Inaugural Address: European Symposium of University Professors

Author: Cardinal Camillo Ruini

Inaugural Address: European Symposium of University Professors

Cardinal Camillo Ruini
Vicar of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome

Intelligent Creator God: best hypothesis

On Thursday, 5 June [2008], Cardinal Camillo Ruini opened the Sixth European Symposium of University Professors. The following are extracts from the inaugural address given in Italian.

To broaden the spaces, or horizons of rationality is a central and decisive goal of Benedict XVI's theological research and Pontificate.

Especially by this means the Pope seeks new harmony between reason and freedom and Christianity but also tries to come to the aid of human reason in the current phase of its historical development. He first proposes to broaden the horizons of rationality in the context of the tendency to limit reason to what can be experienced and calculated — as in his well-known lecture at Regensburg and in various works....

How justifiable the Pontiff's concern is emerges clearly in many publications, including an article published in the daily edition of L'Osservatore Romano, 23-24 May 2008 by Giorgio Israel, a mathematician: La realtà ridotta a calcoli matematici e probabilistic. Ma l'uomo non è un dado [Reality reduced to mathematical and probabilistic calculations. But man is not a dice].

Israel cites the great mathematician Augustin-Louis Cauchy who, in 1821, wrote that it was necessary to convince oneself that truths other than algebra, realities that are different from tangible objects, exist. Cauchy also said that, although we enthusiastically cultivate the mathematical sciences, they should be kept in their context, and that we should not delude ourselves that history can be confronted with formulas or morals sanctioned with theorems or integral calculus.

Giorgio Israel goes on to explain that this was the prevalent opinion in the scientific world of the 19th century which had transcended the materialism of the 18th century.

In the 20th century, on the other hand, the concept known as "naturalism" which sought to reduce every aspect of reality to natural or, rather, material processes gradually gained ground. Hence, naturalism was no more than a form of materialism which held that to question whether everything can be deduced from material factors was not important but that it was right to reason as though it were.

Giorgio Israel considers that a strong version of naturalism predominates today, a metaphysical materialism which attributes to science the task of demonstrating that every aspect of reality consists of material processes.

Israel's evaluation of this attitude is somewhat severe. He thinks that it all has very little to do with science as it was understood for several centuries. indicating the work of many biologists as "philosophical frivolity", and burdened by various ambiguities and petitio principii. Therefore, the honour of science as a cognitive activity should be defended from attempts to reduce it to a propaganda campaign for materialism and atheism.

A further reference does not concern scientists but rather an important philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, who is very open to an alliance between illuminated reason, that is, "the conscience lit up by modernity", and the "theological awareness of the world religions".

Habermas, in an article entitled "Alleati contra i disfattisti", of which excerpts were published in II Sole 24 Ore on 18 February 2007, criticized Benedict's Regensburg Address, contesting that the Pope rejected the arguments of modern secular reason which ended by shattering the synthesis of Greek metaphysics and biblical faith, and that as a result the Discourse took "a surprisingly anti-modern turn".

In a speech I gave on 2 March 2007, I answered Habermas that Benedict XVI is considerably more open than Habermas himself and the "secular reason" that he seeks to interpret. This reasoning accepts as "reasonable", only what proves demonstrable in his speeches. Joseph Ratzinger, at the philosophical level, however, does not place the intelligent Creator God of the universe as the object of an apodeictic demonstration but rather as "the best hypothesis" which, to be accepted, requires that man and his reason "give up their position of dominance and taken the risk of humbly listening" (L'Europa di Benedetto, pp. 59-60; 115-124).

These examples suffice to show how timely and crucial it is to broaden the horizons of rationality. Such an undertaking is, of course, part of the theologian's mandate as Benedict XVI emphasized at the end of his Address at Regensburg: "The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur — this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time". (University Address, Regensburg, 12 September 2006).

However, the same undertaking is also and essentially a task of philosophy which, by its nature, reflects on the relationship of human reason with the totality of being and at the same time on the human subject as a subject.

The sciences, in the modern sense of the term. on the contrary exclude one another from this type of reflection by virtue of their epistemological status. Yet neither philosophy nor theology can credibly assume the goal of broadening the spaces of rationality unless they are committed to a deeper dialogue with the sciences, as well as with religions, anthropology and society.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
11 June 2008, page 6

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