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If you're looking for the meaning of life, religions are ready with an answer. As of yet, science doesn't have an answer, other than to possibly claim that there isn't any purpose. (Nihilists of the world rejoice!) Thus, you might conclude that science and religion don't get along. But that conclusion might be premature. Maybe they just have different functions.

Take Catholicism. It's difficult to make a rational argument that the Catholic Church is anti-science with all of their scientific funding and scientists. For example, George Coyne is a Jesuit priest and former director at the Vatican Observatory. (Yes, the Vatican has an observatory. They even have a telescope affectionately named Lucifer next to them.) He is clearly someone who has significant scientific intelligence and education. He doesn't believe in intelligent design (he says it "isn't science even though it pretends to be"). He has spent decades trying to bridge science and faith. A contradiction?

Here's an alternate example: creationists, whose adherents generally include Catholics, believe that the Earth is approximately 10,000 years old and believe that it was created in 6 days. Using scientific techniques, scientists generally believe that the Earth is more like 4.54 billion years old in a universe 13.7 billions years old. It seems contradictory to promote the idea that the Earth is very young when the scientific data suggests otherwise.

Science helps us decide upon and explain the facts. Is science capable of explaining what those facts mean? Why does the Catholic Church study science? Why does the Vatican look for scientific explanation to reality? Do you think it is partially out of guilt for their persecution of Galileo Galilei, a devout Catholic and deeply religious man? What do you see as the conflicts between religion and science? How literal should we interpret religious texts? Can science provide answers to ultimate questions about why things exist and their purposes? Are secular scientists misunderstanding religion?

While this is the official home of the Vatican Observatory, a related facility, the Vatican Observatory Research Group, is set up in the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. There, with greater access to high-tech equipment, the Vatican is conducting detailed research on dark matter, quasars and the universe's expansion.

"The idea that the universe is worth studying just because it's worth studying is a religious idea," Consolmagno says. "If you think the universe is fundamentally good and that it's an expression of a good God, then studying how the universe works is a way of becoming intimate with the Creator. It's a kind of worship. And that's been a big motivation for doing any kind of science."

As a scientist who is also a Jesuit brother, Consolmagno suggests that science poses philosophical questions that in turn spark religious inquiries.

"A hundred years ago we didn't understand the Big Bang," he says. "Now that we have the understanding of a universe that is big and expanding and changing, we can ask philosophical questions we would not have known to ask, like 'What does it mean to have multiverses?' These are wonderful questions. Science isn't going to answer them, but science, by telling us what is there, causes us to ask these questions. It makes us go back to the seven days of creation - which is poetry, beautiful poetry, with a lesson underneath it - and say, 'Oh, the seventh day is God resting as a way of reminding us that God doesn't do everything.' God built this universe but gave you and me the freedom to make choices within the universe."

The lessons learned from the trial and condemnation of Galileo in the 1600s have guided an era of scientific caution and hesi­tancy within the Vatican. Today the Vatican's approach to science is a complex undertaking involving nearly every facet of Church life. The Roman Curia - the Church's governing body - includes a network of 5 pontifical academies and 11 pontifical councils, each of them charged with tasks ranging from the promotion of Christian unity to the cataloging of martyrs. To varying degrees, each of the 16 offices - and, of course, the independent Vatican Observatory - intersects with scientific issues, and they tend to rely on the efforts of one academy to provide clarity and consultation: the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Housed in a building several centuries old deep inside Vatican City, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is a surprisingly nonreligious institution as well as one of the Vatican's least understood...

When asked if he thought the scientific understanding of life's beginnings demanded a belief in God, Cabibbo turned heads. "I would say no," he told a journalist at the National Catholic Reporter, adding, however, that "science is incapable of supplying answers to ultimate questions about why things exist and what their purpose is." Cabibbo's statements reflect the Church's ongoing effort to reconcile science and religion, a topic that extends far beyond the walls of the Vatican.

These days it's practically impossible to strike up a conversation with anyone in the Vatican's science programs without invoking the work of the outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins, a prominent evolutionary theorist, wrote the book "The God Delusion," which became an international best seller...

"We call [Dawkins's stance] sci­entism, and there is reference to it in the encyclical," says Father Rafael Pascual, dean of philosophy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome.

"Scientism," Dawkins tells me later, "is the pejorative word sometimes used for the view that science can explain everything and kind of arrogates to itself the privilege of explaining everything. Science cannot tell you what is right and wrong. When it comes to really interesting questions, like 'Where did the laws of physics come from?' or 'How did the universe arrive in the first place?' I genuinely don't know whether science will answer those deep and at present mysterious questions; I am confident that if science can't answer them, nothing else can. But it may be that nothing will ever answer them."

Dawkins expresses skepticism at the Church's mission to build a bridge between science and theology with the use of philosophy. "There is nothing to build a bridge to," he says. "Theology is a complete and utter non­subject." At one point in my talk with Dawkins, Father George Coyne, the well-respected retired head of the Vatican Observatory (and, as such, a former member of the Academy of Sciences), becomes the subject of conversation.

"I met him a few weeks ago and liked him very much," Dawkins says. "And he said to me that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe in God, and so I said, 'Why do you believe in God?' and he said: 'It's quite simple. I was brought up Catholic.' When I think about good scientists - and some are devoutly religious and many of them are Catholic, Jesuit brothers and priests, for instance - I can never make out whether they are compartmentalizing their minds. Sometimes if you press them, it turns out that what they believe is something very different from what it says in the Creed. It turns out that all they really believe is that there is some deeply mysterious unknown at the root of the universe..."

"I did not tell Richard Dawkins that there was no reason to believe in God," says Coyne, who counts Dawkins a friend. "I said reasons are not adequate. Faith is not irrational, it is arational; it goes beyond reason. It doesn't contradict reason. So my take is precisely that faith, to me, is a gift from God. I didn't reason to it, I didn't merit it - it was given to me as a gift through my family and my teachers.... My science helps to enrich that gift from God, because I see in his creation what a marvelous and loving god he is. For instance, by making the universe an evolutionary universe - he didn't make it a ready-made, like a washing machine or a car - he made it a universe that has in it a participation of creativity. Dawkins's real question to me should be, 'How come you have the gift of faith and I don't?' And that's an embarrassment for me. The only thing I can say is that either you have it and don't know it, or God works with each of us differently, and God does not deny that gift to anybody. I firmly believe that."

How to teach science to the pope. Vatican keeps tabs on science, integrates new research into theology


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on May 5, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=548

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