Science needs the guidance of faith – pope

Pope Benedict waves as he arrives at Rome's Sacred Heart University May 3.


Pope Benedict waves as he arrives at Rome's Sacred Heart University May 3.

May 14, 2012

Excluding truth and the transcendent from scientific debate and research has impoverished modern thought and weakened the intellect's ability to understand reality, Pope Benedict said.

True intellectual and scientific progress requires openness to dialogue with opposing views, the pope said in a May 3 talk.

The pope spoke to faculty, doctors and students at Rome's Sacred Heart University, one of the largest Catholic universities in the world.

Hundreds of people, including Italian government officials, gathered in the square outside the university's Agostino Gemelli Department of Medicine and Surgery to hear the pope's address.

Pope Benedict praised the scientific and technological discoveries of modern times, saying they are rightly a source of pride. However, the "breakneck" speed of innovation sometimes has brought with it "disturbing consequences."

Lurking behind the optimism about all the new possibilities now open to humanity is "the shadow of a crisis of thought," he said.

Mankind has a multitude of new tools but often lacks noble ends. Because of the prevailing culture of "reductionism and relativism," the true meaning of things has disappeared, he said.

"Almost blinded by technical potency, (humanity) forgets the fundamental question of meaning, thereby banishing the transcendental dimension to irrelevance," he said.

In this kind of environment, the pope said, intellectual thought "becomes weak" and has impoverished ethical foundations.


"A mentality that is basically techno-practical creates a risky imbalance between what is technically possible and what is morally good, with unforeseeable consequences," he said.

Therefore, it is critical that modern culture rediscover the meaning and role of the transcendent, he said.

Scientific inquiry and the search for meaning both share the same source - the creative rationality of God himself, Pope Benedict said.

In fact, the search for truth and for the absolute has been part of what fuels the desire to deepen all areas of human knowledge, he said.

The motivation for scientific discovery "originates in the longing for God that dwells in the human heart." Scientists, he said, are engaged, often unconsciously, in a search for the truth that can give meaning to life.

However, a culture which excludes the question about God "leads to the decline of thought and the weakening of the intellect's ability" to understand reality.

Christian faith is not irrational, the pope said. Rather, it guides people toward the right path of "the way, the truth and the light" in Jesus Christ.

When it is carried out correctly, "research is illuminated by science and faith," he said. It "draws its impetus and enthusiasm from these two 'wings.'" Yet such research does not lose its humility and sense of limits.


Thus, "the search for God becomes fruitful for the intellect, a leaven of culture, a promoter of true humanism and a quest that doesn't stop at the surface."

Sacred Heart's teaching hospital has always known that healing isn't a job, but a mission, the pope said.

A strong, well-formed Christian identity will influence everything one does and can be expressed by top-notch professionalism, he said.


Catholic universities have a particular tie to the Church and are called to be "exemplary institutions," he said. They should not reduce their vision to what is the most pragmatic, productive or economically advantageous or necessary.

Rather, they enlarge their horizons to use human wisdom to explore and develop the gifts of creation, he added.

Merging scientific research with unconditional service to life is what defines the university's department of medicine, he said. Faith is being used as an inner resource that does not overpower professional research and avid learning.

Love for the human person, especially the weak, helpless and suffering must be at the core of medicine and research, he said. "Without love, science, too, loses its nobility. Only love guarantees the humanity of research."