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Pope urges scientists ‘never to fear truth’

The Rev. Emmanuel Carreira operates the telescope at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, on June 23, 2005. The Vatican Observatory, one of the world's oldest astronomical institutes, selects young, promising scholars for courses at the papal summer palace. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Tony Gentile

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis told a group of astronomers that scientific questions about the universe and its origins sometimes clash with theology and spiritual beliefs, but he encouraged them to continue their quest for knowledge and “never to fear truth.”

The pope sent a personal greeting on Friday (May 12) to astronomers, cosmologists and other researchers discussing black holes, gravitational waves and assorted scientific questions at the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome. 

Francis said issues such as the beginning of the universe and its development, as well as the “profound structure” of space and time “concern us deeply.” 

The Vatican Observatory near Rome in 2014. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Victor R. Ruiz

“It is clear that these questions have a particular relevance for science, philosophy, theology and for spiritual life,” the pope said. 

“They represent an arena in which these different disciplines meet and sometimes clash.”

The 35 conference participants included Gerald ‘t Hooft, the 1999 Nobel laureate in physics from the Netherlands, British mathematician Sir Roger Penrose, who won the 1988 Wolf Prize in Physics and Renata Kallosh, a theoretical physicist and professor  at Stanford University.

“I encourage you to persevere in your search for truth,” the pope said. “For we ought never to fear truth, nor become trapped in our own preconceived ideas, but welcome new scientific discoveries with an attitude of humility.”

Brother Guy Consolmagno, the MIT-educated, Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, said on Monday that faith and science are not opposed to each other.

“God is not a scientific explanation,” Consolmagno told RNS. “If you are using God instead of science to explain what happens in the world you are talking about the gods of the Romans and Greeks.

“We believe in a God that creates outside space and time and shows us everything he did. We experience God as a person, as a god of love.”

The Vatican Observatory was established by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 to show that the church supported science. The weeklong conference was held in honor of the Belgian Catholic priest and cosmologist,  Monsignor Georges Lemaitre, who is credited with the big-bang theory about the creation of the universe.

A DNA strand next to the title of the series.These stories are part of a series on science and religion, brought to you with support from the John Templeton Foundation. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. (RNS logo, John Templeton Foundation logo}

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

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