Full Text of Friday, Oct. 12th Afternoon Interventions at Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 14, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Official Summary and Full Texts of Friday afternoon’s Interventions at the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith. 

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Today, Friday, October 12, 2012, at 6:05 pm, in the presence of the Holy Father, with the prayer Pro felici Synodi exitu the Eighth General Congregation began.

President delegate on duty H. Em. Card. Francisco ROBLES ORTEGA, Archbishop of Guadalajara (MEXICO).

At the beginning of the Congregation, the Secretary General announced the composition of the Commission for the Message, which is published in this bulletin.

Then the President Delegate gave the floor to the Special Guest, Prof. Werner ARBER, Professor of Microbiology in the Biozentrum, University of Basel, President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (SWITZERLAND), who intervened on the theme: “Reflection on the relations between the sciences and religious faith”.

A period for free discussion followed.

At this General Congregation, which ended at 6:55 pm with the prayer of Angelus Domini 232 Fathers were present.


The Special Guest was introduced by the President Delegate with the following words: 

Werner Arber is a Swiss microbiologist and geneticist. Along with American researchers Hamilton Smith and Daniel Nathans, Werner Arber shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of restriction endonucleases. The concept of hybrid transducing viruses later served others as a model for the design of cloning vectors in recombinant DNA technology.
Among his many awards, prizes and academies, Werner Arber is member of the World Knowledge Dialogue Scientific Board, Associate Fellow of the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) (1997); and President of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) (1996-1999).
Since 1981, he has been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In Januay, 2011, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, making him the first Protestant to hold the position.
And now, Professor Werner Arber.

[00179-02.03] [NNNNN] [Original text: Spanish]

Then the Special Guest gave his intervention:


Curiosity is a basic property of the human mind. On the one hand, it is the driving force for scientific investigations seeking for the identification of natural laws. On the other hand, curiosity is also at the basis of the interest of every human being to know the fundamental laws of nature as an essential contribution to his search for meaning and truth. Whereas the sciences by far cannot find relevant answers to all the raised questions, especially the ones which transcend the natural sphere, various beliefs (including the ones that have their source in religion) also have an important place in answering the question about meaning. They constitute essential parts of orientational knowledge that serves as a guiding base for human activities. In this context we raise here the question of mutual relations and compatibilities between scientific knowledge and essential contents of faith.

Context and impact of orientational knowledge

Orientational knowledge is built up and updated in the human mind during our entire life span. It contains elements already acquired during the embryonic development and in the early childhood. It becomes then enriched by education and by personal search for truth. Established scientific knowledge is thereby placed side by side with various kinds of beliefs, including religious faith. By the way, we can consider agnostic people also to have a specific belief, namely in the non-existence of God. In many of our daily activities and particularly for important decisions to be made, we are guided consciously, or often also subconsciously, by our orientational knowledge. We can consider the orientational knowledge as a socializing element in our life. It indeed contributes to render our activities compatible with our living in communities and with a sustainable use of our habitats and of the available resources.

Cosmic evolution and biologic evolution as facts that reveal important laws of nature.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences repeatedly deals with the steadily increasing scientific insights into both: the evolution of the Universe and the evolution of life. This is widely based on observing the ongoing evolution. At least some of the thereby obtained notions can allow us to also extrapolate to the evolutionary processes at earlier times. But so far, the sciences still have no precise notions on either the roots of cosmic evolution (e.g. how did the fundamental particles, the building elements of matter, come about?) nor on the roots of life (how did all the elements required for life activities come together?). In other words, we do not have solid scientific evidence for a so-called creation ex nihilo as yet, which remains to be dealt with by philosophy. On the other hand, the ongoing processes of evolution of the Universe and of life are now solidly established scientific facts that serve as essential elements of permanent creation.
In recent centuries and increasingly in recent decades, thanks to highly efficient research strategies, scientific investigations have revealed that our Universe is of a tremendously large size and contains, besides a very large number of solar systems, also still mysterious, so-called dark matter and dark energy. And this entire complex, in which our planet Earth is just a minute component, is known to be in a slowly progressing, steady evolution. On our planet, physical evolution in relatively small steps, such as land glides, can be observed by every attentive inhabitant.
At this time, we assume that life may also exist on some extraterrestrial planets, but we are still waiting for scientific evidence for this assumption. On the other hand, the life sciences have acquired ample solid knowledge on the complexity of life processes, both with respect to the activities in individual organisms and to the ongoing biological evolution at the level of populations.

Spontaneously occurring genetic variation as the driving force of biological evolution.

Since roughly 60 years we know that life activities are dependent on genetic information that is encoded on very long filaments of the nucleic acid DNA. The specific linear sequences of only four different building blocs (nucleotides) encode for all the life activities and for the control of their expression at the required times and sites within the organisms. If we compare the sequences of nucleotides with the sequences of letters in our scripts, the genetic information of a single-cellular bacterium corresponds to the content of a book. For example, the widely studied E. coli bacterium compares with the information content of the Bible. In contrast, multicellular plants and animals have genetic information corresponding to an encyclopedia of often several 100 up to 1000 volumes of the size of the Bible. The human genome corresponds to about 700 such volumes.
The genetic information becomes inherited from generation to generation.
Only occasionally in this process an alteration with regard to the parental nucleotide sequences occurs. Some of these changes cause an alteration of a phenotypic trait of the concerned organism. Such alterations are known to more often negatively affect life activities than to provide a functional advantage to the concerned organism. In addition, a considerable part of spontaneously occurring sequence alterations have no immediate effect on life functions.
According to the theory of biological evolution based on Charles Darwin’s postulate of natural selection acting on phenotypic variants, the spontaneous generation of genetic var
iants is the driving force of biological evolution. In the courseoof scíentif?c research in the past few decades, it became clear that a multitude of different specific mechanisms can contribute to the generation of novel genetic variants. These so far known molecular mechanisms can be assigned to contribute to one and in some cases to two general mutagenic strategies found in the living world. One of these natural strategies of genetic variation implies a local nucleotide sequence change, such as a nucleotide substitution, the deletion of one or a few adjacent nucleotides, the insertion of one or a few additional nucleotides, or finally a scrambling of a few adjacent nucleotides. This can happen upon the replication of DNA molecules or by the impact of a mutagenic agent. A second natural strategy of genetic variation brings about a segment-wise rearrangement of the available genetic information of an organism. This can result in a duplication, in a translocation or in a deletion of a usually small part of the genetic information of the concerned organism. The third natural strategy of genetic variation consists in the acquisition of a relatively small segment of genetic information from another kind of organism by socalled horizontal gene transfer.
It is the natural selection that will sort out and maintain those rare variants that provide to the organism a functional advantage. We can further note that each of the three natural strategies of genetic variation contributes with a different quality to biological evolution. Local DNA sequence changes can contribute to a step-wise improvement of a particular function. DNA rearrangements of segments of available genetic information can bring about novel fusions of functional domains or the fusion of an existing gene with an alternative element for the control of gene expression. Finally, the strategy of DNA acquisition is seen as a sharing in the functional success of another kind of living organism.

The natural potency to evolve and its impact on biodiversity

In the natural generation of genetic variants both particular gene products and some non-genetic elements are generally involved. The products of so-called evolution genes act thereby as variation generators and/or as modulators of the rates of genetic variation. Non-genetic elements can be effects of chemical or physical mutagens, random encounter and structural flexibilities such as isomeric forms of biological molecules. One can assume that in the long-term past evolution, the evolution genes had become fine-tuned to exert their evolutionary functions consisting in the occasional generation of novel genetic variants. These processes are largely contingent with regard to the site of the DNA sequence alteration and also with regard of the time of the mutagenesis. The rates of any kind of genetic variation are naturally kept quite low. This
ensures a comfortable stability to the genetic information of the living organisms, a precondition for a sustainable life in populations. In conclusion, the living world takes actively care of biological evolution thanks to its natural potency to undergo biological evolution. In other words, biological evolution is a steadily ongoing natural process of permanent, stepwise creativity.
We are aware that the natural potency to evolve is the source of biodiversity and that the ongoing biological evolution also guarantees a steady, although very slowly progressing, replenishment of biodiversity. However, in view of the largely contingent generation of genetic variants, one cannot expect that lost biodiversity can become precisely reconstituted in the future evolutionary progress. Replenished biodiversity can rather be expected to represent mainly novel kinds of mutant organisms.

Cultural values of scientific knowledge

Scientific insights into the laws and constants of nature are cultural values from the following two points of view: On the one hand, established scientific knowledge enriches our worldview and thus it contributes to our orientational knowledge. On the other hand, scientific knowledge can also open novel approaches to technological applications, innovations to the benefit of our lives as well as of our environment. Since such innovations will often contribute to the shaping of the future, we should ideally postulate that any respective decision should depend on a carefully exerted technology assessment and, on the other hand, that the civil society and the Church are ready to take co-responsibility together with the scientists and with economy carrying out a novel shaping of the future with prospective benefits for mankind and for its environment. Such measures can contribute to ensure sustainability of the process and thus of the long-term future development on our planet.

The role of rules of conduct for Humanity

We are aware that our societal life requires some binding rules of conduct which should become integral part of our orientational knowledge. In modem societies, politically established legislation ensures that recommended rules of conduct are widely followed. Acceptance of such rules can be facilitated if their principles are also anchored in a religious faith. In the Christian society, important rules of conduct were propagated by Jesus Christ throughout his life and they have ever since that time been widely followed by Christians. Nevertheless, it is an important task of today’s societies to update the established set of rules in paying particular attention to our acquired scientific knowledge. In this context, I assume that íf Jesus Christ would live among us today, he would be in favor of the application of solid scientific knowledge for the long-term benefit of humans and of their natural environment, as long as such applications leading to a shaping of the future could ensure that the relevant laws of nature are fully respected.
Let us briefly illustrate this postulate by a particular example: Thanks to the recent advances in genomics, proteomics and metabolomics, it has become possible to direct biological evolution in order to better fulfill our needs for a healthy nutrition as a contribution to medically relevant improvements. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences devoted a study week in May 2009 to this issue with particular emphasis given to transgenic plants for food security in the context of development. Our Academy concluded that recently established methods of preparing transgenic organisms follow natural laws of biological evolution and bear no risks anchored in the methodology of genetic engineering. Indeed, these methods involve local sequence changes, a rearrangement of segments of genetic information that is available in the concerned organism, and/or the horizontal transfer of a relatively small segment of genetic information from one organism into another kind of organism. As we have already outlined above, these are the three natural strategies for the spontaneous generation of genetic variants in biological evolution. The beneficial prospects for improving widely used nutritional crops can be expected to alleviate the still existing malnutrition and hunger in the human population of the developing world.

The compatibility of scientific knowledge and religious faith.

For long periods of time, curious human beings acquired scientific knowledge mainly by observing with their senses and aided by mental reflections including logical reasoning. The chapter of the Genesis in the Old Testament represents to me a testimony for an early scientific worldview already existing several thousand years ago. This chapter also reflects a wide consistency between religious faith and available scientific knowledge. It proposes a logical sequence of events in which creation of our planet Earth may have been followed by the establishment of conditions for life. Plants were then introduced and these provided in a next step food for animals before human beings were finally introduced. Leaving aside the question of Revelation, this is clearly a logical narration of the possible evolutionary origin of things
by imagined events leading to the nature that the ancient populations observed. From the genealogy outlined in the Old Testament, I can also conclude that its authors were aware of phenotypical (i.e. genetic) variants. The described persons have their own personal characteristics and they are thus not genetically identical clones of Adam and Eve. In these narrations, we can identify a good consistency between the early available religious faith and scientific knowledge on evolutionary developments. It is today our duty to maintain (and where needed, to re-establish) this consistency on the basis of the now available improved scientific knowledge.<br> According to my conviction, scientific knowledge and faith are and should remain to be complementary elements in our orientational knowledge.


With emphasis given to the evolution of life and of its environmental habitats, we have outlined here how scientific knowledge can influence, together with other elements of our orientational knowledge, human activities including the application of scientific knowledge for the benefit of the human well-being and of an intact environment serving for a long-term sustainable development of our planet Earth and its inhabitants. The here given examples can be extended to any other feasible activities based on available scientific knowledge that may serve us for a sustainable cultural development. In this respect, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences tries to fulfill its tasks to critically follow the development of scientific investigations and the projects of applications of acquired knowledge. It periodically issues its publications, informing the scientific world, the Church hierarchy, and all Christians and people of good will, both in book form and digitally on its web site www.pas.va and it also makes relevant recommendations in favor of a safe, responsible and sustainable development.

[00131-02.05] [SP000] [Original text: English]


The list of the members of the Commission for the Message, with the names of the President and Vice President nominated by the Pope, the names of the 8 members elected during the Sixth Congregation of yesterday afternoon, with the names of the 2 members nominated by the Pope, is published below.

– H. Em. Rev. Card. Giuseppe BETORI, Archbishop of Florence (ITALY)

Vice President
– H. Exc. Rev. Mons. Luis Antonio G. TAGLE, Archbishop of Manila (PHILIPPINES)

– H. Em. Rev. Card. Polycarp PENGO, Archbishop of Dar-es-Salaam, President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM – SECAM) (TANZANIA)
– H. Em. Rev. Card. Christoph SCHÖNBORN, O.P., Archbishop of Vienna, President of the Episcopal Conference (AUSTRIA)
– H. Em. Rev. Card. Gianfranco RAVASI, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture (VATICAN CITY)
– H. B. Card. George ALENCHERRY, Archbishop Major of Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malabars, Head of Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church (INDIA)
– H. Em. Rev. Card. Timothy Michael DOLAN, Archbishop of New York, President of the Episcopal Conference (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA)
– H. Exc. Rev. Mons. André LÉONARD, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, President of the Episcopal Conference (BELGIUM)
– H. Exc. Rev. Mons. John Atcherley DEW, Archbishop of Wellington, President of the Episcopal Conference, President of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania (FCBCO) (NEW ZELAND)
– H. Exc. Rev. Mons. Sérgio DA ROCHA, Archbishop of Brasília (BRAZIL)
– H. Exc. Rev. Mons. Socrates B. VILLEGAS, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan (PHILIPPINES)
– Rev. F. Adolfo NICOLÁS PACHÓN, S.I., Superior General of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits

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