I’m part of a group of young Catholics who meet monthly. We are slowly studying Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi (saved in hope), and it’s given me a lot of food for thought. The paragraphs we’re reading now are about how some people place their hope and faith in science and “material inventions,” thinking that science alone can lead to a better, more perfect world.
This piece of the encyclical especially struck me:
Hence, while we must always be committed to the improvement of the world, tomorrow’s better world cannot be the proper and sufficient content of our hope. And in this regard the question always arises: when is the world “better”?
I think most of us would imagine a better world as one where people everywhere have affordable health care, enough food, enough money, just government, and basic human rights. It’s a lot to ask from a world of imperfect people who go on to create imperfect governmental and political structures and fall victim to sin and all the other pitfalls of being human.
Undoubtedly, science and technology have improved many lives, but placing our ultimate hope in such things is faulty because they are the imperfect products of imperfect humans. Having all the benefits science and technology can bring would indeed make the world a less disease-ridden, less hungry place… but it is human nature to constantly want more, better, quicker, easier, and in our quest for that, we may do more harm than good.
Then you think about placing hope in something that goes beyond life, something more permanent than the technological structures that we put in place on earth. For Catholics/Christians, God is that permanence. Of course, nobody wants to be miserable when they’re on earth, but if you believe in Heaven and in another life that will last forever, you want to put your ultimate hope in that, and you want to build up treasures to help you reach that.
A good moral foundation (perhaps that “inner voice”) spurs humans to make the material world “better” for everyone living in it. This may mean using science, and science is in no way intrinsically bad. It can help us reach the “end” of a better world, but it is only the “means” by which we get there, not an end in itself. I think that humans should do what they can to make the world better by improving the human condition, but they should also realize that these same people who are living in this imperfect world have immortal souls that will outlive their bodies. Paying attention to a person’s soul, not just his body, and filling his soul with hope, will help make the world “better” in terms of creating a foundation on which to build our scientific and technological achievements.
I may have gone pretty far from what Pope Benedict meant, but to make a long post short, science alone can’t make the world “better.” As much as you should care for people’s physical needs, you should also care for their spiritual needs. That includes giving people a sense of hope for the future beyond their earthly lives.