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John Paul II... on Science and the Existence of God

Fifty years ago a survey was taken of 398 of the most illustrious scientists in the world in which only 16 declared themselves unbelievers, 15 agnostics and 367 believers.

1. There exists a rather widespread notion that men of science are generally agnostics and that science leads one away from God. Is there any truth to this opinion?

The extraordinary advances of science, particularly over the last two centuries, have sometimes led to the belief that it alone is capable of answering all of man’s questions and of resolving all his problems. Some have concluded that by now there is no longer any need for God. For them, faith in science has supplanted faith in God. It has been said that one must choose between faith and science: either one embraces one or believes in the other. He who proceeds with a commitment to scientific research no longer has need of God; vice versa, he who wishes to believe in God cannot be a serious scientist, because between science and faith there is an irremediable conflict.

2. The Second Vatican Council expressed a very different conviction. In the Constitution Gaudium et Spes it is affirmed: “If methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith. For earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God. Indeed whoever labors to penetrate the secrets of reality with a humble and steady mind is, even unawares, being led by the hand of God, who holds all things in existence, and gives them their identity” (G S. 36).

It can in fact be pointed out that there have always been, and still are today, men of science who in the context of their human scientific experience have positively and beneficially believed in God. Fifty years ago a survey was made of 398 of the most illustrious scientists in the world in which only 16 declared themselves unbelievers, 15 agnostics and 367 believers (cf. A. Eymieu, La part des croyants dans les progres de la science, sixth ed., Perrin 1935, p. 274).

3. It is even more interesting and profitable to become aware of the reasons for which many scientists, past and present, see rigorously conducted scientific research as not only compatible, but even happily capable of integration with the sincere and joyous recognition of the existence of God.

From the considerations which often accompany their scientific endeavors in the manner of a spiritual diary, it is easy to see the intersection of two elements: the first is the way in which research itself, be it great or small, carried out with extreme rigor, always leaves an opening for further questions in an endless process which reveals in reality an immensity, a harmony, a finality which is not explainable in terms of causality or through scientific resources alone. To this is added the irrepressible question of meaning, of higher rationality — indeed, of something or of Someone capable of satisfying interior needs, which refined scientific progress itself, far from suppressing, intensifies.

4. It is true that the step to religious affirmation is not achieved per se by virtue of the experimental scientific method, but rather by virtue of elementary philosophical principles such as causality, finality, sufficient reason, which a scientist, as a man, finds himself exercising in his daily contact with life and with the reality he studies. Indeed, the scientist’s condition as a sentinel in the modern world, as one who is the first to glimpse the enormous complexity together with the marvelous harmony of reality, makes him a privileged witness of the plausibility of religion, a man capable of showing how the admission of transcendence, far from harming the autonomy and the ends of research, rather stimulates it to continually surpass itself in an experience of self-transcendence which reveals the human mystery.

Then if we consider that today the broadened horizons of research, especially in what concerns the very origins of life, pose troubling questions regarding the right use of scientific conquests, we are not surprised by the increasingly frequent request on the part of scientists for sure moral criteria capable of freeing man from arbitrary willfulness. And who if not God is able to establish a moral order in which the dignity of man, of every man, is firmly cared for and promoted?

Certainly the Christian religion, while it cannot consider certain professions of atheism or agnosticism in the name of science as rational, is equally firm in not accepting affirmations regarding God, which arise from tendencies that are not rigorously attentive to rational processes.

5. At this point it would be very beautiful to make heard in some way the reasons for which not a few scientists positively affirm the existence of God, and to see by what personal relationship with God, with man, and with the great problems and supreme values of life they are sustained. How often silence, meditation, creative imagination, serene detachment from material things, the social significance of discovery and purity of heart are factors which open to them a world of meaning which cannot be disregarded by anyone who proceeds with equal faithfulness and love towards the truth.

May a reference to an Italian scientist, Enrico Medi, a few years deceased, be sufficient. At the International Catechetical Congress of Rome in 1971 he affirmed: “When I tell a young person: Look, there is a new star, a galaxy, a neutron star 100 million light-years away, yet the protons, electrons; neutrons and mesons which are found there are identical with those which are found in this microphone... Identity excludes probability. That which is identical is not probable... Therefore there is a cause, outside of space, outside of time, the master of being, which made being to be in this way. And this is God...

“The being — I am speaking scientifically — which has caused things to be identical at a distance of billions of light-years, exists. And the number of identical particles in the universe is 10 raised to the 85th power... Do we wish then to take up the song of the Galaxies? If I were Francis of Assisi I would say: ‘O Galaxies of the immense heavens, give praise to my Lord, for he is omnipotent and good. O atoms, O protons, O electrons, O bird-songs, O blowing of the leaves and of the air, in the hands of man as a prayer, sing out the hymn which returns to God!’”

Pope John Paul II, General Audience, Wednesday, 17 July, 1985

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