Holy Father gives a 6,000-word survey on modern trends
IN a remarkable address last week to the Papal Academy
of Science, the Holy Father showed how the discoveries of the world's most up-to-date and skilful scientists are continually confirming the existence of God the Creator of all things, and leading mankind, by reason and demonstration, to accept the eternal truths of the Christian religion.
" True science, according to the measure of its progress—and contrary to affirmations in the past —is discovering God in an ever increasing degree," declared His Holiness, " as though God were waiting behind every door opened by science."
The Holy Father—who appears to have addressed the gathering of Cardinals, Bishops and scientists, Catholic and non-Catholic. without the aid of a mantiscripl—has astonished a great number of people by the great sweep of his survey of modern scientific knowledge.
He showed himself familiar with the latest results of nuclear fission, and ranged far and wide over theories—drawn from astronomy and astrophysics about the age of the earth, biology, and the laws of entrophy. The 6,000-word address recalled the celebrated speech which His Holiness made to the Academy in 1943, when he warned of the menace of atomic weapons over two years before Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atom-bombed.
The scientific view that the earth is some 5.000,000,000 years old — a view based on the age of the earth's crust, on the age of meteorites and on the movement of galaxies and stellar messes—drew this comment from the Pope.
" Although these figures may seem astounding. yet even to the simplest
of the faithful they bring no new or different concept from the one they learnt in the opening words of Genesis: ' In the beginning . . That is to say, at the beginning of things in time. " The figures we have quoted clothe these words in a concrete and almost mathematical expression.
while from them there emerges a new source of consolation for those who
share the esteem of the Apostle for that divinely inspired Scripture, which is always useful ' for teaching, for reproving. for correcting, for instructing*"
It was as a philosopher. armed with the complete array of relevant scientific knowledge. that the Holy
Father set out to re-examine the two arguments for God"s existence based
on " the mutability of things " and " the teleogical order which stands out in every corner of the cosmos." He mentioned physics, astronomy and biology as branches of science with special contributions to make. Chemico-physical changes in the world around us as well as the" local movement of bodies " are facts of common experience. he said. and apply equally to the solar system.
But in the " microcosm " (the atom) the same laws of mutability obtain. And the Pope recalled that a century ago elementary particles of matter were regarded as " simple. indivisible and indestructible," a theory shattered soon by " the growing knowledge of the periodic system of chemical elements, the discovery of the corpuscular radiations of radioactive elements and many other similar facts."
Electronic research, said His Holiness, establishes conclusively the mutability of the microcosm, and finally, attempts to break down the atomic nucleus were successful " hardly more than three decades ago." He added: " It is only in recent years that, by bringing into play tremendous forces, it has been possible to produce very numerous processes involving the formation and breaking down of nuclei."
Then, with the latest results of nuclear fission and atomic development in mind, the Pope went on:
" Although this result, which in so far as it contributes to the cause of peace is certainly to be inscribed among the glories of our century, represents in the field of practical nuclear physics no more than a preliminary step, nevertheless it provides for our consideration an important conclusion.
" This is that atomic nuclei are indeed, by many orders of magnitude, more firm and stable than ordinary chemical compositions, they are still in principle subject to similar laws of transformation and are therefore mutable."
The same process is at work, said the Holy Father. in the sun and the fixed stars. And these "few examples" are sufficient to show the "explicit mutability of the inorganic world, large and small."
For this reason, " the scientist of today. directing his gaze more deeply into the heart of nature than his predecessor of a hundred years ago, knows well that inorganic matter is. so to speak. in its innermost being countersigned with the stamp of immutability. Consequently its existence and its sub-existence demand a reality entirely different and one which by its very nature is invariable.
"Just as in a picture done in chiaroscuro, the figures stand out against a background of darkness, and only in this way achieve the full effect of form and life, so also the image of the Eternally Immutable Being emerges, clear and resplendent, from the torrent which snatches up and carries off with itself all the material things of the macrocosm and microcosm in an intrinsic mutability which knows no pause.
" The scientist who stops on the bank of this immense torrent finds reality in that cry of truth with which God defined Himself : ' I Am Who Am '."
The law of entropy, which reoog
nises that the processes of nature are accompanied by a lessening of " free and utilisable energy," in the same way postulates the existence of God both in regard to bodies and to atoms.
" If the scientist turns his attention from the present state of the universe to the future," said the Pope, " even the very remote future. I he finds himself forced to recognise both in the macrocosm and the microcosm that the world is growing old.
" In the course of a billion years. even the apparently inexhaustihle quantities of atomic nuclei lost utilisable energy and, so to speak, matter becomes like an extinct and score form volcano.
" And the thought comes spontaneously that if this present cosmos, today so pulsating with rhythm and life. is—as we have seen—insufficient to explain itself. with still less reason will any such explanation be forthcoming from the cosmos over which. in its own way. the shadow of death will have passed."
" Let us now turn our attention to the past. The further back we go, the more matter presents itself as always more enriched with free energy, and as a theatre of vast cosmic disturbances.
" Thus everything seems to indicate that the material universe had in finite times a mighty beginning, provided as it was with an indescribably vast abundance of energy reserves, in virtue of which, at first rapidly and then with increasing slowness, it evolved into its present state.
" This naturally brings to mind two questions: Is science in a position to state when this mighty beginning of the cosmos tookplace? And secondly. what was the initial or primitive state of the universe'? " The most competent experts in atomic physics, in collaboration with astronomers and astrophysicists, have attempted to shed light on these two difficult but extremely interesting problems.
" First of all, to quote some figures —which aim at nothing else than to give an order of magnitude fixing the dawn of our universe. that is to say, to its beginning in time—science has at its disposal various means, each of which is more or less independent of the other. although all converge. We point them out briefly.
1. Recession of the spiral nebulae or galaxies :
" The examination of various spiral nebulae. especially as carried out by Edwin W. Hubble at the Mount Wilson Observatory, has led to the significant conclusion, presented with all due reservations, that these systems of galaxies tend to move away from one another with such velocity that, in the space of thirteen hundred million years, the distance between such spiral nebulae is doubled.
" If we look hack into the past at the time required for this process of the ' Expanding Universe.' it follows that, from one to ten billion years ago, the matter of the spiral nebulae was compressed into a relatively restricted space, at the time the cosmic processes had their beginning.
2. The age of the solid crust of the earth :
"To calculate the age of original radioactive substances, very approximate data are taken from the transformation of the isotope of Uranium 238 into an isotope of lead (RaG). or of an isotope of Uranium 235 into actinium D (AcD), and of the isotope of thorium 232 into thorium D (ThD). The mass of the helium thereby formed can serve as a means of control. This leads to the conclusion that the average age of the oldest minerals is at the most five billion years.
3. The age of meteorites :
" The preceding method adopted to determine the age of meteorites has led to practically the same figure of five billion years. This conclusion assumes special importance from the fact that today the inter-stellar origin of meteorites is generally admitted by all.
4. The stability of the systems of double stars and starry masses:
" The oscillations of gravitation between these systems, as also the attrition resulting from tides, again limit their stability within a period of from five to ten billion years.
" In addition to the question of the age of the cosmos," continued the Holy Father, " scholars have, with similar earnestness and liberty of research and verification, turned their daring genius to the other problem which has already been mentioned and which is certainly more difficult, concerning the state and quality of primitive matter."
When a mind enlightened and
enriched with modern scientific knowledge weighs this problem calmly. said the Holy Father, " it feels drawn to break through the circle of completely independent or autoethonous matter, whether uncreated or self-created, and to ascend to a creating Spirit.
" With the same clear and critical approach with which it examines and passes judgment on facts, it perceives and recognises the work of creative omnipotence, whose power, set in motion by the mighty Fiat pronounced billions of years ago by the Creating Spirit, spread out over the universe, calling into existence with a gesture of generous love matter bursting with energy.
In fact it would seem that presentday science, with one sweeping step back across millions of centuries, has succeeded in hearing witness to that primordial Fiat lux uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothlnK a sea of light and radiation. while the particles of chemical elements split and formed into millions of galaxies.
" It is quite true that the facts established up to the present time are not an absolute proof of creation in time, as are the proofs drawn from metaphysics and Revelation in what concerns simple creation, or those founded on Revelation if there be question of creation in time.
" I he pertinent facts of the natural sciences, to which we have referred, and the theories founded on them are in need of further development and proof before they can provide a sure foundation for arguments which, of themselves, are outside the proper sphere of the natural sciences.
"This notwithstanding, it is worthy of note that modern scholars in these fields regard the idea of the creation of the universe as entirely compatible with their scientific conceptions and that they arc even led spontaneously to this conclusion by their scientific research
The Holy Father went on to quote Arhenius and Plate to show how, only a few decades ago, scientists were declaring that matter must be eternal because the view that something could come from nothing was at variance with scientific thought.
He continued : " How different and much more faithful a reflection of limitless visions is the language of an outstanding modern scientist (Sir Edmund Whittaker), member of the Pontifical Academy of Science, when he speaks of the above-mentioned inquiries into the age of the world: " ' These different calculations point to the conclusion that there was a time, some nine or ten billion years ago, prior to which the cosmos, if it existed, existed in a form totally different from anything we know, and this form constitutes the very last limit of science. We refer to it. perhaps not improperly, as creation.
". It provides a unifying background, suggested by geological evidence, for that explanation of the world according to which every organism existing on the earth had a beginning in time. Were this conclusion to he confirmed by future research, it might well be considered as the most outstanding discovery of our times, since it represents a fundamental change in the scientific conception of the universe, similar to the one brought about four centuries ago by Copernicus.' (Space and Spirit, 1946).
" What, then, is the importance of modern science for the argument for the existence of God based on the mutability of the cosmos? By means of exact and detailed research into the macrocosm and the microcosm, it has considerably broadened and deepened the emperical foundation on which this argument rests, and from which it concludes to the existence of an Ens a se, immutable by His very nature.
" It has, besides, followed the course and the direction of cosmic developments, and, just as it was able to get a glimpse of the term towards which these developments were inexorably leading, so also has it pointed
to their beginning in time some five billion years ago.
" Thus, with that concreteness which is characteristic of physical proofs, it has confirmed the contingency of the universe and also the well-founded deducation as to the epoch when the cosmos came forth from the Hands of the Creator.
" Hence, creation took place in time. Therefore, there is a Creator. Therefore, God exists. Although it is neither explicit nor complete, this is the reply we were awaiting from science and which the present human generation is awaiting from it. " The knowledge of God as sole Creator. now shared by many modern scientists, is indeed the extreme limit to which human reason can attain. Nevertheless. as you are well aware, it does not constitute the last frontier of truth.
" In harmonious cooperation, because all three are instruments of Truth, like rays of the same sun. science philosophy and, with still greater reason, Revelation, contemplate the substance of this Creator whom science has met along its path, unveil His outlines and point out His features.
"Today, after so many centuries which were centuries of civilisation because they were centuries of religion, the need is not so much to reveal God for the first time, as it is rather to recognise Him as a Father, revere Him as a Lawgiver and fear Him as a judge. "If they would be saved, the nations must adore the Son, the loving Redeemer of mankind, and bow to the loving inspirations of the Spirit. the fruitful Sanctifier of souls.
" This persuasion. taking its remote inspiration from science. is crowned by faith which, being ever more deeply rooted in the consciousness of the people, will truly be able to assure basic progress for the march of civilisation."