by Emil Anton
The Lay Centre welcomed Father Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti April 27 to preside the weekly community Mass and to lead a discussion on the relationship between faith and science. Father Tanzella-Nitti is a professor of fundamental theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an adjunct scholar of the Vatican observatory, and the founder and director of the Research Centre for Interdisciplinary Documentation. He belongs to the personal prelature of Opus Dei.
At Mass, Father Tanzella-Nitti encouraged the students to make time for prayer but also to transform their study into prayer, making it a service to mankind. At dinner, he explained how, as a youngster alienated from the faith because of his interest in science, he visited a centre of Opus Dei and saw a young man reading a scientific article with a crucifix placed right next to it on the desk.
Later, as a member of Opus Dei, Father Tanzella-Nitti pursued a doctorate in science. He was later asked by the prelate to consider the priesthood. At first he thought it was a new phase in his life, but when he had become a priest, his former science collegues started asking him to come to conferences on science to present the theological point of view on the matter. Currently, Father Tanzella-Nitti is authoring a four-volume series on fundamental theology and modern science.
The students and staff of The Lay Centre asked FatherTanzella-Nitti questions, and the quality of the exchange was perceived by all to be excellent. Questions were on the unitive power of science; the relationship of science, faith and technology; the openness of the particular sciences to a broader metaphysical perspective, as well as evolution and the special creation of man.
On the first issue, Father Tanzella-Nitti said while various religions might have different holy books, everybody has the same book of nature, and science is a way of reading this book of nature. Commenting on biology, Father Tanzella-Nitti said, as a relatively recent branch of science, biology is less mature in its epistemology than cosmology and physics; biologists tend to be more closed to the metaphysical dimension. However, there are signs of an opening, such as when biologists discovered DNA, which Francis S. Collins famously called the “language of God,” he said.
Commenting on technology, Father Tanzella-Nitti said it could be distinguished from science. Science, like theology, is a search for truth, while technology seeks merely to achieve something. But we should not demonize technology either, since it is part of humanity’s God-given task to use human intelligence and powers to cultivate the world, he said. A Ferrari is not a bad thing, but you need to train the driver; what we need is a humanistic use of technology, one that serves humankind instead of destroying it, he said.
Finally, on the question of creation and evolution, he said creation is not a historical act but a transcendent act, whose effects are observed in history. Recognizing this to remain an open question to a large extent, he pointed out some useful reference points, while directing those interested to the second part of the second volume of his current book project for more detail. In effect, he said, the creation of the first human beings was not that different from the creation of those present in the room. The important thing, he said, is that “we are all created in God’s image, that we can say ‘I’, and that we can recognize God as a ‘you.'”