Cutting Edge
Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge

FAITH Magazine January-February 2009 


Science and Religion News


The front cover of one of the Catholic papers at the start of November had a most striking image, that of the meeting of two of the most famous men in the world: the Pope, Benedict XVI, and Professor Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist from Cambridge. Their meeting took place in the context of the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, of which Prof. Hawking is a member. The Pope went and greeted Stephen Hawking personally, prior to addressing the assembly on the 31st October in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican. His address initiated the Academy's session on 'Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life.'

Over the years Hawking himself has offered a particular spin upon what the late Pope, John Paul II, had said in his hearing. In 1981, before the same Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II had touched on the question of the universe's origin. In his A Brief History of Time, Hawking gave his version of what the Pope had said:

"the participants were granted an audience with the Pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference - the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation." (p. 116 in the 1988 edition).

Much more recently Hawking has reiterated this version of events, when in June 2006 he gave a lecture in Hong Kong which gained wide publicity. The late Pope had decreed no such ban, but had in fact said: "Any scientific hypothesis on the origin of the world,

such as the hypothesis of a primitive atom from which derived the whole of the physical universe, leaves open the problem concerning the universe's beginning. Science cannot of itself solve this question ..." (3rd October 1981).

In his address, the Pope made the following observations:

"To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously. Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and allbecoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).


"To 'evolve' literally means 'to unroll a scroll,' that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose 'writing' and meaning, we 'read' according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos."

The Pope went on to articulate something in harmony with the 'Unity Law' idea promoted by Faith movement

"Notwithstanding elements of the irrational, chaotic and the destructive in the long processes of change in the cosmos, matter as such is 'legible.' It has an inbuilt 'mathematics.' The human mind therefore can engage not only in a 'cosmography' studying measurable phenomena but also in a 'cosmology' discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences and undeniable finalities: in the inorganic world, between microstructure and macrostructure; in the organic and animal world, betweenstructure and function; and in the spiritual world, between knowledge of the truth and the aspiration to freedom. Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity's place in the cosmos."

Among other advantages, this line concerning God as the mind immediately sustaining and organising each and every aspect of cosmic matter is also important for challenging the Deism of the prominent ex-agnostic Professor Antony Flew.

Faith Magazine

January - February 2009