Scientific Advisors Meet At Vatican

Nov 03, 2010 By Edwin Cartlidge
Located within the Vatican garden, Casina Pio IV is a 16th century villa that houses the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Credit: Edwin Cartlidge

Some of the world's top scientists gathered at the Vatican last weekend to discuss the scientific advances of the 20th century and their compatibility with religion.

The are members of the Roman Catholic Church's papal advisory council known as the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. They largely agreed that modern science does not have to be at odds with religious faith.

In speaking to academicians during the conference, Pope Benedict XVI praised the achievements of modern science. He said that the Catholic Church "both encourages and benefits from" scientific research and told his audience that people must neither fear science nor hold it up as a panacea capable of answering all of our deepest existential questions.

"Scientific activity ultimately benefits from the recognition of man’s spiritual dimension and his quest for ultimate answers," Benedict explained.

But some scientists present said the Catholic Church must do more to convince people that it is not anti-science.

Catholicism's most sensational run in with science was its condemnation of Galileo Galilei for his support of Nicolaus Copernicus’ heliocentric sun-centered model of the solar system. Catholicism also took a dim view of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, initially banning books on the subject and then waiting more than a century to acknowledge the large amount of supporting evidence. Benedict himself has talked of scientists' "arrogance," and a close colleague of the Pope, the Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schönborn, created controversy in 2005 when he wrote an article in the New York Times that appeared to support the idea of "intelligent design" in nature.

The existence of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, however, allows the Catholic Church to interface with modern science. Set up originally by Roman prince Federico Cesi in 1603, the academy was reinstated in its current form in 1936 by Pope Pius XI to ensure that the Catholic Church is kept up to speed with and briefed on topics of particular interest to the . The academy has had among its membership some of the most distinguished scientists of the 20th century, such as radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi and the founder of quantum mechanics, Max Planck. It continues to attract the cream of the scientific world. Its current 80 members include a host of Nobel Prize winners and other eminent researchers including National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins and the U.K.’s Royal Society president Martin Rees. Members are drawn from across the scientific spectrum, come from many different countries, and have many different religious beliefs and orientations.

Scientific quality is not the only criterion for membership. The pope accepts or rejects nominations from existing academicians on the basis of a candidate’s “high moral profile,” although it is not clear exactly what this phrase means.

UCLA Biological Chemistry professor Edward De Robertis said that his recent entry into the academy was only granted following a chat between a colleague of his and a priest who had been sent by the cardinal of Los Angeles to ascertain his moral fiber.

It has been suggested that Albert Einstein, a very conspicuous non-member, did not pass this test because the physicist had an extramarital affair.

The weekend meeting was held at the academy’s sumptuous headquarters, a 16th century villa in the Vatican gardens replete with frescoes and gleaming white marble. Inside, members discussed the scientific legacy of the 20th century, getting to grips with everything from particle physics and climate change to neuroscience and genetic engineering. There were also a few personal reflections on individuals' research, including that of physicist Charles Townes, who described to delegates the story of his invention of the laser some 50 years ago.

Biologist Werner Arber attended the meeting and said that he is confident that the academy influences the pope's thinking on science. He pointed out that plenary sessions have been the setting for important papal pronouncements, such as Pope John Paul II's statement in the 1992 meeting that the Catholic Church had been wrong to condemn Galileo.

Arber also believes in the impact of smaller meetings held by the academy, which are devoted to specific subjects such as genetically modified crops, nuclear weapons or astrobiology. He maintains that a series of meetings dedicated to discussing the definition of death helped the Vatican analyze the relative importance of the brain and the heart in this matter.

Townes too believes that the work of the academy shapes the pope's understanding of science. But he described Benedict as "maybe a little less responsive" than John Paul and "religiously conservative," pointing out that academicians had direct discussions with John Paul but have yet to do this with his successor.

Other members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences said that the Catholic Church simply refuses to discuss controversial topics such as contraception.

Even astronomer and priest Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti sounded a note of caution regarding the Catholic Church's place in modern society. He said that science and have never been in conflict, but that there is instead an "image of conflict, brought about by specific events" and believes that in order to combat this the Catholic Church must give priests a better education in science.

Tanzella-Nitti said that only then will priests be able to "talk about God in a way that is credible in the 21st century."

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User comments : 26

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Alburton
3 / 5 (2) Nov 03, 2010
Where are all the half-brained comments?
Come on,religious pranks of nature!
To be kind i'll be making the first shitty comment.
scenage
1 / 5 (1) Nov 03, 2010
*sigh*
I don't think you get the point of the article.
ormondotvos
1 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2010
What WAS the point of the article? Why can't the Pope use the internet like the rest of us? He really has nothing to do.
kevinrtrs
1.4 / 5 (11) Nov 04, 2010
The article skirts the real issues involved. All it does is beat about the bush so I'll make them plain - the age of the earth and evolution. The bible clearly states in plain English that the universe was created in six normal days - and for those who want to be scientific about it, more precisely it's in our FRAME OF REFERENCE. Furthermore, the bible also clearly states that God created sea creatures, flying creatures, animals, insects and the like and man, each on one day respectively, not over billions of years.
This clashes head on with evolutionary thought and hence the "need" to try and reconcile religion with science.
Yes, there are those Christian's who believe in evolution, namely the Theistic evolutionists [an oxymoron if ever there was one], but a straightforward reading of the bible does not support all their contortions they need to fit their belief into the evolutionary religion.
To the moderators-this comment is relevant to the article so please don't throw a fit.
frajo
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 04, 2010
What WAS the point of the article?
This article shows very well that to be religious does not necessarily imply to be uneducated or anti-scientific.
Those who assume that the chasm between scientific and unscientific thinking is identical with the chasm between believers and non-believers are just unable to cope with reality.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 04, 2010
This clashes head on with evolutionary thought and hence the "need" to try and reconcile religion with science.
Religion and evolution don't clash.

Evolution and biblical literalism clash.

Technically Biblical Literalism and Religion clash as well.

Perhaps you should grow up. Maybe do what your more intelligent religious forebearers did and change your thought processes. The only way you could ever know a creator god, if one existed, is to study its creations, including evolution. Take a note from Aquinas, and stop listening to Hovind.
getgoa
1.4 / 5 (11) Nov 04, 2010
Science is not suppose to be religion but if articles are ending up religious then science does not want to fight the Catholic Church or any other religious group. The Catholic Church is in a dangerous position since the pope is in what Martin Luther of the Lutheran Church would consider Anti-christ and I think this is attracting scientists since the constellation chart for Easter has specific dates for the persecution of Christ and the recent finding that all blue-eyed ancestors are related to one another(http://www.livesc...ml)--has any priest in the Catholic Church had blue-eyes? They should not have. The pope is in what people would consider anti-christ when the dates of Easter(http://homepage.m...es.html) are 7 days from their birthdate. The pope should know this to be true since it is a lesson World War. Why have people born in this Easter anti-christ cycle the examples-- Osama Bin Laden.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2010
Uh, are you insisting we should have a genocidal purge of everyone with Blue eyes?

You're an abhorrent person and a primary example of why credulity is the most dangerous aspect of human civilization.
barakn
5 / 5 (5) Nov 04, 2010
Lest we take kevinrtr's brand of bible literalism too seriously, remember that the Bible states that God and Satan are the same person ((2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1).
frajo
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 04, 2010
The Catholic Church is in a dangerous position since the pope is in what Martin Luther of the Lutheran Church would consider Anti-christ
Thanks for the laugh :)
Would you agree with Martin Luther's opinion on the Jews, too?
danman5000
5 / 5 (5) Nov 04, 2010
a straightforward reading of the bible does not support all their contortions they need to fit their belief into the evolutionary religion.

For being a religious person, you sure use "religion" as a derogatory word pretty often. Also just because some book "clearly states" something doesn't make it irrefutable fact. Harry Potter clearly states that wizards and magic exist too, but on second thought that probably matches up well with your own viewpoint anyways.

I'd be interested in seeing your response, but your style recently is to just swoop in on an article, make one ridiculous comment, and never return to the thread again.
Donutz
5 / 5 (5) Nov 04, 2010
The bible clearly states in plain English that the universe was created in six normal days


Please show evidence that a deity or deities of ANY kind exist(s). Then please show evidence that this deity is *your* deity. Then please show evidence that this deity actually dictated the bible, instead of the bible being just a collection of fables and stone-age myths, as archeological, historical and anthropoligical evidence clearly indicates. Then show evidence that this deity actually intended this fable to be taken literally.

You're not up against evolution. You're up against all the other fables and superstitions. Get past them, then we'll talk.
getgoa
1 / 5 (10) Nov 04, 2010
Einstein's birthdate would also follow the same as Osama Bin Laden's--march and april are zero crosses for all practical purposes, confuse only and do not solve a thing or known in the bible as the confusion of tongues--Babel. From this point of view it follows why wouldn't anything be relative---confusion.

Einstein also died in the confusion of tongues just like what he studied--a broken promise to not use science for harm.

Einstein is as anti-christ as Hitler and the only difference is the Jewish wanted to make Hitler that way since Hitler's life was divined by a Jewish person.

Since the new research came out Shem in the bible to my knowlege are Abraham's descendents or Jesus meaning Blue-Eyes since they are all related to one ancestor 6-10,000 years ago(drbo.org). Hitler was correct blue-eyes are the ideal or multitude on this planet.
Donutz
5 / 5 (4) Nov 04, 2010
straightforward reading of the bible does not support all their contortions they need to fit their belief into the evolutionary religion.

As opposed to all the contortions you need to make to ignore the evidence that the bible, theism in general, and christianity in particular is nothing but a set of human-manufactured dogma wrapped around a bunch of folklore. Yeah, feel free to look down your nose at everyone else. In your own mind.
flying_finn
3 / 5 (2) Nov 04, 2010
From the comments I've read I can understand why the Catholic Church is making this effort!
Djincs
3 / 5 (2) Nov 05, 2010
"He said that the Catholic Church "both encourages and benefits from" scientific research and told his audience that people must neither fear science nor hold it up as a panacea capable of answering all of our deepest existential questions."
Thats why he is against in vitro which gave life to millions of people! Religion is useless, people too stupid to see the obvious need it in order to answer their "deepest existential questions".....if you need some answers well get some real books with science and try to put a little logic, you wont find a direct answer to this questions but you can get to them.Much better than taking what ancient people(knowing allmost nothing) tought about the subject.
freethinking
1 / 5 (3) Nov 07, 2010
It is interesting with the atheists here. They say only ignorant people believe in God. The truth is some of the smartest people alive today are Christians. They say Christianity and the Bible has no historical evidence. The truth is historical evidence abounds. They say that Christianity enslaves people. The truth is Christianity has freed more people than atheism. They say Christianity is for weak losers. There, they are correct. Many Christians were prostitutes, drug addicts, atheists, slave owners, punks, murderers, abortionists, communists, homosexuals, etc. However once these people became Christian, they no longer were slaves to their former selves, but they themselves would say they are now free.
So if an atheist says only ignorant people believe, they show themselves ignorant.
If an atheist says Christians are weak. Agree with them and let them know there is hope even for them.
http://www.youtub...=related
otto1932
1 / 5 (1) Nov 08, 2010
"He said that the Catholic Church "both encourages and benefits from" scientific research"

-Another shameless and transparent attempt by religionist institutions to claim credit for something they cannot avoid or refute. "Yeah, we're progressive... We knew the bible was only allegory all the time." Note crossed fingers behind back. Theyre only looking for loopholes, like claiming to embrace evolution but carefully defining the point where the soul is inserted.
They say only ignorant people believe in God. The truth is some of the smartest people alive today are Christians.
Thats absolutely not true and I challenge you to prove it. Why would intelligent people waste their precious time praying to something which doesnt exist?
However once these people became Christian they no longer were slaves to their former selves
No, now they continue to lie, steal, pimp, murder, and conspire to enslave, for their respective godmen deities. Theyre all addicts to the rapture. Same thing.
otto1932
not rated yet Nov 08, 2010
The truth is historical evidence abounds.
An obvious example of the lies godders are willing to foist to further their evil agendas. Everybody who knows anything about the state of biblical archeology knows this is NOT TRUE.
http://en.wikiped..._history

-Religion has always tried to legitamize itself by embedding its fairy tales within the context of real historical things. These lies are easily debunked through scientific investigation.

Religion has strangled itself by its simplistic deceptions, and is thus easily exposed for the corruption that it is.
otto1932
1 / 5 (1) Nov 08, 2010
If an atheist says Christians are weak. Agree with them and let them know there is hope even for them.
Religionist condescension and exclusivism. "You are not right, not good, not smart, and not one of the group, until you surrender your will and your life to god in the specific manner that we did."

This sentiment is the mechanism which BEGINS with animosity and inevitably, sooner or later, DEVELOPS into this:
http://iraq.forei...-church/
http://www.worldb...id=53104
http://en.wikiped...massacre

-All religions use this tone. All end up killing or being killed because of it.
freethinking
1 / 5 (4) Nov 08, 2010
Crazy Otto :)

Some of the smartest people alive today are Christian. Research it yourself, you have time.

Atheists hate and destroy. Look at the history of Russia, China, N Korea, and many other atheist states. Atheists have kill more people in the last 70 years than even Muslims.

Skeptic_Heretic
4.5 / 5 (2) Nov 08, 2010
It is interesting with the atheists here. They say only ignorant people believe in God.
No, we say only ignorant people believe in your particular depiction of God. Most of us say little on the matter except when directly addressing YOUR beliefs, which aren't even a large minority view of Christianity.
Atheists hate and destroy. Look at the history of Russia, China, N Korea, and many other atheist states. Atheists have kill more people in the last 70 years than even Muslims.
More generalizations from a complete moron.

What was the common thread between those particular "atheists"? It was credulity. They may not have had a divine god but they all had faith. Faith in the furher, faith in Kim Il Sung, faith in Stalin, etc.

The problem, as it always is, is unwavering faith in dogma.
otto1932
not rated yet Nov 08, 2010
Some of the smartest people alive today are Christian. Research it yourself, you have time.
Some intelligent people who function effectively in some areas can suffer significant cognitive disconnects in others. It is a legacy of the unnatural evolutionary stresses which produced our oversized, defect-prone brains.

Selective insanity runs rampant in humanity. Which can explain the popularity of your hobby- and why you all tend to take its lunacy so seriously.
Atheists hate and destroy. Look at the history of Russia, China, N Korea, and many other atheist states. Atheists have kill more people in the last 70 years than even Muslims.
But religionists do it with love in their hearts, yes? They do it because god says its ok, yes?

And everyone ends up doing it expressly because of the reproductive aggression of religionists, whose lives are geared toward outgrowing their enemies, because they ALONE are gods favorites.

You all should be ashamed of your selfishness.

freethinking
1 / 5 (3) Nov 08, 2010
Otto, are you the proof of defect prone brains, with selective insanity? Given your rants I believe you do.

SH - who is the moron? Otto makes the point that only ignorant people are believers. I have showed many times that premis is false. I have not said that atheists are ignorant. Why, because I know some of the smartest people in the world (you not included) are atheists.

Ottos other moronic statement is that religionists do evil in the name of God. I pointed out that atheist do the same thing.

I agree with your statement that -- The problem, as it always is, is unwavering faith in dogma. -- I question, and I go with the premise, prove all things (which is biblical by the way). We know where Otto stands. I had hoped that even though you are an atheist, you were a thinking atheist, however over and over, you proved my hopes wrong.
flying_finn
not rated yet Nov 09, 2010
All religions share common stories from the Summerians texts. If they find a civilizaton that predates them, you'll probably find the same stories. It's translations and modificatons to these texts (rapture 1800's U.S.) that keep trying to update original theories and keep them alive. It's these modifications that have killed many people for personal gain. It would be interesting to envision a world without the long lasting effects of "god" principles, moral right and wrong.Perhaps the Neanderthal did.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Nov 09, 2010
SH - who is the moron? Otto makes the point that only ignorant people are believers.
So Otto speaks for me now? Does marjon speak for you in that case?
I have not said that atheists are ignorant. Why, because I know some of the smartest people in the world (you not included) are atheists.
So humble, until the ad hominem. At least you recognized that generalization would get you no where this time. So do you agree that the problem is unwavering faith?