By Sean Hays (CNS ASU), reporting from the 2nd day TPRS Keynote Address by Mons. Sorondo
Monsignor Marcelo Sànchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, provided an answer to the question, what is the rightful place of science, in the title of his presentation: The Truth of Science for Justice and Peace. The monsignor led by referencing the gospel of John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The rightful place of science, according to the Monsignor’s logic is embedded in the bible; it is the search for truth, but only as a means. The search for truth is instrumental in this sense; it is valuable only in its capacity to produce justice. The mandate to seek justice through the pursuit of truth is embedded in the scientific enterprise, and imposed upon the scientist, at the level of ontology. It is inextricable, and it constitutes the justification for science’s place as one of the principle magisteria. Science’s capacity to produce justice through the revelation of the truth about nature is episteme, reconstituted as a project, rather than a system. The Monsignor argued that scientific truth is the adaptation of the human mind to the reality of the phenomena of nature. He conceives of science as revelatory, rather than creative. In this sense, it is distinguished from mathematics, and, in its capacity to produce justice, it replaces mathematics as the epistemology of reference, the most privileged way of relating to the truth.
The Monsignor then argued that it is at the communitarian, and the human-relational level that justice becomes integral to the task of reason, or revelation of the truths of nature, science, and reason are briefly conflated here. Human life is originally evaluated in terms of good and evil. There is no way of seeking a supplementary truth that is able to justify that original evaluation. He is delving into the realm of Stephen Jay Gould’s 1996 articulation of the doctrine of non-overlapping magisteria, but taking it further than Gould himself would have been comfortable with. Essentially, the Monsignor is drawing a boundary here, establishing the truth about human life as the province of the magisteria of religious revelation, and the truth of nature to the magisteria of science. Gould would follow him this far, and did, in claiming that the two epistemologies are equally capable of evaluating identical objects of inquiry, but incapable of revealing the same truths. Gould claimed that the magisterium of science was normatively empty, but the Monsignor, clearly, disagrees, and as he sees the intrinsic mandate of scientific ontology as the pursuit of truth for the production of justice, he abandons the non-overlapping criterion of Gould’s model. The Monsignor argues that, while science is incapable of, and unnecessary for, supplementing the revelation of the nature of good and evil in human life, it does have the power to produce good in human life through the revelation of the reality of nature. Thus, for the Monsignor, the two magisteria are not only compatible, they are, in many ways, interoperable outside of religion’s exclusive claim to the revelation of good and evil. They are interoperable in their normative roles as systems of purposive revelation, and their ability to produce justice through exposing truth to the human mind.
Monsignor Sorondo argues that the notions of good and justice can be determined through the examination of the presuppositions of what he refers to as “fundamental anthropology.” The anthropology to which he refers is fundamental because it is non-doxic. The correlation between good or justice, which appear to be partially interchangeable in his argument, and truth is often on the level of ontology, which is where he originally claimed the mandate for science to seek truth inhered.
The Monsignor concluded by pointing to the ultimate instrumental value of scientific truth seeking, and the concomitant production of justice, and that is the building and perpetuation of peace. Citing Pope Benedict XVI, he argued that peace must be continuously produced, and then defended. Science’s mandate, therefore, is to reveal truths about nature to man, which both reshapes his mind and produces justice. Justice then produces peace, but this peace is fragile, and must be continuously defended and rebuilt, partially by science. Science is, as he made clear early on, one of the magisteria that is capable of revealing truths in pursuit of justice. They all have an inherent mandate to do just that, and thereby produce and defend peace. Science is inherently both instrumentally and normatively important, and its rightful place is as the revealer of truths about nature, as the producer of justice, and as the defender of peace.
Ed. note: The Monsignor’s powerpoint can be viewed here.