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Vatican: Church Should Not Fear Scientific Progress

July 3, 2009

A Vatican official said on Thursday that the Catholic Church should not fear scientific progress and risk repeating the errors it made in condemning astronomer Galileo in the 17th century.

Speaking at a news conference, Monsignor Sergio Pagano, head of the Vatican’s secret archives, said the modern Catholic Church can learn from previous mistakes and shed their reticence toward science.

Tension between science and religion has existed for centuries. For example, Christian Churches have long objected to the evolutionist theories of Charles Darwin because they contradict biblical accounts of God creating the world in six days.

And the Inquisition, which sought out heresies, condemned Gallileo in 1633 for declaring that the earth revolved around the sun, saying the assertion conflicted biblical accounts that said “God fixed the Earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever.”

The Vatican did not fully redeem Gallileo, who lived from 1564 to 1642 and was known as the father of astronomy, until 1992, almost three centuries later.

“Can this teach us something today? I certainly think so,” said Monsignor Pagano in a rare display of self-criticism of the Vatican.

“We should be careful, when we read the Sacred Scriptures and have to deal with scientific questions, to not make the same mistake now that was made then,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

“I am thinking of stem cells, I am thinking of eugenics, I am thinking of scientific research in these fields. Sometimes I have the impression that they are condemned with the same preconceptions that were used back then for the Copernican theory.”

The Church must “study more, to be more prudent, evaluate things,” when considering scientific advances, Pagano said.

The Church should consider scientific issues with “much humility and circumspection,” he said, just as the scientific community should not presume they can instruct the Church about matters of faith.

The Catholic Church, anti-abortion advocates and other religious groups oppose embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of human embryos.  However, the Church supports adult stem cell research, which has made advances in recent years.

Scientists hope stem cell research will lead to cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

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Image Credit: www.uci.edu

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