Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wise Words from Pope Benedict

I want to record a passage from a small book I picked up at the library today, "Questions and Answers", by Pope Benedict XVI. It contains a section whereby youth ask questions pertaining to the practice of faith in their lives.

A 17-year-old asks:

We are often led to believe that knowledge and faith are each other's enemies; that knowledge and technology are the same thing; that it was through mathematical logic that everything was discovered; that the world is the result of an accident, and that if mathematics did not discover the theorem - God, it is because God simply does not exist. ... What can I do to harmonize knowledge and faith?

Pope Benedict responds:

The Great Galileo said that God wrote the book of nature in the form of the language of mathematics. He was convinced that God had given us two books: the book of Sacred Scripture and the book of nature. And the language of nature - this was his conviction - is mathematics, so it s a language of God, a language of the Creator.

Let us now reflect now that mathematics is: In itself, it is an abstract system, an invention of the human spirit that as such in its purity does not exist. It is always approximated, but as such is an intellectual system, a great, ingenious invention of the human spirit.

The surprising thing is that this invention of our human intellect is truly the key to understanding nature, that nature is truly structured in a mathematical way, and that our mathematics, invented by our human mind, is truly the instrument for working with nature, to put it at our service, to use it through technology.

It seems to me almost incredible that an invention of the human mind and the structure of the universe coincide. Mathematics, which we invented, really gives us access to the nature of the universe and makes it possible for us to use it.

This is a wonderfully articulate expression of how scientific discovery should actually reinforce the sense of wonder and awe associated with God, as He comes shrouded in mystery. It is incredible how we've been able to realize a structure underneath the chaos on the surface; that we may not be capable of creating laws, but that we are able to extract them from what already exists. And we are free to choose how we employ them.

The Pope adds one more important insight into his analysis of the relationship between knowledge and faith:

Therefore, the intellectual structure of the human subject and the objective structure of reality coincide: The subjective reason and the objective reason of nature are identical. I think that this coincidence between what we thought up and how nature is fulfilled and behaves is a great enigma and a great challenge, for we see that, in the end, it is 'one' reason that links them both.

One reason could not discover this other reason were there not an identical antecedent reason for both.

In this sense, it really seems to me that mathematics - in which as such God cannot appear - shows us the intelligent structure of the universe. Now, there are also theories of chaos, but they are limited because if chaos had the upper hand, all technology would become impossible. Only because our mathematics is reliable, is technology reliable.

Our knowledge, which is at last making it possible to work with the energies of nature, supposes the reliable and intelligent structure of matter. Thus, we see that there is a subjective rationality and an objectified rationality in matter that coincide.

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