Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New and Enlightened Views from the Vatican

In the rising awareness of and interest in the transcendental - not just in the world's great wisdom traditions, but in science, religious institutions and our culture generally - perhaps the growing acceptance of (and acknowledgment by) the Catholic Church of the truth revealed by leading-edge science is one of the most promising signs that physics, metaphysics and psychology are at last coming to a common understanding (albeit in different terminology) that there is a single, transcendental Unity that undergirds our perceptions and conceptions of "reality."

In a post several years ago, we reported how the head of the Vatican Observatory acknowledged the 'Big Bang Theory' as the most likely explanation of the Creation, a position overwhelmingly more enlightened than that held by fundamentalist Christians, particularly so-called 'mainstream' fundamentalist and evangelical Protestant sects in the United States, that insist on the "literal truth" of the Bible, despite its inherent contradictions and C.S. Lewis' reported observation: "If we are going to talk about the Bible, let's all agree that it's a work intended for grown-ups, or not have the discussion at all."

From Reuters report on Pope's address.
Now, in an address on January 6, 2011, Pope Benedict (as reported by Reuters), took an even bolder, if not further, step in the direction of reconciling the Catholic faith with the findings of reason and logic. As Reuters notes, "(t)he Catholic Church no longer teaches creationism -- the belief that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible -- and says that the account in the book of Genesis is an allegory for the way God created the world." Nevertheless, it still objects "to using evolution to back an atheist philosophy that denies God's existence or any divine role in creation."

But, perhaps most importantly, given the long running controversy over teaching evolution as opposed to creationism in U.S. public schools (or now Intelligent Design, a "politically correct" and watered-down version of creationism), the Church opposes "using the Book of Genesis as a scientific text."

"The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe," Benedict reportedly told the crowd in St. Peter's Basilica on the appropriately chosen feast day of the Epiphany. "Contemplating it (the universe) we are invited to read something profound into it: the wisdom of the creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God."

"In the beauty of the world, in its mystery, in its greatness and in its rationality," he continued, "we can only let ourselves be guided toward God, creator of heaven and earth."

Pope Benedict's
timely remarks celebrating the Epiphany (the anniversary that Christians celebrate as the day that the Three Magis worshipped the infant Jesus) are part of a larger effort to bring the Catholic faith into the scientifically-informed 21st century. Part of that effort has included rehabilitating the ex-communicated Gallileo, the father of modern physics, and the speech, below, that Pope Benedict gave to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences' conference on " Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life."

Reading the text of the Pope's remarks, one can only be impressed by the 'transcendental times' we are living in; a time when what was once the most conservative of Western institutions is addressing the roadblocks that have blocked it from recognizing the same 'Unity' that physics and psychology are rapidly moving towards.

In part, these are the remarks that Pope Benedict conveyed to the Vatican's own conference into the origin of life in the universe, on another appropriately chosen date - All Saints' Eve - October 31, 2008:
In this context, questions concerning the relationship between science’s reading of the world and the reading offered by Christian Revelation naturally arise. My predecessors Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II noted that there is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences. Philosophy in its early stages had proposed images to explain the origin of the cosmos on the basis of one or more elements of the material world. This genesis was not seen as a creation, but rather a mutation or transformation; it involved a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.
"In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God. The same was
in the beginning with God."
John 1:1-2                    
To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously. Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).
To “evolve” literally means “to unroll a scroll”, that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose “writing” and meaning, we “read” according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos. Notwithstanding elements of the irrational, chaotic and the destructive in the long processes of change in the cosmos, matter as such is “legible”. It has an inbuilt “mathematics”. The human mind therefore can engage not only in a “cosmography” studying measurable phenomena but also in a “cosmology” discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences and undeniable finalities: in the inorganic world, between microstructure and macrostructure; in the organic and animal world, between structure and function; and in the spiritual world, between knowledge of the truth and the aspiration to freedom. Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the cosmos."
 We live in "transcendental times," indeed!

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