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MONKS AND MERMAIDS (A Benedictine Blog): AN ADVENT REFLECTION by Father Raniero Cantalamessa o.f.m. Cap.
MONDAY, 6 DECEMBER 2010
AN ADVENT REFLECTION by Father Raniero Cantalamessa o.f.m. Cap.
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 4, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the Advent reflection delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, for Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia. The talk was titled: "The Christian Answer to Atheist Scientistism."
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"When I look at thy heavens, the moon and the stars, what is man?" (Psalm 8:4-5)
The Christian Answer to Atheist Scientism
The three meditations of this 2010 Advent are a small contribution to the need of the Church which led the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, to institute the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and to choose as the theme of the next ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops the topic "Nova evangelizatio ad cristianam fidem tradendam" -- the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith.
The intention is to single out some background nodes or obstacles which make many countries of ancient Christian tradition "immune" to the evangelical message, as the Holy Father says in the motu proprio with which he instituted the new Council. The nodes and challenges that I intend to take into consideration and to which I will seek to give an answer of faith are scientism, secularism and rationalism. The Apostle Paul would call them "the bulwarks and fortresses that rise against the knowledge of God" (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4).
In this first meditation we will examine scientism. To understand what is meant by this term we can begin with the description made of it by John Paul II: "Another danger is scientism; this philosophic conception refuses in fact to admit as valid ways of knowing different from those that are proper to the positive sciences, relegating to the confines of mere imagination either religious conscience and theology, or ethical and aesthetic learning." We can summarize the main texts of this current of thought thus:
First thesis. Science, and in particular cosmology, physics and biology, are the only objective and serious ways of knowing reality. "Modern societies are built upon science. They owe it their wealth, their power, and the certitude that tomorrow far greater wealth and power still will be ours if we so wish .... Armed with all the powers, enjoying all the riches they owe to science, our societies are still trying to live by and to teach systems of values already blasted at the roots by science itself."
Second thesis. This way of knowing is incompatible with faith that is based on assumptions which are neither demonstrable or falsifiable. In this line the militant atheist R. Dawkins goes so far as to define as "illiterate" those scientists who profess themselves believers, forgetting how many scientists, much more famous than he, have declared themselves and continue to declare themselves believers.
Third thesis. Science has demonstrated the falsehood, or at least the lack of necessity of the theory of God. It is the affirmation which has been greatly highlighted by the world's media in past months, because of an affirmation of English astro-physicist Stephen Hawkins. The latter, as opposed to what he had written previously in his last book "The Grand Design," maintains that the knowledge attained by physics now renders useless belief in a creative divinity of the universe: "Spontaneous creation is the reason why something exists."
Fourth thesis. Almost the totality, or at least the great majority of scientists are atheists. This is the affirmation of militant scientific atheism which has in Richard Dawkins, the author of the book God's Delusion, its most active propagator.
All these thesis reveal themselves to be false, not on the basis of a priori reasoning or of theological arguments or arguments of faith, but from the analysis itself of the results of science and of the opinions of many among the most illustrious scientists of the past and present. A scientists of the caliber of Max Planck, founder of the quantum theory, says of science, what Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Kierkegaard and others affirmed of reason: "Science leads to a point beyond which it can no longer guide."
I do not insist on the refutation of the theses enunciated that has been done, with far greater competence, by scientists and philosophers of science. I mention, for example, the specific criticism of Roberto Timossi, in the book "The Illusion of Atheism: Why Science Does Not Deny God," which includes the presentation of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (Saint Paul Publishers, 2009). I limit myself to an elementary observation. In the week that the media published the mentioned affirmation, according to which science has rendered useless the theory of a creator, I found myself in the need, in the Sunday homily, to explain to very simple Christians, in a town of the Reatino, where the background error of the atheist scientists rests and why they should not allow themselves be impressed by the outburst sparked by that affirmation. I did so with an example that perhaps it would be useful to repeat also here, in such a different context.
It is exactly what the atheist scientist does when he says: "God doesn't exist." He judges a world he does not know, applies his laws to an object that is beyond their scope. To see God one must open a different eye, one must venture outside the night. In this connection, still valid is the ancient affirmation of the Psalmist "The fool says: there is no God."
 St. Gregory Nazianzus, "Discorsi teologici," III, 19 (PG 36, 100A).