John Templeton Foundation
Home Approach Program Commitee Other Participants
  Contact: Mary Ann Meyers, Ph.D., Senior Fellow

In a world ever more conditioned by science, the purpose of this symposium is to reconsider the perennial question formulated by David when he asked, “Yahweh, what is man, that you care for him?” (Ps. 144:3) Not that science provides the sole answer to the question, but we believe that an interdisciplinary dialogue is necessary for its deepest exploration. In the interest of a balanced quest, which can lead to a fuller understanding of critical issues currently confronting us that call upon our knowledge of the human being, we need to re-examine the background of the relationship between philosophy and science, that is, between the humanistic tradition (which has its roots in philosophy) and the scientific tradition. Today, it seems, there is a great need for reconciliation between these two domains. Indeed, since Galileo launched the modern scientific revolution, science and the humanities have become progressively detached from one another and appear, as science has grown ever more specialized and complex, to have reached the point of mutual incomprehension. It is useful, therefore, to revisit the thought of Greek (Plato and Aristotle) and medieval (St. Thomas Aquinas) philosophers of science as well as the thought of modern philosophers (Hume, Kant, Hegel) on the one hand, and, on the other, the thought of modern scientists, for the light this philosophic and scientific background sheds upon the identity of humans who share their bodies with nature but also emerge from nature. We will then turn attention to a few central problems presented by contemporary science, as well as the opportunities science provides for rethinking philosophical and theological views of human beings and their place within the creation. The issues being probed by cognitive science with its new language of neurons and synapses in relation to the classical language of intellect, desire, and emotion are central to our topic. So, too, are ongoing discoveries about the genetic heritage of people, which pose questions about free will and the link between evolution and creation. Finally, there are anthropological (and moral) considerations centred upon the time before a person’s birth (when embryonic stem cells are available) and the time of his/her death (when there is a ceasing of brain or heart function). It is our hope to forge greater understanding of these three clusters of issues even as we use them to clarify our central question: What is our knowledge of the human being?

Under the aegis of the John Templeton Foundation, in partnership with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, sixteen scholars and scientists come together at the Academy’s headquarters—Casina Pio IV in the Vatican gardens. The venue is reflective of our hope for a reconciliation of the scientific and humanistic traditions—and prompts us to ponder what role religion can play in the effort. In 1922, the villa, once a summer residence of Pope Pius IV and the meeting place of great scholars, became the seat of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, whose origins date to the founding of the Academy of the Lincei, the world’s first scientific academy, by Prince Federico Cesi in 1603. Galileo was a founding member and its acknowledged leader.