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Thursday, June 15, 2006

What John Paul II Really Said

Famed physicist Stephen Hawking said Thursday that Pope John Paul II tried to discourage him and other scientists attending a cosmology conference at the Vatican from trying to figure out how the universe began.

The British scientist joked he was lucky the pope didn't realize he had already presented a paper at the gathering suggesting how the universe was created.

"I didn't fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo," Hawking said in a lecture to a sold-out audience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Pope John Paul II's address to the participants in the Vatican Conference on Cosmology:
Dear Friends,

1. Offer very cordial greetings to the participants in the Vatican Conference on Cosmology. In this year which marks the Fiftieth Anniversary of scientific research at the Specola Vaticana, I would like to take this occasion to extend my heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to Father Coyne and the entire staff of the Observatory. Please know that your diligent work, especially in the field of astrophysics, together with your ecclesial dedication, bears splendid witness to the Church’s profound interest in the world of science and particularly in the men and women engaged in scientific research.

I warmly greet the observational astronomers and the theorists in gravitational physics and cosmology who have accepted the invitation to take part in this important meeting. It is a joy to welcome you today, together with the members of your families.

2. Through the natural sciences, and cosmology in particular, we have become much more aware of our true physical position within the universe, within physical reality - in space and in time. We are struck very forcibly by our smallness and apparent insignificance, and even more by our vulnerability in such a vast and seemingly hostile environment. Yet this universe of ours, this galaxy in which our sun is situated and this planet on which we live, is our home. And all of it in some way or other serves to support us, nourish us, fascinate us, inspire us, taking us out of ourselves and forcing us to look far beyond the limits of our unaided vision. What we discover through our study of nature and of the universe in all its immensity and rich variety serves on the one hand to emphasize our fragile condition and our littleness, and on the other hand to manifest clearly our greatness and superiority in the midst of all creation - the profoundly exalted position we enjoy in being able to search, to imagine and to discover so much. We are made in the image and likeness of God. Thus, we are capable of knowing and understanding more and more about the universe and all that it contains. We can reach out and grasp its inner workings and designs, plumbing its depths with questioning reverence and with awestruck imagination.

3. This Conference, I have been told, has as one of its principal focuses the determination of the inherent limitations of cosmology’s competency and its observational verifiability - the limits in principle and in practice of the scientific verification of its theoretical products. With a gradual and constant growth in humble self-knowledge, we are able to avoid the extremes of an inflated evaluation of our own abilities and capacities or a disparagingly narrow and superficial one. And that is true of any disciple or field of study. A sound appreciation of both our limitations and strong points enables us to plan our projects carefully, to maintain proper relationships with the material, personal and divine realities, and to become ever more sensitive to all the valuable information which is available to us through modern science.

4. The more we know about physical reality, about the history and structure of the universe, about the fundamental make-up of matter and the processes and patterns which at the roots of the material world, the more we can appreciate the immensity of the mystery of God, the more we are in a position to grasp the mystery of ourselves - our origin and our destiny. For creation, as we have come to know it, speaks to us in fragmentary yet very true reflections of the God who created it and maintains it in existence. Of course, that picture must always remain tantalizingly incomplete. For certain aspects of our lives rise above and move beyond the material dimension and, while having deep roots in the material, surpass the understanding which the natural sciences are capable of providing. They draw our attention to the realm of the Spirit. The human creations of art and poetry, our longing for justice and peace and for wholeness, indeed all genuine human experience, lead us to recognize that there is an interiority in the universe and particularly in human life, an interiority which cannot simply be reduced to the features of reality which the physical and natural sciences are concerned with. There are certainly important and essential contributions to be made by the sciences, directly and indirectly, to these more interior or spiritual characteristics of reality. Indeed such contributions must be made, but their investigation and study demands other complementary methods and disciplines such as those provided by the arts, the humanities, philosophy and theology. These in turn must become aware of their own essential competencies and limitations.

5. Much of what modern astronomy and cosmology investigate does not find direct application via technology. Yet it makes a vitally important contribution. For it helps us, at the very least, to put ourselves and everything else into a larger perspective, encouraging us to move beyond our own narrow and selfish concerns. Our view of ourselves, of God and of the universe is radically different from that of people in the Middle Ages. We see ourselves situated in a much larger context - in a much more vast and much more intricately, even delicately, complex world and universe.

For the first time we have seen ourselves from outside - from the Moon, and from other vantage points in our solar system. And with that startling perspective, we realize that we must be more responsible for ourselves, our neighbours, our institutions, and our planet, whatever may be our nation, religion or political stance. We realize ever more deeply our smallness and our frailty, but at the same time our grandeur. We feel more inclined to say together with the Psalmist of the Old Testament: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands” (Ps. 19 (18), 1.
Judge for yourselves.

I find particle physics to be a spiritual high. We have looked into the grounds of matter and found a seemingly fixed universe emerging out of an amazingly connected potentiality and flux.

Update: Sanity breaks out on a DU thread which begins just as you would expect. Watch the flow:
6. Fucking church

Okay, this is the last of it, then.

I no longer respect religion. At all.

This does it.
19. well its the headline of the article its not necesarly forcefull, the 'direcivie' is actually pretty confusing (as are most things with the Pope for me)

Just what the hell is this supposed to mean? "It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not enquire into the beginning itelf because that was the moment of creation and the work of God."

So its OK to study the beginning of the universe, but we can't enquire into it? Huh?

27. you picked up on what I did, that the statement is confusing at best.

since the statement was confusing, I found it odd to characterize it as a directive.

I am not sure, but it almost sounds like a misquote, that the pope meant to say:

"It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we cannot not enquire into the beginning itelf because that was the moment of creation and the work of God."

it almost seems to me he was making the point that the actual moment of creation is unknowable through empirical means. But I'm only guessing, because it IS very confusing.

40. Your interpretation seems correct to me. n/t
31. It is not even the Pope's opinion - Hawking was just selling Atheism
51. Steven Hawking is not an atheist more like a deist
57. Then he has changed - because he was an atheist in 81 through 00

Indeed his pathetic over use of the anthropomorphic principle to sell his atheism in the 90's was later apologized for by Hawking (the anthropomorphic principle is both real and very weak logic as it explains nothing and excuses everything - it is lousy science).

The Fun thing is to watch each generation of physicists redo the same illogical task of disproving God. There is a discussion on DU of a fellow that tried to joke about there being no need for God because the size of matter needed to start a universe is so small we could be the result of some other universes high school lab experiment in someones petri dish. Beyond the obvious "petri dish" question, the equally obvious fact that he is into "a Creator must create the creator" non-logic that is rejected by the faithful is not discussed in reviews of his recent article. And there is a good reason for this. His throw away comment does not diminish the fact that his theory of banes and dimensions and string theory is a major accomplishment.

So we take him at his word that he was joking, and note that nerds and geeks tell lousy jokes.

There will be enough time later to point out the obvious lack of logic in the joke if he later wants to claim there is some logic in his joke.

It becomes ever harder to resist the siren song of science as religion. Although this speech is an exception, I often have trouble comprehending all the wisdom jammed into JPII's writings - here, he seems to be trying to light a very narrow path that allows us to embrace what we are able to study and perceive in the natural world while holding fast to the concept that we are spiritual beings first.

It's actually a very tough assignment - one I think we haven't quite the maturity to handle yet. Unfortunately, our growth isn't helped by human ego or simple and suspicious characterizations of the Church and its motivations.
I'm disappointed in Hawking.

If he can so cavalierly misrepresent what was said, I have to wonder what else he might have misprepresented.
I just read some of the DU thread and laughed out loud at the comment asking if this wasn't related to the reason that "BushCo abandoned Hubble"...

as they say in Ireland, that's good crack!
SC&A - I was very surprised too. I didn't know quite what to make of it when I saw the article, which is why I went and hunted up the speech. Then I was disappointed.

The first clue, of course, that something was wrong with Hawkins' representation was the fact that the Vatican was holding a scientific conference at all. Then to find out they have founded their own observatory!
Anniebird, you wrote:
"Unfortunately, our growth isn't helped by human ego"

I think JPII was commenting on exactly that - that both science and religion have the potential to direct us outside of our own narrowness and release us from the almighty ego, at least in part. Contemplating reality does that, whether it is the reality of God or the reality of matter.

I included the DU thread because it was funny, it showed DU in a pretty good light, and because it sort of demonstrates JPII's point, especially the poster who replied that Hawkins had had to apologize for over-anthromorphizing astrophysics theories.

Both science and faith are harmed when we impose our own selfish interests on them. Both freed into creative power when we do the opposite - when we observe reality without demanding that reality conform to our desires.
In our home, we have to balance belief with science. My husband is a deist, not particularly Christian in orientation, and vehemently against any religion in the discussion of science. Since we homeschool, finding a secular yet not textbooky science curriculum has been hard. We discovered Noeo, written by a man whose faith is apparent from his website. The balance that we (and the author) have come to is that when you search for scientific truth, if you allow yourself to see clearly, you just might find Truth. While religion & religious views should not limit scientific theory, if what I believe is Truth, science will eventually agree.

That is, if the religious views of the scientists don't limit their theories.

Shame on Hawking.
I for one do not take Anti-Semitism lightly. Many of you look down upon my people, and also you refuse to use the metric system. This does not go unnoticed.
Rabbi - I plead guilty on the metric issue. We are a mixed household - Chief No-Nag is a metric guy and I am a traditionalist. Only reason and tolerance can make such a relationship work!

As to the anti-Semitism, it is a rising and very troubling tide. It's almost as if the extremes of the left and right have made a pact....

Carson, Chief No-Nag is both a scientist and a believer. His faith and his scientific work are founded on the same basis - experimentation and rigorous honesty in the recording of the results. He is absolutely convinced that God exists, because he says that whenever you pray for help to do something you must do in order to avoid harming others, you always get it. He commented to me the other day once more that this is an experiment that anyone can run, but that most of us don't because we don't have enough integrity to even honestly conduct the experiment, much less accept the results.

I haven't shown Chief No-Nag JP II's speech, but he will absolutely understand the point about not asserting knowledge without the ability to factually assess the hypothesis. It's fine to hypothesize; it is a fundamental violation of scientific method to then claim that the hypothesis has some greater weight than another.
I am sure that something is being misquoted or misrepresented here.

Hawking has long credited the Catholic church with supporting his work and the science of physicists.

Something is wrong with the story.
Dingo - I suppose it's possible that reporters totally misrepresented what Hawkins said. I don't know, but I can imagine that.
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