Master's Program Focuses on Dialogue Between Faith and Science

Interview With Its Director, Father Rafael Pascual

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ROME, SEPT. 17, 2004 ( John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical «Fides et Ratio» said that dialogue between faith and reason is possible and must be fostered.

And to do that, the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University has established a master’s program in «Science and Faith.»

Father Rafael Pascual, director of the program, is professor of philosophy of nature and science. He explains in this interview with ZENIT that it is possible to have a «harmonious relationship between the man of science and the man of faith.»

Q: What is the state of health of dialogue between the world of faith and that of reason? What proposals do you have in this respect?

Father Pascual: I think that it is necessary to overcome what is commonplace; the time has arrived to re-establish the dialogue, called for in the encyclical «Fides et Ratio,» between the world of reason and that of faith. Just as the Church is not afraid of science and its developments, so science should not be afraid of the Church.

Dialogue does not mean «absorption,» but reciprocal respect in diversity. As early as the First Vatican Council there was already talk of two orders of knowledge: that of reason and that of faith, which are different. But as the encyclical «Fides et Ratio» reminds us, they are not «separate»; therefore dialogue is possible.

There are many points of meeting and questions of limit. Neither one can pretend to explain everything; each one of the two has something specific to say about the world, about man and about God.

Q: You direct the master’s program in Science and Faith. In one of the first public meetings, the topic to be discussed will be, precisely, «scientists and believers.» What is the objective and the content of this initiative?

Father Pascual: The idea is to help people understand, more with facts than with speculations, that there can be a harmonious relationship between the man of science and the man of faith.

In fact, there have been many men who have had no difficulty at all in combining both dimensions, without falling into a sort of mental schizophrenia.

It is not true that science is incompatible with faith. It is not true that there is incoherence in the fact that a man is concerned with science during the week, and then goes to Mass on Sunday.

Again, the key is found in recognizing that there are two orders of knowledge and that neither one of the two must seek exclusivity.

With this course we «scientists and believers» wish to show that dialogue between science and faith is not only a theoretical question, but that it is really possible and that there have been, and still are, many men and women who have no problem in living their scientific vocation and their life of faith in full harmony and without breaks of any kind.

When one looks closely at the life of a scientist such as Galileo, who revolutionized physics in his time and who lived with the spontaneity and clearsightedness of his faith, one sees the concrete possibility of being able to reconcile these two orders of knowledge to avoid an epistemological dichotomy which is not good either for the believer or for the scientist.

A trivialized and lineal evolutionist view already forms part of common thought. In reality, accredited scientists, also nonbelievers, maintain that such a theory shows many deficiencies and is certainly different from the way it has spread.

Q: You have a specific course on the theory of evolution and the doctrine of the Church. Could you explain briefly what the Church’s point of view is and in what way it differs from Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Father Pascual: All scientific diffusion or divulgation, also at the educational level, runs the risk of simplifications and trivializations.

Without a doubt the theory of evolution, if it is, as I think, a scientific theory, will have its limitations and its aspects to be improved, as occurs with all scientific theories.

In regard to the Church’s point of view on the theory of evolution, clearly it leaves the question of its validity to science, but at the same time, from the point of view of faith, it is implicated, because it has significant aspects in regard to the conception of man and the world.

Faced with specific questions, science can arrive at a certain point but cannot go beyond, and it is necessary that the men of science be honest and recognize their own limits derived, for example, from the experimental method.

Obviously, science cannot say anything about something that cannot be experimented with empirically, and if it does say something, it can only do so incompetently, because it has gone beyond its own limits.

The doctrine of the Church states that in general the theory of evolution would not be in conflict with the truth of creation, unless it was presented from a materialist and anti-finalist perspective — and both positions are not scientific, but rather philosophical, and must be so treated.

Moreover, there are «firm points» that must be kept in mind, especially when contemplating the question of the origin of man: His soul is created immediately by God — it cannot arise from matter because it is spiritual — and man, being made in the image and likeness of God, is called to eternal life, and has a dignity that must be respected.

Q: A master’s in Science and Faith elicits many questions. To whom is it addressed? What are the topics you reflect on and develop? What kind of formation do you offer? What topics will be addressed in public conferences?

Father Pascual: The master’s is directed to all those who wish to engage in the dialogue between science and faith, both scientists, science professors, scientific journalists and similar figures, as well as ecclesiastics, philosophers and theologians, religion professors, catechists and pastoral care agents.

The topics we study, as can be seen in the master’s program, are all those that in one way or another are related to the dialogue between science and faith.

They are both general questions — for example, the different ways of seeing the science-faith relationship, or the role of mediation of philosophy in this dialogue between the order of reason and that of faith — as well as the most significant figures in this dialogue — scientists and believers — [and] some «questions of limit,» such as the theory of the origin of the universe and Creation, or the question of miracles.

To foster this dialogue, additional courses are offered, such as «Physics for Philosophers» and «Biology for Philosophers.»

The lectures will especially address all those topics that will enable us to cover the most significant questions, led by experts in specific fields, many of whom are points of reference and direction at the national and international level.

Thus the master’s, which has also opened a collection of publications on these topics, is offering its original contribution, in keeping with the invitation in «Fides et Ratio» and other interventions of John Paul II to this dialogue — always fruitful but not always easy — between science, philosophy and faith.

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