Faith is Good for Science

Benedetta CappelliniArticles

di Marco Bersanelli
“Science and faith cannot go together well, because faith presumes a blind belief in something that was revealed in the past, some sort of legend that remains even now, without criticizing it, without the right to question the mysteries and dogmas, which must be accepted, or rather, passively received.”  These words by world-famous Italian
oncologist Umberto Veronesi, senator of the Democratic party in Italy, were part of an interview in which he clarified his position regarding the relationship between faith and reason. Among other things, he stated that every religion is “fundamentalist by definition,” the exact opposite of science which – according to Veronesi – “lives in doubt, in search for truth.”

The statement by the senator took the shape of an unproven judgment, with which not everybody agrees. Among these is MARCO BERSANELLI, professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at State University of Milan, Italy, who agreed to comment on Dr. Veronesi’s statements with

I was surprised by the statements made by fellow professor Umberto Veronesi: “Science and faith cannot go together well”; they are “two worlds and conceptions of human thought very far apart from each other, and the two cannot be embraced simultaneously”. These words sound very strange to those who, like me and many others, are enthusiastic about their work in scientific research and at the same time are profoundly grateful for the experience of a Christian faith that is encountered and lived out. Do those like me suffer, unknowingly, from a fine form of schizophrenia?

If that were the case, we would be in good company. How will professor Veronesi be able to reconcile his conclusions with words such as Albert Einstein’s, “science without religion has a limp; religion without science is blind” or with intensely religious pages by giants of science from dawn to the present day, such as Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Salam, Lemaitre, just to mention a few? Of course there are also scientists who are atheists, and this is fine; but stating that “religion prevents one from reasoning” remains unacceptable and lacks any foundation.

However, something else needs to be clarified. What does Dr. Veronesi mean when he talks about “faith” or about “religion?” He says it himself, in reference to Christianity: “a blind belief in something that was revealed in the past, some sort of legend that persists even now.” These words reveal, in my opinion, how serious the misunderstanding is. For too long Christian faith, even in Catholic circles, has been proposed as a set of rules and rituals to be mechanically reproduced; thus many people – even a cultured scholar such as Dr. Veronesi – end up absorbing this gross reduction and assuming it as a fact taken for granted.

Christianity is not an ethical remnant from the past; rather it is a present phenomenon: it is born from the impact with a person of incomparable humanity, whereby a human being, today like two thousand years ago, can finally seriously consider his or her restless need for meaning, for the infinite, for beauty, for truth (including that particular truth which is the object of science). This is as far as it can go from the absence of reasons or from a critical sense; on the contrary, it is a challenge which is permanently thrown at each one of us: “And you, who do you say that I am?”