Cutting Edge. A Monthly Review of Scientific News
FAITH Magazine July-August 2002
Science-Faith Report in Rome
On 3rd May at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome Dr Peter Hodgson of the Nuclear Physics Laboratory at Oxford University presented his assessment of the current state of science-faith relations. Peter Hodgson is the president of the SIQS, the International Secretariat for Scientific Questions, which is a specialized secretariat of the international Catholic intellectual movement Pax Romana. He has also acted as a consultant to the Pontifical Consilium for Culture and took part in the Vatican's 'Jubilee for Scientists' May conference in the Holy Year 2000. Accompanying his own research in nuclear physics, Dr Hodgson has maintained a high profile in encouraging Catholic scientists and priest-scientists to integrate their studies and belief and to publicize their workeffectively.
His recent review of the current state of science-faith relations began by emphasizing that several myths need dispelling. Not only that science and faith are of course not antagonistic, and that the popular opinion that 'science will solve all our problems' is fallacious, but also that, from a Church and faith perspective, science and scientists must not be seen as 'the adversary,' adherents of some threatening or remote activity.
There is the ongoing problem of biased representation in the media, with plenty of space given to the atheistic opinions of Hawking and Dawkins, and little if any coverage given to the promotion and integration of science which takes place within the context of the Church. The present Pope's own admiration and support for science, as evidenced in His Holiness's addresses to the Pontifical Academy for Science, and to the Vatican Observatory, goes unreported.
Another point emphasized by Dr Hodgson was the crucial need for the Church to be thorough and professional with regard to the use of scientific advice and comment. Precisely to ensure constructive dialogue, the Church at all levels must always make use of those fully qualified in their scientific discipline when looking to engage in any scientific question, so as to inform the argument with clear and precise thinking. Harm can be done to the credibility of the Church's desire to embrace the findings of modern science if comment is ill-informed or simplistic.
Of the range of recent works available in the area of faith and science, Dr Hodgson was keen to recommend as particularly worth reading, Mariano Artigas's book, 'The Mind of the Universe: Understanding Science and Religion,' published in 2000 by the Templeton Foundation Press. A physicist himself, Artigas argues coherently that "the contemporary scientific worldview suggests that the universe is permeated in its innermost being by a rationality whose explanation requires the authorship of a rational mind." This quotation comes from a thorough review of the work by Dr Hodgson, which can be found in the latest SIQS bulletin.
A plea for, and the encouragement of, priest-scientists in the Church formed the latter part of Dr Hodgson's presentation. He asked that superiors be generous in allocating time and resources to this work which is indeed an important area of evangelization. Back in May 2000, during the Jubilee for Scientists, Dr Hodgson had ended his address: "Let us pray particularly for our priest-scientists and priest-philosophers-of-science, who are able to show us our place in the Divine plan. Let us pray for those in authority over them, that they may understand the vital importance of their vocation, and ensure that they have the support and encouragement they need to continue to develop their scientific knowledge, and to lecture and publish their findings. Let us thank God forgiving us a Pope who values scientific knowledge and blesses our endeavours. Finally, let us pray that God may bless our work, so that we can play our full part in the life of the Church and all mankind."
Dr Peter Hodgson can be reached at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, OX1 4JF and would welcome further contacts with Catholic scientists. From him are also available copies of the SIQS Bulletin, a yearly review of questions of faith and science, now published by the Lumen Christi Institute in Chicago.
Another new development in the same area comes from a priest also closely involved in the SIQS, Fr Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, of the Santa Croce Pontifical University in Rome. With Alberto Strumia, he has edited a comprehensive 'Interdisciplinary Dictionary of Science and Faith,' which runs to 2,500 pages in two volumes. In the continental tradition of academic 'dictionaries' this is a work comprised of substantial articles rather than entries of only a few lines. Currently available only in Italian, the project is expected to be translated into English in the not-too-distant future. The work is published by the Italian publishing house, Città Nuova, from which the work can be ordered. www.cittanuova.it