|Pope Francis meets Stephen Hawking.|
Pope Francis, born in Argentina, is the 266th leader of the Catholic Church. The man’s 80 years old, but within only two years he has overhauled his religion. He accepts Darwinian evolution as well as the Big Bang theory. He addresses ecological problems – loss of biodiversity, climate change, pollution – and calls for action, while worrying that “international politics has [disregarded] well-founded scientific opinion about the state of our planet.” He also likes exoplanets:
“How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.”I find this remarkable, not only because his attitude flies in the face of those who claim religion is incompatible with science. More important, Pope Francis succeeds where the vast majority of politicians fail. He listens to scientists, accepts the facts, and bases calls for actions on evidence. Meanwhile, politicians left and right bend facts to mislead people about what’s in whose interest.
And Pope Francis is a man whose word matters big time. About 1.3 billion people in the world are presently members of his Church. For the Catholics, the Pope is the next best thing to God. The Pope is infallible, and he can keep going until he quite literally drops dead. Compared to Francis, Tweety-Trump is a fly circling a horse’s ass.
|Global distribution of Catholics.|
[Source: Wikipedia. By Starfunker226, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.]
This current Pope is demonstrably not afraid of science, and this gives me hope for the future. Most of the tension between science and religion that we witness today is caused by certain aspects of monotheistic religions that are obviously in conflict with science – if taken literally. But it’s an unnecessary tension. It would be easy enough to throw out what are basically thousand years old stories. But this will only happen once the religious understand it will not endanger the core of their beliefs.
Science advocates like to argue that religion is incompatible with science for religion is based on belief, not reason. But this neglects that science, too, is ultimately based on beliefs.
Most scientists, for example, believe in an external reality. They believe, for the biggest part, that knowledge is good. They believe that the world can be understood, and that this is something humans should strive for.
In the foundations of physics I have seen more specific beliefs. Many of my colleagues, for example, believe that the fundamental laws of nature are simple, elegant, even beautiful. They believe that logical deduction can predict observations. They believe in continuous functions and that infinities aren’t real.
None of this has a rational basis, but physicists rarely acknowledge these beliefs as what they are. Often, I have found myself more comfortable with openly religious people, for at least they are consciously aware of their beliefs and make an effort to prevent it from interfering with research. Even my own discipline, I think, would benefit from a better awareness of the bounds of human rationality. Even my own discipline, I think, could learn from the Pope to tell Is from Ought.
You might not subscribe to the Pope’s idea that “tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women.” Honestly, to me doesn’t sound so different from believing that love will quantize gravity. But you don’t have to share the values of the Catholic Church to appreciate here is a world leader who doesn’t confuse facts with values.