The human sciences and faith
We are living an intense moment of reflection on subjects related to human life, scientific research, biotechnologies, etc. A period of the advent of the humanities. Scientific advances, in many areas, give rise to ethical, religious and legal debates. The various sectors of public, judicial, religious, scientific and private power are mobilized in this debate. The human sciences continually increase the knowledge of individuals and human societies. This situation brings with it great problems and also great possibilities for coexistence and human survival.
Within this scenario of the great advance of the sciences, in the various fields, the questions that confront the scientifically possible and the ethically permissible will be more and more frequent.“Science and technology, precious resources of man when placed in his service and promote his integral development for the benefit of all, can not indicate alone the meaning of human existence and progress.” A key point highlighted by the Donum Vitae instruction , in the beginning, is the danger of “taking possession of one’s own destiny” and yielding to “the temptation to go beyond the limits of a reasonable domain of nature.” 1
Faith and reason
The public debate is of great importance because the Church herself understands the need for clarification on the relation of the Word of God (the Bible) with the various sciences, that is, of faith with reason . The competence of the community to decide on the directions of the sciences should not be left only to scientists and politicians. The whole humanity must have its instances of participation.
One of the sectors most involved in this debate, and which receives more criticism is the Catholic Church. The Church is criticized by people and sectors of the community claiming dogmatism, imposition, arbitrariness, disrespect for freedom, intention to dominate the state. Many claim that the state is secular, so the Church should not “intrude”, and the Bible has nothing to say. After all, does the Bible say anything?
The Bible is not a science book, but it presents us with ethical-religious principles that illuminate the activities of the sciences. The Church in the light of the Word of God defends what we call the “natural law,” a law established by God by the order of creation, inscribed in the heart of man and always saying “do good and avoid evil .” Regardless of culture or the historical epoch, any action or law that contradicts God’s will written in the Bible is never lawful. The English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) went so far as to say, “A little science drives a man from God, but a great deal of science leads to God.” Science that is in dialogue with the Word of God manages to acquire the truth of knowledge with honest and lawful conclusions about life.
The sciences are at the service of humanity
When the Bible reports some “seemingly scientific” facts, it is not in its interest to be science, but to value reason, the intelligence of man. It will always give directions for actions in defense of the person and creation. It is necessary, on the part of the sciences, to have an attitude of humility to dialogue with the Bible and to recognize its limits. As the Catholic Magisterium points out, “not everything that is technically possible or achievable is ethically acceptable.” 2 The Church, inspired by the Word of God , has always expressed appreciation for the sciences and seeks in these, rational grounds for one’s faith, in the desire to integrate rational “evidences” and believing “convictions”.
Focusing on the relationship between the Bible and the sciences is to understand salvation in its entirety according to the Second Vatican Council: “It is the human person who must be saved. It is human society that must be renewed. It is, therefore, man considered in his unity and totality, body and soul, heart and consciousness, intelligence and will. “ 3
We affirm that scientific and technological progress serves the good of all mankind and its benefits can not be placed in favor of only a few. The sciences are at the service of humanity . Through the progress of the sciences and conformity to the plan of God, man contributes to the work of creation.As Pope John Paul II says, in order to avoid a “tragic division” between “humanist-literary-theological and scientific culture” and “encourage a greater dialogue between the Church, community of believers and the scientific community,” underlines the “pressing need for humanism”.
God entrusted man with the care of His creation
God created the world, also having consequently created human beings capable of participating in His creation. Thomas Aquinas states: “Since it is said that human beings were made in the image of God by virtue of having a nature that includes an intellect, such nature is in the image of God above all by virtue of being the one who can most imitate God “(ST Ia q 93, 4). The sciences, in respect to the natural law, law established by God, enables the human being this participation.
In the beginning of the Bible, God presents Himself as the Supreme Creator: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1: 1) revealing the biblical idea of creationex nihilo (from nothing) and the actions developed by the Creator, to prepare the earth to produce and sustain life, entrusting to man the continuation of His creative work. For this reason, the Church has always had a great appreciation for the sciences, because the human being, “the only creature that God desired for himself”, 4 is the image and likeness of a God who created the world out of love and entrusted to man the care of creation in a responsible way, in the logic of gratuitousness, of love, of service, and not of dominion and arrogance.
The Catholic Magisterium affirms: “The man of today, considered both individually and collectively, is confronted each day with delicate moral problems that the development of the human sciences on the one hand and the globalization of communications, on the other hand, they constantly put into question, to the point that convicted believers also have the impression that some certainties of old are nullified. Think only of the different ways of approaching the ethics of violence , terrorism, war, immigration, sharing of wealth, respect for natural resources, life, work, sexuality, research in the genetic field, family or community life. Faced with this complex problem, in recent decades there may have been a temptation in moral theology to marginalize, in whole or in part, Scripture. What to do when the Bible does not give complete answers? And how to integrate the biblical data, when to elaborate a moral discourse on such questions it is necessary to resort to the lights of theological reflection, reason and science? This will now be our project. “ 5
The Church must not judge a priori the possible developments of the advances of the sciences, but maintain a constant dialogue with the scientific world in order to find out the possibilities, dangers and limits of this new stage that unfolds in the history of humanity. Therefore, there must be a kind of ethical surveillance in the technical-scientific sphere, with the intention of inhibiting any science that threatens or violates human dignity.
This does not mean, however, to impede scientific advancement in areas that will bring clear benefits to humanity. The Church, in the light of the Bible, must be attentive to the need to defend life in general and also the individualized life of each human being, with its own characteristics; to fight any and all science that directly injures life.
It is up to the Church to ensure that the benefits derived from the various sciences are not limited to a small portion of the privileged, but are within the reach of all humanity. The attitude of the Church is, and must always be, grounded in the Bible, to denounce with courage, frankness (parresia) every threat to life, everything contrary to the law established by God. The Church, aware of the Divine plan present in the Bible and conscious of her mission, is committed to defending the life that is hurt, attacked by a society that threatens it.
1 CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH. Donum Vitae: On the Respect to the nascent human life and the dignity of the procreation. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1987, Intr., 1.
2 CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH. Donum Vitae: On the Respect to the nascent human life and the dignity of the procreation. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1987, p.16.
3 CONC. ECUM. VATICAN II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, n. 3.
4 Cf. CONC. ECUM. VATICAN II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, n. 24.
5 PONTIFICAL BIBLICAL COMMISSION. Bible and Moral: Biblical Roots of Christian Action. São Paulo: Paulinas, 2009, n. 92.