Laudato Si 199: Religions and Science in Dialogue

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. We complete the document’s fifth chapter with three sections that examine, “Religions in Dialogue with Science.” Note the plural, Pope Francis looks to other faiths to assist in the larger conversation.

We begin with an acknowledgement of the natural limitation of science–not a criticism. By definition, since science cannot observe everything, it cannot offer an explanation on everything. Where it cannot observe and study, people of faith can offer additional human context that fillls a picture in more fully. Let’s read:

199. It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things.* I would add that “religious classics can prove meaningful in every age; they have an enduring power to open new horizons… Is it reasonable and enlightened to dismiss certain writings simply because they arose in the context of religious belief?”[Evangelii Gaudium 256] It would be quite simplistic to think that ethical principles present themselves purely in the abstract, detached from any context. Nor does the fact that they may be couched in religious language detract from their value in public debate. The ethical principles capable of being apprehended by reason can always reappear in different guise and find expression in a variety of languages, including religious language.

The Holy Father is striking a good balance. But you readers would expect me to say that, given my training in science and experience with the arts and theology. It is more than just human ethical behavior. Such ethics must be grounded not only in a sense of God, of the Divine, but also in the wealth of human artistic experience, and that includes our own creations as well as what the natural universe offers us as a view into something greater, more wondrous than ourselves.

That starred note had an ample text. It’s offered here:

* Cf. Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei (29 June 2013), 34: AAS 105 (2013), 577: “Nor is the light of faith, joined to the truth of love, extraneous to the material world, for love is always lived out in body and spirit; the light of faith is an incarnate light radiating from the luminous life of Jesus. It also illumines the material world, trusts its inherent order, and knows that it calls us to an ever widening path of harmony and understanding. The gaze of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. Faith awakens the critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own formulae and helps it to realize that nature is always greater. By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation.”

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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