Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Mystery of Human Beings

~Yesterday, the Holy Father addressed academics in a joint meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Academie des Sciences de Paris. The only text available yesterday was in French which I slogged through. Here CNA reports:
In our time, the Pope told the scholars, "the exact sciences, both natural and human, have made prodigious advances in their understanding of man and his universe". However at the same time "there is a strong temptation to circumscribe human identity and enclose it with the limits of what is known.”

“In order to avoid going down this path,” the Pontiff said, “it is important not to ignore anthropological, philosophical and theological research, which highlight and maintain the mystery of human beings, because no science can say who they are, where they come from and where they go. The knowledge of human beings is then, the most important of all forms of knowledge".

"Human beings always stand beyond what can be scientifically seen or perceived", the Pope affirmed. This failure manifests itself today in “an incapacity to recognize the foundation upon which human dignity rests, from the embryo until natural death," said the Pope.

"Starting from the question of the new being, who is produced by a fusion of cells and who bears a new and specific genetic heritage", the Holy Father told his audience, "you have highlighted certain essential elements in the mystery of man". Man, said the Pope is "characterized by his otherness. He is a being created by God, a being in the image of God, a being who is loved and is made to love. As a human he is never closed within himself. He is always a bearer of otherness and, from his origins, is in interaction with other human beings".

Contrary to the Darwinian concept of man, Pope Benedict said that “man is not the result of mere chance, of converging circumstances, of determinism, of chemical inter-reactions.”

Man is a being who enjoys a freedom which ... transcends his nature and is a sign of the mystery of otherness that dwells within him. ... This freedom, which is characteristic of human beings, means they can guide their lives to a goal" and "highlights how man's existence has a meaning. In the exercise of his authentic freedom, the individual realizes his vocation, he is fulfilled and gives form to his deepest identity".
Here's another citation from Westchester Institute on a series of reflections on Pope Benedict's Christianity and the Crisis of Culture
What happens to our culture when the vast majority of people become accustomed to thinking about the human as a product, as one more potential artifact to be produced by human ingenuity? In Benedict's opinion, what happens is that we descend from understanding ourselves as being created in the image of God, to understanding ourselves as being made in our own image . The Holy Father continues:
All this demonstrates that the growth of our possibilities is not matched by an equal development of our moral energy. Moral strength has not grown in tandem with the development of science; on the contrary, it has diminished, because the technological mentality confines morality to the subjective sphere. Our need, however, is for a public morality, a morality capable of responding to the threats that impose such a burden on the existence of us all. The true gravest danger of the present moment is precisely this imbalance between technological possibilities and moral energy (p. 27, emphasis my own).
It is no secret that persons who espouse what Benedict calls a "technological mentality" will almost by default relegate moral discourse and the whole broad enterprise of ethical consideration to the realm of the utterly subjective. Recourse to that realm-so the idea goes-may have its usefulness (things like religious sentiment and moral consideration can give us a helpful psychological boost from time to time), but it is otherwise utterly unempirical, essentially irrational, and entirely skewed by one's tastes and preferences. It is certainly not the stuff of science, and morality-like religion-is best kept out of the public square. Such an attitude, the Pope says, is perilous. Why? Because scientific advancement and the progress of human knowledge untethered from sustained and rigorous moral reflection will eventually implode on itself and society. A culture's "moral energy" - the stamina to ask hard, probing questions, to insist on the reasonable limits of scientific endeavor, to uphold the inviolable dignity of human life from conception to natural end-must keep apace with the advancement of scientific endeavor. And it must do so, not to squash that progress, not to impede science or "stand in the way of cures", but precisely to assure that science successfully achieves its genuine goals-without destroying humanity in the process.

Such an attitude is not "medieval"; it is, rather, based on a cursory glance at history, and a probing understanding of the human person and human weakness-precisely the kind of considerations from which the contemporary scientific mindset must never abstract itself. Researchers are human beings capable of moral failure or moral greatness. Whenever we touch the human in the laboratory, there are necessarily far-reaching questions that must be answered on the moral plain. Scientists, researchers, those engaged in healthcare-all would do well to strive to be sound moralists as well. But as Benedict notes, the disconnect today between the two realms of science and morality is considerable-dangerously so.

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