942) and Roger Penrose (b. 1931) speculate on the ultimate nature of time. On its own, scientific progress may prove dehumanizing and extremely dangerous to the whole human race and its environment (e.g. through nuclear weapons and the abuse of energy sources that has led to global warming).
For many people, the priest-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881—1955) has symbolized the end of the old antagonisms between science and religion.110 Far from finding the evolution of the species in conflict with revealed truth, Teilhard acknowledged the wisdom and power of God who through the laws implanted in creation arranged for a marvellous development from within—from the biosphere (with its
110 In recent years John Polkinghorne and some other scientists turned Anglican priests have symbolized for many people the end of old antagonisms between science and religion. A particle physicist, Polkinghorne resigned his professorship at Cambridge University in 1979, was ordained to the ministry, and went on to write a number of significant books on matters involving science and religion. In March 2002 he received the Templeton Prize for wedding scientific thought and Christian faith.
many forms of life), to the noosphere (with its presence of thinking beings), and on to the pneumatosphere (the universe brought through the Holy Spirit or Pneuma), and our final destiny in God through Christ. Everything evolves from within, except for human souls which are created immediately by God (DH 1007, 3896; ND 419, 1007). Here, the teaching of the Church recognizes that every single human being is directly related to the creator—a relationship that is not mediated either through other persons or through the evolutionary process itself.
God is truth. Whether found in the religious sphere or in that of science, all truth is based in God and can never be opposed to itself (Gaudium etSpes, 36). Pope John Paul II made this point, with reference to the Galileo case, in a 1992 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (ND 173). Previously, at a 1983 symposium of scientists commemorating Galileo's work, the Pope had endorsed a new dialogue between the official church and science (ND 164—76c). In a message he addressed on 1 June 1988 to the Director of the Vatican Observatory, John Paul II stated: 'What is critically important is that each discipline (science and theology) should continue to enrich, nourish, and challenge the other to be more fully what it can be and to contribute to our vision of who we are and what we are becoming.'111 At the same time, ecological threats and, as we shall see in a later chapter, various developments in medical science have created many challenges for Catholic and other Christian thinkers and leaders.
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