[The speech that started the discussion, ‘DISCORSO DI SUA SANTITÀ BENEDETTO XVI AI PARTECIPANTI ALL'ASSEMBLEA PLENARIA DELLA CONGREGAZIONE PER LA DOTTRINA DELLA FEDE’, is available in Italian.]
I’d like to address the first issue – the compatibility of Roman Catholicism and scientific thought.
Firstly, Peter, the easy position is that if the Pontiff claims that Roman Catholicism and science are compatible then they are, due to pontifical infallibility (the Pontiff is infallible on theological matters; within limits now-days). It is an easy position, but can be set aside for the purposes of this discussion.
Secondly, the more complex theological position (as I understand it, and considerably oversimplified). Drawing from the non-literal interpretation of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that is current in Roman Catholic theology, science has been assumed into the Roman Catholic worldview. (You have to remember that this is the Church that hosted and canonised Aquinas, Anselm, and Abelard, and that gives the Jesuits the capacity to build large radio telescopes. It is also the Church whose spiritual leader was well aware that Galileo was right about planetary motion at the time of excommunicating him.) To clarify, in a series of pontifical encyclicals, the Church has adapted doctrine to accord and accept scientific development/discovery. For example, a theologically acceptable version of Darwinian evolution is now taken as part of Church teaching, with the opening of ‘Genesis’ being viewed as a creation myth used to explain the process of how the world and its populations came to be. Further, there are no points of difference between Church teaching and current physics. In this theological system, God is relegated to the purely metaphysical – a figure outside the scope of possible scientific knowledge. It is within this framework that the Church position on miracles – an issue debated here last year – holds that a miracle is something that cannot be explained by rational and sceptical science.
The basic point is that the Roman Catholic Church is prepared to accept any position that is considered scientifically acceptable. The point of difference is that Roman Catholic dogma postulates the existence of God, and insists that this deity exists outside the realm of the scientifically knowable.
[I probably should have stated up-front that it has been a good few years since I dealt with any of the relevant material, so I’m far from infallible on these points. Further, should anyone feel like really engaging on this topic – you know to whom I refer – you might want to spend some time reading the various encyclicals and doctrinal documents prepared on the relationship between science and Roman Catholicism before you comment, but I – personally – think that none of the regular contributors to this blog are in any position to treat this particular issue at the moment. I am even prepared, having dealt with the topic to this extent, to say that to go further is beyond me – and I, of us all, should know the material having been educated in Catholic schools.]
Post Script; His Holiness is actually trying to extricate himself from involvement in the Intelligent Design debate. He made comments last year that were viewed – by some commentators – as being out of sync with the position articulated by his predecessors and which were criticised accordingly. Essentially, he made a comment that, translated into English, could have been taken as a support of ID, which was seen as challenging the acceptance of evolution. Further, the Pontiff is in no position to relieve the pressure in the states; ID is a Christian issue, NOT a Catholic one. As I’ve pointed to, Catholics are pro-evolution.