I. Autonomy of Nature and Autonomy of Human Freedom from a Philosophical Perspective. 1. The Temptations of Pantheism and Deism as Possible "Solutions" to the Problem of the Autonomy of Nature. 2. The Search for the Meaning of Human Freedom and Self-Transcendence - II. The Autonomy of the Created Realities in the Light of Christian Revelation and According to the Second Vatican Council. 1. The Teachings of Sacred Scripture and the Philosophical Perspective that it Entails. 2. Intrinsic Value and Autonomy of Earthly Realities According to the Teachings of "Gaudium et spes." - III. The World's Emancipation from God and the Process of Secularization: has Christian thought de-sacralized Nature? - IV. The Autonomy of Scientific Knowledge with respect to Theology and Faith. 1. Autonomy of Science and Philosophical Knowledge. 2. Answers from Science and Answers from Faith. 3. Autonomy, not Divorce . 4. The Autonomy of Theology - V. The Autonomy of the Sciences and Freedom of Research.
In a philosophical context, the idea of "autonomy" (Gr. autós nómos , "self-law," or "self-governance") recalls a few issues, such as: the consistency of the world in its relation with God; the world's own laws and properties; the authenticity of human freedom; and, our capability of determining our own history. Christian theology understands the idea of autonomy only in light of the "principle of creation," according to which, the existence and behavior of every single creature find their origin in God. In the context of the sciences, the idea of "autonomy" recalls two main themes: the methodological independence of scientific knowledge over other forms of knowledge --such as philosophy and theology--, and the way in which the freedom of doing research should be understood and exercised .
I. Autonomy of Nature and Autonomy of Human Freedom from a Philosophical Perspective
Any philosophical reflection on the Absolute necessarily concerns the relation between God's being and that being which is not God. If the Absolute, in the fullness of its being, comprehends the whole reality, then how could there exist something that is different from the Absolute itself? If God is the necessary Being, what is the ontological consistency of created things? This question indirectly recalls what Leibniz and Heidegger expressed through the following formula: "Why is there anything instead of nothing?", one we could paraphrase by transforming it into a theological question: "Why is there anything different from God?". As soon as we engage in the enterprise of analysing the issue of the essence and the truth of "what is placed outside God," we find ourselves faced with, even at a philosophical level, the problem of the autonomy of creation. In other words, we have to deal with the role which God plays within both the dynamism of creation (autonomy of nature), and the self-fulfilment of the human being as a free creature (autonomy of the subject). According to many philosophers, the concept of God and the autonomy of nature contradict each other. Affirming the latter would mean acknowledging that we do not have to resort to the concept of God in order to explain the existence of the world. Rather, we should regard human autonomy as the ultimate way to defend our freedom: freedom would be incompatible with the existence of an omniscient and omnipotent Creator.
1. The Temptations of Pantheism and Deism as Possible "Solutions" to the Problem of the Autonomy of Nature. Pierre-Simon de Laplace (1749-1827) affirmed that "the hypothesis of God is superfluous to science." Philosophers have often interpreted this principle as a scientific demonstration that God does not exist, and they have used it in order to affirm the autonomy of the world and of natural sciences. For instance, F. Engels (1820-1895) adopted this reasoning in the development of his dialectical materialism. This misinterpretation is grounded on two principal considerations. Firstly, the supporters of an atheistic understanding of Laplace's formula tend to transform this methodological principle into an ontological statement. Secondly, human reason finds it difficult to conceive the idea of an Absolute which is, at the same time, both immanent and transcendent to the world. Both pantheism and deism represent a philosophical attempt to solve the problem of the autonomy of creation. These theories clearly show that the difficulty of reconciling divine immanence and transcendence has deeply influenced the philosophical quest for the autonomy of the created order.
The Modern Age witnessed the discovery that nature has its own laws. These laws can be expressed in a rational way because their dynamics can be scientifically explained on the basis of natural phenomena. Some philosophers adopted this principle as an occasion to attribute to nature those properties which are traditionally predicated of God. Modern pantheism is an outstanding example of this tendency. On the other hand, the deism of the Enlightenment relegates God's action to the margins of creation to such an extent that the Creator becomes completely inactive. Pantheism exalts immanence at the expense of transcendence. It finds its origins in classical philosophy, and particularly in Stoicism and Neo-Platonism. Hindu religious-philosophical doctrines and Eastern thought in general present many elements in common with contemporary forms of pantheism. Undoubtedly, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) prepared the way to modern pantheism, which will be later developed by Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). According to Spinoza, God is identical with nature ( Deus sive substantia sive natura). In this way he thought he could solve the problem of reconciling the Absolute being with created beings. For Spinoza there is nothing outside God, because God is everything and everything is in God. English scholars J. Collins (1625-1683) and M. Tindal (1653-1733) are the fathers of deism. Deism soon became the "official" religious philosophy of the Enlightenment. Unlike pantheism, deism promotes the idea of a completely transcendent God. The Creator is reduced to the role of a mere Architect or Clock-Maker. Deism ended up influencing practical matters such as the administration of justice. The national States, originating at the end of the 18th century, produced constitutions grounded on the principles of the Enlightenment. Here the idea of a natural authority grounded on the Reason-god (embodiment of a sense of justice which is completely disengaged from a supernatural revelation), could be instrumentally used in order to grant the respect of the established order. Unlike pantheism, deism allows a high degree of independence of the world from God. However, deism does not produce any kind of systematic answer to the fundamental question: "why did God create the world?" Creator and creation are so different from each other -and their relation is so extrinsic- that the problem is simply meaningless. In truth, both pantheism and deism fall into the temptation of considering God and the world on the same level. In this way, it becomes impossible to predicate anything of God without taking it away from the world, and vice versa. This philosophical investigation develops by moving from an erroneous basis, making it impossible to correctly represent the relation between Creator and creation. This way of proceeding empties the philosophical concept of God of its contents, so that God becomes either identical with the world (losing His transcendence), or completely unreachable and, therefore, superfluous.
2. The Search for the Meaning of Human Freedom and Self-Transcendence. The same kind of problem recurs in the solutions given to the dilemma concerning human freedom and the necessity of autonomy. It is quite easy to acknowledge the existence of a human self-transcendence, which is the sign of our prominence over the rest of the created order. On the other hand, different philosophical perspectives begin to emerge when we face the problem of the nature and the goal of human freedom. According to those philosophical systems that are grounded on the concept of a Creator (on whom all creatures depend and from whom they have received everything), human freedom consists in our tending towards God. This tendency towards the Absolute annihilates neither our freedom, nor our personal identity. Rather, these fundamental human characteristics find their own fulfillment in that tendency, though the understanding of how this can be possible is not completely straightforward. Furthermore, it is not easy to comprehend how an Absolute and necessary Being, who is the efficient, exemplar and final cause of all that exists, can create something that is completely free. Quite the opposite, a philosophical system that rejects our dependence on God and reduces the concept of being within the material world, can affirm that human freedom consists in the historical and immanent self-fulfillment of the subject. While philosophies, that recognize that the human being is a creature, locate our freedom in God (even if it is not always completely possible to explain how freedom can be authentic if it locates its meaning and end in something outside itself), atheistic philosophies conceive freedom as a mere research of ourselves which includes the freedom of being what in reality we are not. Nonetheless, this position remains unable to answer the questions about the limits and the finite dimension of human freedom, whose desires overcome what freedom itself can receive from nature and what it can historically achieve.
The philosophies of L. Feuerbach (1829-1880), F. Nietzsche (1844-1900) and J.P. Sartre (1905-1980) constitute the most radical examples of an exclusively dialectical interpretation of the relation between human freedom and the acknowledgement of God's existence. Their philosophical systems can be considered as grounded in the following axiom: "If God exists, then human beings are not free; if human beings are free, God does not exist." This anthropological prometheism affects many disciplines, including psychology, history, ethics, law, etc. The attempt to understand freedom as an immanent reality is the common thread that runs through these different interpretations of the world. This view of our reality leaves no space for any kind of transcendence, which is simply dismissed as a subjective projection finalized to fulfill human needs. These needs are fulfilled within the spheres of materialism or instinct. As a matter of fact, a concept of autonomy which is completely unrelated to God -because it is unable to understand how God can be at the same time the necessary cause of our reality and the one who makes us free- has never produced satisfactory results. Those philosophies which belong to the "Hegelian left" have resulted in nihilism and have produced a crisis grounded on the lack of the sense for the meaning of our reality. This crisis is still present today and influences the passage to post-modernity. Affirming that "humans are God for humans" does not resolve the problem of the relation between the intrinsic finite and infinite dimensions of our freedom. To reduce the problem of God to the problem of human beings, leaves the latter dilemma unsolved (cf. Kasper, 1989).
Finally, we must notice that the uncertainty that characterises the philosophical understanding of the problem of autonomy can affect the religious sphere. We use the term "religion" in the broadest of its meanings. The religious relationship between human beings and God is subject to two temptations. Firstly, the divine can be dragged down to the human level and finally denied by reducing religion to a mere social praxis. Secondly, the human sphere can be "spiritualized" at such an extent that the divine simply annihilates it. In this case, religion and freedom are dissolved into a "spiritualism" which is grounded on a blind faith for which both history and earthly praxis have no value at all. The first kind of temptation springs from the absence and silence of God, and from the desire of worshipping Him in the human sphere. The second temptation springs from the need to escape the difficulties of the world, and from the desire to find God in what is not human at all. As we will see further on (see below, II), Christianity is able to change the two opposite "temptations" into two complementary "tendencies" which cannot be divided from each other. These two "tendencies" become so intimately united that we could not renounce one without rejecting the other as well.
II. The Autonomy of the Created Realities in the light of Christian Revelation and According to the Second Vatican Council
1. The Teachings of Sacred Scripture and the Philosophical Perspective that it Entails. Any reflection on the concept of autonomy which is grounded on Biblical data cannot simply concern the relationship between God and the world. Rather, it must consider the role that the human person plays in this relationship. This is so for two reasons. Firstly, the autonomy of the created order assumes its highest significance in the context of human freedom. Secondly, the autonomy of creation expresses its authentic value and dynamics through human knowledge and work. Human beings, who have been created in the image and likeness of God, are in some way, God's representatives in His creation. Human beings are gifted with a world which they must make fruitful (cf. Gn 1:27-28; Ps 8), and lead towards its own fulfilment (cf. Gn 2:4b-7; 2,15; Wis 9:1-3). According to the Biblical text, this task can be carried out by considering two important elements: a) nature has its own laws that human beings can know and use; b) free human actions give rise to a real, not an illusory history, through which human beings co-operate in the fulfilment of God's creation by freely accepting to accomplish the Creator's plan. Unfortunately, this plan can be spoiled by sin, which keeps creatures from reaching their goal. Yet creatures cannot achieve God's plan without their authentic autonomy, as it is precisely because of the latter, that the world has its own time and humanity its own history. The original failure of human freedom --historically determined by the failure to a trial known as "Original sin" (cf. Gn 3:1-17; DH 1512-1513; Gaudium et spes, 13)-- implied that it was no longer possible for humanity to co-operate with God's creation, and to exercise the corresponding autonomy that was the conditio sine qua non of this co-operation, without receiving the aid of a divine gift, which is the grace bestowed on us by Jesus Christ. It is thanks to this grace that redeemed humanity is called to participate in Christ's action of reconciling and recapitulating all things to God-Father in the Spirit. While restoring human freedom to its original relation with truth and love, Christ reveals His mediating cosmic role at both the beginning and the end of creation (cf. Mt 19:4-6; Jn 8:32; Rom 5:11-20; Rv 5:13; 22:13; Eph 1:10; Col 1:19-20). Human freedom, spoiled by Original sin, put under suspect the goodness of God's original plan for creation and rejected the Creator's authority. This freedom has been ransomed by Christ's freedom, as He was capable of entirely entrusting himself to the Father's will, beyond the experience of complete abandonment, the Father's silence, and the death on the cross.
How might we speak of the "autonomy of the world" on the basis of the teachings contained in the Sacred Scripture? In order to answer such a question, we first have to recognize that those natural laws that God has imprinted into the created order, about which we are taught by Biblical Revelation, are not a means through which the Creator mechanically controls the world. Rather, they intrinsically "belong" to created things. The stability of the laws, which cannot be understood in a determinist way, is the image of God's faithfulness to His covenant. Through the autonomous laws of nature, He leads everything towards its goal (cf. Wis 8:1), without multiplying His interventions in those processes which are proper to the physical-biological world, nor adjusting or correcting in an extrinsic way the world's evolutionary path. The original and originating dependence on God of all the created order forces us to affirm a "relative autonomy" rather than an "absolute" one. Nevertheless, this distinction --which has its basis in the Bible-- does neither "limit," nor "reduce" the concept of autonomy. Thomas Aquinas confirms this principle: the essence of any created "contingent" entity is "necessary in its specific order" and, therefore, once things have been created they produce necessary effects. "Although all things depend on the will of God as their first cause, and this first cause is not necessitated in its operation except on the supposition of its own purpose, not for that however is absolute necessity excluded from creation, need we maintain that all things are contingent. There are things in creation which simply and absolutely must be. Those things simply and absolutely must be, in which there is no possibility of their not being. [...] There is no absurdity in causes being originally brought into being without any necessity, and yet, once they are posited in being, having such and such an effect necessarily following from them. That such natures were produced by God, was voluntary on His part: but that, once established, a certain effect proceeds from them, is a matter of absolute necessity" (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, ch. 30; see the context of chps. 29-30). Once God has gifted the world with existence, He does not take this gift back. Rather, He respects that autonomy which is firmly linked to the gift itself.
All this assumes a deeper (and in a way a more paradigmatic) meaning when we turn to the human being. Like all other creatures, human beings also have their "own laws," and therefore, their own autonomy. Scripture teaches that there is a "law engraved in the hearts of human beings," and that if we follow it we can both live "according to truth," and achieve our fulfillment (cf. Ps 19; Rom 2:13-16). There is a law which belongs to every human being insofar as he/she is the image of God, and that everyone can find it in his/her personal conscience (cf. Veritatis splendor, 54-64). The moral law given by God to Israel in the context of the Sinai covenant, is an explicit expression of what every human being is able to know at a natural level, despite the undeniable weakening of reason produced by human sin. From an ethical point view, the idea of such a law has been developed along with the concept of "natural moral law," or simply "natural law" (cf. Maritain, 1971; Hervada, 1990; Di Blasi, 1999). Unlike non-rational creatures, whose nature leads them to fulfill God's plan in an unconscious way (but they fulfill such a plan according to their own nature, not as mere instruments moved by the Creator), human beings tend consciously and freely to God, because their autonomy is precisely their freedom.
The "theology of the image," and the following affirmation that human beings are called to co-operate with God in the fulfillment of creation, keep us from making the mistake of considering God as a rival. Thus the Biblical view is completely different from conflicting understandings of human freedom, which are incapable of affirming its existence along with the existence of an omnipotent God. Christian theology does propose a concept of human freedom which is never limited within the boundaries of a "freedom from," or of a "freedom of." Rather, it necessarily assumes its fullest meaning as a "freedom for." It is the image of that freedom which exists within the divine life. For this reason, it cannot be separated from truth and love (cf. Veritatis splendor, 84-87). This link between freedom and truth is the reason why all the attempts to understand freedom as a kind of Promethean effort to "being what one is not," instead of the task of "becoming what one truly is," have failed. Such an erroneous understanding of human freedom leads to the impossibility of self-fulfilment, because human self-transcendence ends up in being invalidated within a totally immanent horizon, which is alien to the inner truth of the person. Here we can find the very meaning of Augustine's remark that inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in Te (cf. Confessiones, I, 1), and of Aquinas' teaching about our desiderium naturale videndi Deum (cf. Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 3, a . 8; Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, chps. 25, 50). It is in its link with love that freedom is to be recognised as a faculty a human being has in order of one's self-gift, allowing the person to fulfill itself in the encounter with the Other. It is the image of the Triune God, whose life consists in the fertile communion of a free and personal love, that reassures the human being that his or her freedom is not lost, but rather, fulfilled in the gift of one's own self-giving. If that Absolute, towards which human freedom tends in its self-transcendence, is the Triune God, then this tendency is to be translated neither into a simple alienation (other than self) nor into an annulment (see above, I.2). Rather, it is a transcending towards He who can ground and actualise our individuality/freedom. It is thanks to this transcendence that the person can find its real self. The self-transcendence of human freedom becomes the way of possessing its "very self," and therefore its own autonomy. For instance, Nicholas of Cusa understood the path of the union between God and the soul not (just) in terms of annulment and loss. Rather, he suggested that it is in the process of its self-possession that the free human being breaks its finiteness to join the presence of the infinite God. In other words, God will fully give Himself to me only when I possess myself. "You o Lord, answer in my heart with the words: 'Be your own and I will be yours' (sis tu tuus, et Ego eris tuus). O Lord, Sweet Agreeableness of all sweetness, You have placed within my freedom the decision of being my own if I will to. Hence, unless I am my own You are not mine. For, [if You were mine when I did not will to be my own], You would be coercing my freedom, since you can be mine only if I too am mine" (De visione Dei , ch. VII).
Therefore, autonomy represents a fundamental aspect of the "dignity" of the Christian universe. This shows a higher level of perfection --and consequently it better glorifies God-- when the ultimate good and goal determined by the first Cause are achieved through the secondary causes. These act according to their own nature --as does the human person according to its freedom-- and perfect themselves communicating to others what they possess. God does not govern the world operating in an "immediate" way with all His creatures. Nor does He act "through" them. Rather, He lets them be the cause of their own effects. "But since things which are governed should be brought to perfection by government, this government will be so much the better in the degree the things governed are brought to perfection. Now it is a greater perfection for a thing to be good in itself and also the cause of goodness in others, than only to be good in itself. Therefore God so governs things that He makes some of them to be causes of others in government" (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 103, a. 6; cf. ibidem, a. 4; Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, chps. 69, 73).
The substantial difference between "secondary causality" and "instrumental causality" is crucial for the comprehension of the notion of autonomy given by Christian philosophy. It is a common error to understand these two concepts as synonymous. An instrument is not the subject of an action which it has originally produced. Rather, it owes its role in the acting process to the agent of the action. A secondary cause is "secondary" only inasmuch as it is not the origin of the goal and the good of the whole, whose priority of intention belongs to the first Cause. However, contrary to the instrumental cause, the secondary cause remains the proper and autonomous subject of those effects dependant on it and the cause by which they are produced. The instrument is immediately --and almost mechanically-- dependant on the primary agent. Quite the opposite, the secondary causality recalls a relationship of dependence connected to the transcendence of the act of being, by which the creature has received from God -along with existence, an essence and a nature- the means of its autonomy. It is thanks to the transcendence of the divine causality that an effect is entirely of the creature and of God, and so, everything belongs to the creature and the whole creature belongs to God.
2. Intrinsic Value and Autonomy of Earthly Realities According to the Teachings of "Gaudium et spes". In its effort to understand the needs, anxieties, hopes and values of the world, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) has offered meaningful teachings on the idea of autonomy and on those concepts related to it, such as secularity, progress and the significance of human activity in the world. The same as the Scriptures, the language of the Council subsumes to the term "world" a manifold of meanings. Nevertheless, the Council does not see the world as only "confronting" the Church and the Gospel (as understood in the oppositions, frequently found in common language, such as Church-world, Gospel-world, Gospel-culture, etc.), but it is a world within which believers live and work. For this reason, the Church feels the world is her own, in the sense that she shares its problems and aspirations. Like Christ, the Church has been sent to the world, and wills to lead the world to God. The Church does this by acting within the world itself: even though the world is other than God, it belongs to God and tends towards Him.
In its document Gaudium et spes (7.12.1965), the Council promulgated a doctrine which is particularly attentive to the value of the created order, and to the role it plays in the salvific plan of God without losing its autonomy. Created realities are present in their "human" dimension and, therefore, along with being made in the image and likeness of God, they bring the weaknesses and the wounds of sin. This is why Jesus Christ is not just the Revealer, but also the Restorer of their intrinsic value. The human activity in the world (in saeculo) is valued in positive terms. "Throughout the course of the centuries, men have labored to better the circumstances of their lives through a monumental amount of individual and collective effort. To believers, this point is settled: considered in itself, this human activity accords with God's will. For man, created to God's image, received a mandate to subject to himself the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness; a mandate to relate himself and the totality of things to Him Who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and Creator of all. Thus, by the subjection of all things to man, the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth. This mandate concerns the whole of everyday activity as well. For while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society. They can justly consider that by their labour they are unfolding the Creator's work, consulting the advantages of their brother men, and are contributing by their personal industry to the realization history of the divine plan" (Gaudium et spes, 34). In this situation it would be meaningless to conceive both the human being as God's antagonist, and God as the jealous guardian of prerogatives which would be lost if communicated to the created order. "Thus, far from thinking that works produced by man's own talent and energy are in opposition to God's power, and that the rational creature exists as a kind of rival to the Creator, Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God's grace and the flowering of His own mysterious design. For the greater man's power becomes, the farther his individual and community responsibility extends" (ibidem).
Gaudium et spes deals with the topic of autonomy in a direct fashion, while being conscious of the cultural and philosophical climate of the world addressed by the Church: "many of our contemporaries seem to fear that a closer bond between human activity and religion will work against the independence of men, of societies, or of the sciences" (Gaudium et spes, 36). It does this by introducing a necessary semantic distinction between two philosophies. The first one corresponds to the positive meaning of the term (whose metaphysical ground is provided at the end of the document). "If by the autonomy of earthly affairs we mean that created things and societies themselves enjoy their own laws and values which must be gradually deciphered, put to use, and regulated by men, then it is entirely right to demand that autonomy. Such is not merely required by modern man, but harmonizes also with the will of the Creator. For by the very circumstance of their having been created, all things are endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and order. Man must respect these as he isolates them by the appropriate methods of the individual sciences or arts" (ibidem). There is an explicit reference to the respect of an "innermost law" of the created order. It is the kind of autonomy that involves "the method behind each science"; whose link to truth implies neither a restriction nor a constriction, but depends on the faithfulness to the formal object of its inquiry and on the honesty in performing its research. The document summarises the opposite, negative understanding of the term, as follows. "But if the expression, the independence of temporal affairs, is taken to mean that created things do not depend on God, and that man can use them without any reference to their Creator, anyone who acknowledges God will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator the creature would disappear. For their part, however, all believers of whatever religion always hear His revealing voice in the discourse of creatures. When God is forgotten, however, the creature itself grows unintelligible" (ibidem). A notion of autonomy as utter independence and self-foundation is not discarded solely on a Scriptural basis, but because of the natural revelation common to all religions, and the human ability to grasp the Absolute as the ultimate reason of what is contingent. And this reflection is available to any philosophy that is open to a genuine metaphysical dimension.
The Council balances between the two mainstream theological schools. On the one hand, the "incarnationist" school, valued all human reality sic et simpliciter, that is, simply because of the incarnation of the Word; on the other hand, according to the "eschatological" school, the value of human activity would be accomplished only in the transfigured city of God, at the end of time. The experience of sin shows that human activity needs to be elevated and redeemed by the mystery of Christ, and that the spiritual fruits brought about by the Incarnate Word will be fulfilled only within the heavenly Easter through a free and personal conversion (cf. Gaudium et spes, 38). However, it is also true that every historical reality which is built on love has its own value and will be maintained in the future eschaton (cf. ibidem, 39). This is why we speak of a "fundamental law of Christian economy" to designate the convergence existing between the Gospel and all that can contribute to the true good for human beings. This is an economy within which "the rightful autonomy of the creature, and particularly of man is not withdrawn, but is rather re-established in its own dignity and strengthened in it" (ibidem, 41).
Other documents take up the theme of autonomy of the earthly realities with a special reference to the mission of the laity. On the question of their role, these documents state that the divine plan to recapitulate everything in Christ "not only does not deprive the temporal order of its independence, its proper goals, laws, supports, and significance for human welfare, but rather perfects the temporal order in its own intrinsic strength and worth and puts it on a level with man's whole vocation upon earth" (Apostolicam actuositatem, 7). While exercizing their "kingly office," as a participation in Christ's sovereignity over creation, the lay faithful must acknowledge that the earthly city is governed by its own principles (cf. Lumen gentium, 36). Here we are faced with a kind of teaching about the notion of autonomy that entails a profound understanding of the "principle of creation," rather than a meticulous definition of norms, competencies and influences. Through this kind of autonomy, all creatures acquire their consistency and, along with it, the ability of operating through innermost laws, which, in the case of human beings, is nothing but the exercise of their freedom and responsibility, in order to answer God's call.
III. The World's Emancipation from God and the Process of Secularization: has Christian Thought de-sacralized Nature?
There are authors who have accused Christianity of the supposed negative consequences that the affirmation of the world's autonomy would produce. Christian thought has been accused of having transformed autonomy into secularization and atheism, and of having favored the ideas of a technological domination and exploitation of the earth. Not a few philosophers of the 20th century have developed a "critique of technological society," to which our topic is related. In particular, two philosophers behind this critique are M. Heidegger (cf. Introduction to Metaphysics, 1953; Nietzsche, 1961) and H. Jonas (cf. The Imperative of Responsibility, 1979). Although it is addressed to Western thought in general, their critiques are meant to put under debate the Christianity at the roots of that thought. For Heidegger all the attempts to conceptualize the idea (Gr. eîdos ) and the substance (Gr. ousía ) --including the Platonic, Aristotelian, and finally the Christian one (which has applied these conceptualisations to God)-- ended by losing Being, transforming it into a thing (Ger. sache ), instead of acknowledging it as a question (Ger. seinfrage ). According to Jonas, technology has transformed the "created human being" into a "creating human being," able to produce an artificial nature which eventually will turn against its creator who, in the meantime, has become the object of further manipulations meant to give birth to other artificial realities.
The Christian idea of a nature that possesses its own order and consistency would have robbed the world of its intrinsic divine statute. The clear distinction between God and the world, while favoring the advance of scientific thought through the affirmation of induction, realism, and faith in a rational order, at the same time, would have also increased the progress of technology and, along with it, manipulations and abuses. The autonomy of the world, springing from the Christian tenet that the created order is not intrinsically holy, would have given birth to a complete independence of the world from God. Secularization would be a necessary effect of this way of thinking. According to this view, Christianity would be the direct cause of the loss of a truly "religious understanding of the world." For this reason, new attempts are being made to recover the world's sacred dimension, invoking philosophical and religious traditions other than Christianity. This explains the non-Christian origin of not a few contemporary ecological movements, which are endowed frequently with a certain spiritual charge. In summary, the following path seems to be drawn: the abandonment of primitive pantheism (the first centuries of the Christian era) would develop later into deism (the beginning of the Modern Age) and, consequently, into atheism (the end of the Modern Age), while contemporary atheism would be the prelude to a new polytheism/pantheism (post-modernity).
The historical vicissitudes experienced by the notion of autonomy have an interesting parallel with the way in which the notion of Laws of nature has been understood during the last centuries. During the Middle Ages, and until the beginning of the 17th century, these laws were conceived as echoing the intellect and rationality of the Creator. They were considered as absolute and universal laws within their own order, but still contingent in relation to God (Christian-theistic overcoming of pantheism). Subsequently, during the 18th and 19th century, these laws became an expression of the "autonomous operation" of nature: nature is still seen as the source of an ordered and lawful behavior, but it no longer requires a personal Creator (deism and atheism). The 20th century sees the introduction and development of notions such as indeterminism, complexity, and unpredictability, as well as the negation of the principle of the lawfulness of nature. The idea of a legislating God is definitively banned, and He is left with the only possibility of operating within the "folds" of nature. According to their advocates, this view would make nature truly free (autonomous) and able to reveal its innermost energy, one that is seen, at least by someone, as a kind of spiritual energy, in the neo-pantheist sense of the term.
The examples above present us with the following path, which poses to Christianity a major question. It seems that the Christian vision/revaluation of the true reality and autonomy of the created order (i.e. secularity) brings with it, as its ultimate implication, the exclusion of God from creation (i.e. secularization). Such an exclusion is in turn viewed as the source of "troubles" (i.e. despotism of technology) that are to be solved by resorting to alternative, non-Christian religious visions. However, when things are analyzed more in depth. this philosophical path turns out to be inadequate, despite the ample acceptance it has nowadays.
To begin with, we have to emphasize that the Biblical message does not attribute to the human being the role of a tyrannical ruler of the created world. The mandate given to the progenitors to subdue earth (cf. Gn 1:26-28) refers to an intelligent and responsible governance of it, and is to be understood as a consequence of the image and likeness of God in which they have been created.
The action of "subduing creation" does not imply a despotic dominion, but rather it concerns the responsibility of populating the world, thus spreading life and the human presence. The Jahvist Biblical source of the Book of Genesis points out that green grass had not grown yet because the Lord had not sent rain, neither was there anybody to work or take care of the fields (cf. Gn 2:4-6). And it is precisely in this context that the Bible introduces the scope of human work: "The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to coltivate and care of it" (Gn 2:15). Here we are faced with an intelligent technical activity (involving excavation of canals and knowledge of agricultural means) which is associated with a concept of "caring," intended not just as a material care but also as a moral one. Likewise, the verb "to care for" (Heb. samar) is used in the Bible to indicate the custody, on the part of the creature, both of human life and of the divine laws in the human heart (cf. Gn 4:9; Dt 4:9; Prv 13:3). The blessing-mandate of Genesis establishes the duty of "humanizing creation," that is, the act of transforming the created world for the prosperity, development and custody of human life. The New Testament will then reveal that the intent of such a "dominion" is to be found in the participation of human beings in the sovereignity of Christ over all things, a sovereignity whose deepest meaning is that of service, and whose logic is that of the new law of charity.
The notion of a de-sacralisation of nature, as such, cannot be inferred by the Biblical message. Rather, the idea of a control and exploitation of creation came into Western-Christian thought as a legacy of two different philosophical traditions: dualism and historicism. The first, through its classical roots (i.e. Platonic, Neo-Platonic and Manichean), proposes a devaluation of matter in opposition to spirit, thus making matter liable to manipulation and consumption by human activity. It is particularly with Francis Bacon and René Descartes that we can see the consequences of such a stance in their full effect. While the English empiricist, strong in his conviction that "knowledge is power," invests science with the duty of preparing the regnum hominis on earth by substituting action with contemplation, the French philosopher highlights, in rationalist tones, the dualism between thought and matter as a mirror of that between God and creation. Both stances are under the influence of William of Ockham's Nominalism, whose theological voluntarism negates the consistency of the created order, thus engendering a merely "technical" relationship between God and the world. All the multifarious applications of historicism share the tendency to enhance the value of the future. They place the reaching of meaning and truth in the tomorrow of the eschaton , and so undervalue the need of the present habitat. These two schools of thought have developed alongside Christian thought and, of course, have exerted their influence over it.
We must notice that Christianity has a truly religious vision of the world, without thinking that the world is the subject of a religion in itself. The Christian religious vision of nature stems from the cosmic mediation of Jesus Christ which is extended to all created things. The relation between the Word and the world consists neither in any sort of "panchristism" (Christ is in the world and the world is in Christ), nor in any other form of pantheism. The Creator, who is also the source of the autonomy of His creatures, is one God in three Persons. The mediation/recapitulation of the incarnate Logos must be understood in Trinitarian terms. The Father desires the world for the Son, and the created world finds in the Son its own ubi consistat because it is made able to manifest that Spirit-Love in whom the Son can bring the world to the Father. Christ is the télos (ultimate end) towards which the world tends, and not just a part of the world itself. The Logos has chosen to be "involved" in creation, however, He transcends it, as He is (Jn 1:1).
Further considerations are needed, with regard to the rise of atheism. Modern atheism does not seem to depend on a particular concept of nature and its autonomy from God, but rather it springs from a specific understanding of the human being. The rejection of God, typical to all forms of atheism, is not grounded on the affirmation of human freedom, but on the use that one wants to make of it. Atheism is the will to act, to decide, and to use things without referring in any way to God. It is this attitude that influences the way in which human beings "look at" nature and relate themselves to it. Humility and awe, which should characterize the relationship between humanity and the world, are replaced by a desire for power. Finally, we notice that those alternative non-Christian ways to "recover" the sacredness of nature easily fall into the pit of pantheism. In these systems of thought, the ultimate reason that should motivate moral human behavior toward nature is found in nature itself and not beyond it. In so doing, human thought and action are obliged to fluctuate between a groundless cosmos-centrism, and an anthropocentrism which is reminiscent of either Prometheus or Faust.
Contemporary theology is called upon to improve the understanding of the notion of autonomy. This is particularly true after the historico-philosophical developments of the 20th century, and after the doctrine offered by the Second Vatican Council. We think that this improvement should exceed the boundaries of a mere reflection on ecology, whose importance is ever-growing within the academic debate on creation. Rather, it should entail a deeper comprehension of the notion of "secularity," one linked to that "sense of human activity in the universe" (activity in saeculo) which is the subject of an entire chapter of Gaudium et spes (cf. nn. 33-39). If theology, when attempting to understand the relationship between humanity and nature in the context of God's plan of salvation, limits itself to the ecological perspective, it risks the confinement of its own thought to an horizontal dimension. On the contrary, a serious reflection on secularity would prompt theology to operate also in a vertical dimension. Within this last perspective, the latter can tackle the problem of how nature may be redirected to God through the free, secular work of humanity, in a way respectful of its autonomy and its own laws.
IV. The Autonomy of Scientific Knowledge with respect to Theology and Faith
1. Autonomy of Science and Philosophical Knowledge. The differentiation of knowledge in various branches is historically grounded not only in the difference of the subject-matters they treat, but mainly in the difference of the methods they follow. Before the Modern Age, the preliminary and incipient differentiation of the sciences did not raise any problems of methodological autonomy, because both natural philosophy and theology held a common vision of nature, that was not a "hegemonic vision" to be freed from. Thanks to their metaphysical basis --provided by doctrines such as participation in Being, the transcendentals and the degrees of perfection of Being, the principle of causality, etc.-- both Platonism and Aristotelism, in their synthesis with Christianity, offered a system of thought able to comprehend and unify the study of reality in its various forms. For instance, mathematics, geometry, botany, etc., participated in this harmonious view of nature, possessing their own methods and different domains of study well before the birth of Bacon and Galileo. When the authors of the Modern Age posed the question of the "autonomy of sciences," they strongly emphasized that such an autonomy implied a due separation between the natural sciences and philosophy. Although this separation came into light mainly because of some specific events, it took place during a long period of time. In fact, Aristotelian logic, categories and philosophical notions, were employed by science, to some extent, until the 18th century, while the idea of physics as "natural philosophy" survived even longer. In the case of Aristotle, the abandonment of his "physics" (when it was realized that this was no longer capable of giving account of the precise analysis and prediction of natural phenomena), did not entail the rejection of his entire philosophy. Eventually, it was rejected when the gradual fading of the former triggered the eclipse of the latter.
To properly understand the separation between the natural sciences and philosophy --which marked the birth of the scientific method and the autonomy of science-- two major elements must be pondered. Certainly preceded by the large use of mathematics in the analysis and prediction of natural phenomena (with Roger Bacon, Galileo, Kepler and Descartes) the abandonment of philosophy implied both a reduction of the object to its empirical dimensions, such as its measurability, and the employment of ideal and approximate models which satisfied the required leeway. Beginning with physics and later with biology, the scientific method focused on efficient causality, thus neglecting both the formal-exemplar and the final causality, because of the quantitative and predictive aims of its analysis.
The crux here is that natural sciences could not be independent from a primitive set of notions and from the exercise of a rationality of philosophical origin, whose legitimacy could not, nor can be justified, within the closed horizon of scientific method. The logical and ontological premises necessarily contained in both the method and the object of science, over the years became more and more implicit and understated to the point of being taken for granted. The task of reflecting on the existence of such premises was transferred gradually from science onto the shoulders of philosophy, to just a "philosophy of science." The second half of the 20th century saw the rise of new scientific and epistemological problems. Among these were the problems of indeterminism and complexity; questions on the foundations of science; the impracticable attempt of science to provide knowledge for "the whole"; and finally the re-evaluation of the notions of form, teleology and emergence. The search for a solution to these problems behooved science to turn inwards, towards a new reflection on the basis and methods of its own research. It is not by chance that this kind of reflection marks the recovery of those "forgotten causalities," of formal and final causality, as well as, a renewed attention to scientific language, to the meaning and bearing of axiomatic formulations, and to the relationship between the subject and the object.
The affirmation of the autonomy of science means neither the separation nor the independence of science from philosophy, but the distinction and proficiency in their own methodological work. Philosophy, especially logic, metaphysics, and common sense, keeps offering premises to every scientific activity, although science does not always need to discern that explicitly, particularly when performing ordinary experimental research. Such philosophical and implicit premises, along with the existence of philosophical problems that science can perceive, but cannot resolve nor properly formulate, through its own instruments and methods, indicate that the most effective way to approach the relationship between the natural sciences and philosophy is not to address the "limits" of science, but rather to emphasize the "philosophical ground" of scientific knowledge. Philosophical knowledge primarily locates itself at the center and at the basis of scientific knowledge, and only secondarily on its boundaries.
2. Answers from Science and Answers from Faith. The claim of the autonomy of science from theology gives rise to a more complex issue compared with its autonomy from philosophy. The contents of Sacred Scriptures constituted the pivotal element of all Medieval knowledge, and represented one of the more complete and authoritative sources of information. The Scriptures, by far the most discussed and commented document within the medieval academic world, were not only a source of wisdom and religious teachings but also of notions pertaining to cosmology, physics and the natural sciences. This is the reason why, for many years, the Sacra Doctrina was thought of as authoritative also in these fields. Nevertheless, the scientific enquiries and the love for experiments of Albert the Great, and also the use of Aristotelian philosophy made by Thomas Aquinas, show that the Bible was not the only authority in the field of science. However, it is without a doubt that the development of a methodology proper to science determined the necessary emancipation of the latter from the all-comprehensive knowledge of reality offered by theology, which was heavily and necessarily dependent on the Scriptures. Far from being a negative event, this separation enabled theology to generate new interpretations of biblical data thanks to the new-found knowledge produced by the natural sciences, and especially from the human sciences and history, which later will be used as auxiliary disciplines for the study of the Sacred Scriptures. It is important to remember that this process of adaptation to the new division of competencies between different disciplines and matters was a slow and carefully measured one, given the critical sensitivity of the object of Scripture (God's word) and the importance of its final end (the salvation of humankind). The discrepancy between the time theology took to elaborate new syntheses and the speed with which other disciplines could develop new knowledge, resulted in a bumpy relationship between theology and the sciences, causing a dangerous backlash for the task of the former.
The autonomy of science from theology does not prevent the latter from offering its own encompassing interpretation of nature. It is entitled to do so on the basis of the understanding of the created world that theology has, thanks to the primary and unifying "principle of creation." Through this insight, theology recognizes nature's primordial causes and reveals both the role played by the created order in God's plan, with all its multitude of relationships, and the ultimate meaning of creation itself. The interpretation of nature given by theology -whose reading is based on Biblical Revelation, but formulated through languages and syntheses allowing for progress and development- and that provided by the natural sciences do not oppose each other since they address different levels of inquiry. Yet limiting the field of competency in theology to answering the "whys," and in science to the "hows," is far from an adequate interpretation of the distinction between these two sources of knowledge and their autonomy. Although amply employed, and possibly because of its easily intuitive character, such a division of domains does not account for science as a true scire per causas (that is, a knowledge based on the examination of causes) to be able to answer the legitimate "whys" asked by its method. If this was the case, science would be circumscribed to the boundaries of an efficient and mechanistic causality that prevents the possibility of indicating formal properties and teleological principles.
Theology and religious reflection belong to a higher and foundational order of enquiry, which partly supersedes even what can be thematized by philosophy. The answers proposed by Biblical Revelation, clothed with deep meaning, refer to the origin and the end of history. As Joseph Pieper noted (cf. Über das Ende der Zeit, München 1950, p. 22), the beginning and the end of all things, and the meaning there attached, cannot be known through a rational elaboration internal to history, but only by listening to the Word of the One who transcends history. Moreover, Revelation answers those questions that deeply touch the personal individual. Even if science and history could reconstruct all of the passages of the cosmic evolution that have led from the primordial beginning of life to the appearance of the human being --including a complete determination of human biological, psychological, and social make-up-- the chain of causes so obtained would still fail to answer the most important question: why am I myself here? This was clearly perceived by Blaise Pascal when affirming: "I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me... All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape" (Pensées, n. 194). As science investigates the phenomenon of life and death, philosophy studies their existential import, while faith reveals their ultimate meaning: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you" (Jer 1:5), because "He chose us in him [Christ], before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will" (Eph 1:4-5).
3. Autonomy, not Divorce. Among the different models proposed to illustrate the relationship between science and theology, that of "separation" or even "divorce" is one of the most recurring ones. This would have the advantage of conveying an idea of mutual autonomy that, at once, overcomes a conflicting relationship while avoiding more compromising forms of interaction, such as dialogue and integration. However, what we have observed above concerning the inadequacy of the distinction between inquiring the "hows" and the "whys," makes the model of separation inadequate as well. Although plausible at a first glance, it does not interpret the notion of autonomy in its proper sense (see above, II). Still maintaining a distinction as for their formal objects of inquiry, science and theology often share the same material object (i.e. nature, the human being, life). For this reason they can, and should communicate and assist each other, in order to achieve a fuller knowledge of the other's subject matter. Autonomy means to possess and to be oneself; it means stimulating the other through one's own specificity and identity, not ignoring or dismissing what is other than oneself. It is ultimately the scientist, not science or theology as abstract disciplines, who is appealed to in terms of the knowledge coming from different fields of research. At the centre of this exchange lies the human person. And this shows a further deficiency of the model based on the idea of divorce, because separation would stand here for an intimate and personal schism, contrary to human desire for a unity of knowledge.
There is a "circularity" that exists between scientific-philosophical knowledge grounded in an experience that begins in nature, and theological knowledge grounded in Biblical Revelation. Thomas Aquinas indicated such "circularity" as the result of a double movement: an ascent from nature to God, and a descent from God to nature. Keeping in mind that, in Aquinas' works, the terms "philosopher" and "philosophy" refer to rationality in general, and therefore, with regards to the study of nature, we find the following passage illuminating. "The philosopher and the faithful Christian consider different points about creatures: the philosopher considers what attaches to them in their proper nature: the faithful Christian considers about creatures only what attaches to them in their relation to God, as that they are created by God, subject to God, and the like [...]. The two systems do not observe the same order of procedure. In the system of philosophy, which considers creatures in themselves and from them leads on to the knowledge of God, the first study is of creatures and the last of God; but in the system of faith, which studies creatures only in their relation to God, the study is first of God and afterwards of creatures; and this is a more perfect view, and more like to the knowledge of God, who, knowing Himself, thence discerns other beings" (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, ch. 4).
A correct comprehension of the autonomy of the sciences from religious faith is also distant from a vision of faith as relegated to totally subjective and incommunicable private convinctions, one called fideism, and from a vision of science as an entirely objective and universal knowledge. However, these domains are not as separated as they might seem. Moreover, two important features of faith cannot be neglected. On the one hand, the statements of faith have an anthropological and existential value, which are able to unite human beings belonging to different epochs and cultures. Furthermore, truly religious experiences exist, concerning the meaning of life and the great questions of human existence, and are able to be recognized as meaningful, universal, and communicable. On the other hand, especially in the case of Christian faith, the latter claims the capacity, or better yet, the intrinsic necessity of maintaining a sound reference to rational knowledge, which legitimizes the reasonableness of the assent of faith. The act of faith is addressed to the same one God whom the rational reflection on the created order leads to, although in a limited and partial fashion.
4. The Autonomy of Theology. Theology has its own autonomy insofar as, we acknowledge its epistemological status as a "science," analogously to other disciplines. The knowledge that springs from the Bible, as interpreted by both Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church, represents the necessary framework to be adopted by any theological elaboration (cf. Donum veritatis, 21-31). Theology understands this knowledge within the sphere of faith, without which theology would lose its epistemological specificity. Therefore, faith is precisely what makes theology different from all the other disciplines -such as history, philology, literature, etc.- that approach both the Bible and the Tradition of the Church from a historical, anthropological, hermeneutic or documentary point of view. The first characteristic of the autonomy of theology does, therefore, concern the uniqueness of its method. Theology begins from Revelation accepting it with faith. It is for this reason that the theologian will refer only to those philosophical systems which are open to transcendence and to the possibility of speaking about God (cf. Fides et ratio, 80-99). The interdisciplinary stage of the work, which is necessary to any science, must be developed following strict epistemological rules so that theology will not be lost within other methods and sources of knowledge.
The second characteristic of the autonomy of theology concerns the modality of research, whose goal is to understand Biblical Revelation at a deeper level. This deeper comprehension of Revelation can offer important solutions to the new problems which any particular historical situation generates. The fact that theology can answer the fundamental questions about the meaning of human existence and of our relationship with God, does not mean that it has nothing else to say. In point of fact, the contents of these answers must be continuously represented using a language that is consistent with the culture of the specific historical moment. In doing this, theology must make new choices, take new paths and sometimes leave those which have been taken in the past.
When theology carries out its research according to its epistemological specificity, which includes the light of faith and fidelity to Revelation, its autonomy does not collide with the Magisterium of the Church. In fact, the role of the latter is to interpret, preserve, and transmit in an authentic way the contents of Revelation, and thus clarify what belongs to the Church's faith and what does not. According to this perspective, when assuming positions which are in contrast with the official teachings of the Magisterium, theology does not exercise its autonomy, but rather it loses its epistemological specificity, as it renounces the very nature of its own method, namely the understanding of reality in the light of faith. By analogy, the metaphysical premises constitute the grounding of science and not its limit (cf. above, n. 1). In the same way, faith constitutes the specific foundation of the theological discourse, not its limitation. If Revelation and its interpretation offered by the Church's Magisterium represent for theology the "limits" of its intellectual elaboration, these limits must be understood as the marks of a path on which theology would proceed in its ever deeper comprehension of reality, and not as the obstacles to overcome in order to progress in research. On its part, theology co-operates with the Magisterium offering to it the results of its investigation on Biblical Revelation, as well as the means and the tools for a better understanding of the Church's declarations promulgated throughout history.
V. The Autonomy of the Sciences and Freedom of Research
The freedom of research, from any influence or control external to science itself, is among the factors which have greatly favored scientific progress. This freedom allows science to deepen the knowledge of its own object, without giving in to the pressures or impositions of tradition, custom or culture. The history of science has highlighted many times the "break" or "revolution" operated by a certain discovery or new theory and their import on mainstream beliefs. The importance of the freedom of research is reflected in the autonomy of the Universities, as their chief characteristic which, from their very beginning, protected the work and the service they offered to society. Beyond the debate that science could have had with the legislative and administrative powers of the States, and, more generally, with the public opinion and culture, the freedom of research has been frequently confronted with religion as well. Nowadays, science is involved in public social debates about issues such as the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the risks of technology, the problem of public welfare or the problem of ecology. Apart from some historical instances discussed elsewhere, in the article on Magisterium of the Church, the freedom of science has come into debate with religious thought, especially in those issues concerning bioethics, because of the deep link it has to existential matters that have a huge moral bearing, like life and death, as shown by contemporary bioethics. The necessity of a code to regulate scientific research, and therefore of a correct understanding of the autonomy of science in accordance with the respect for fundamental philosophical values and principles, is witnessed today by the search for, and the development of, an ethics apt to indicate a path to follow in the context of a pluralist society.
When compared with the beliefs of religious faith --we refer here mainly to the Christian faith-- the problem of the freedom of research must be seen in continuity with insights that philosophy and ethics would suggest on that same issue. Were it not so, Christian faith would result as opposed to human rationality, disclaiming the harmony that Christianity affirms to exist between theology and philosophy, faith and reason, and ultimately between Christology and anthropology, a relationship that Christianity places at the core of its faith and service to mankind (cf. Gaudium et spes, 22; Redemptor hominis, 13-18). Since many of the positions taken by the Church's Magisterium on issues regarding ethics or the progress of scientific research have been discussed elsewhere in this Encyclopaedia, here we will limit ourselves to a few general considerations. To emphasize the sensitivity of the matter at hand, it is worth noting that not a few believing scientists still envisage a conflict between freedom of research and the beliefs of their religious faith, tending to put the first before the last in their order of priorities (cf. Ardigò and Garelli, 1989).
A reflection on freedom of research should always be based on a correct understanding of the relationship between freedom and truth. Freedom of research is not "freedom of science," but rather, "freedom of the subject doing science." Thus, such a freedom participates in those characteristics that reveal the meaning of any personal freedom as a self-determination of the acting subject, which, is fully accomplished in the choice for the true and the good: the freedom of science is not a regulative freedom, but a freedom regulated by a nature and a truth that must be found in the order of things and not posited a priori by the subject (see above, I.2). Like any other freedom, the freedom of research is bound to the perception of a corresponding responsibility. As individual freedom is not freedom for being what one is not but that of becoming what one is called to be, so freedom of research cannot be understood as having the liberty of doing whatever science and technology allow us to do. On the contrary, this freedom is that of leading science towards its own end. A new, deeper sense of the "autonomy" of science is implied by the fact that this télos should never be considered as "heteronymous," that is, imposed from the outside. However, it ought to be discernible from within scientific activity, with the help of personal and philosophical reflection, because the scientist is able to recognize that the ultimate end of any scientific activity has to rest in the link that science has to the truth and the service to humankind.
On the issue of autonomy and heteronomy of scientific research, and within the frame of an ample reflection on the humanistic dimension of the scientist's work, John Paul II, here referring to the role of human reason and not to any religious doctrine, noticed the following. Addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, he observed that discussions of humanism in a scientific context "could even lead some people to fear that a kind of "humanistic control of science" is being envisaged, almost as though, on the assumption that there is a dialectical tension between these two spheres of knowledge, it was the task of the humanistic disciplines to guide and orientate in an external way the aspirations and the results of the natural sciences, directed as they are towards the planning of ever new research and extending its practical application" (Discourse to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, November 13, 2000, n. 2, in Papal Addresses, Vatican City State 2003, p. 386). Scientists possess enough instruments to recognize truths which would become a source of norms for their scientific work, as for instance, the uniqueness of the human being among the other living beings, and that every human person transcends the rest of the created order. In the same discourse, John Paul II clarifies that, "for this reason, the ethical and moral responsibilities connected to scientific research can be perceived as a requirement within science, because it is a fully human activity, but not as control, or worse, as an imposition which comes from outside. The man of science knows perfectly, from the point of view of his knowledge, that truth cannot be subject to negotiation, cannot be obscured or abandoned to free conventions or agreements between groups of power, societies, or States. Therefore, because of the ideal of service to truth, he feels a special responsibility in relation to the advancement of mankind, not understood in generic or ideal terms, but as the advancement of the whole man and of everything that is authentically human" (ibidem, n. 3, p. 387).
If science renounced its relationship with truth by considering truth as something provisional or too idealistic to attain, and accepted a merely instrumental and functional vision of its own activity, it would lose its autonomy by letting economy, politics, and the play of public consensus decide its goals (cf. John Paul II, Meeting with Scientists and Students in the Cologne Cathedral, November 15,1980, n. 3). It must also be added that, in the work of scientists, the search for truth -to which freedom of research ultimately leads, and for which it defends its autonomy- does not simply follow all of the routes available to science, while being blind to the implications that these could have in other sectors. It is not the craving for experimentation and "novelty" at any cost, that necessarily reveals nature's innermost secrets. The existence of a system of moral criteria, that can suggest or discourage the choice of specific paths to follow in one's research, is not something utterly foreign to scientists, since scientific studies already comply with a number of limiting norms --i.e. the availability of material or human resources, the environmental or natural factors related to the occurrence of the phenomena under study, the specific legislation ruling the field of one's activity, etc. Without being perceived as coercions, all these factors inevitably bear consequences on the modality of the scientist's work.
This combination of a legitimate freedom of research, with an ethical and moral dimension present in the activity of science, should not be read merely in terms of an "ethics of the limit," which would put to the index a set of scientific experiments, applications and procedures. Although on a pragmatic and legislative level the ethics of the limit becomes necessary and, also, the first available path to follow, as it presents the limits of its own. Once understood as participation in the freedom of the individual, freedom of research is called to show forth the virtues that illuminate the exercise of personal freedom. Virtue does not move nor does it develop "within the boundaries set by a limit," either externally imposed or recognized within the activity of the scientist. Scientific investigation moves toward the good in an unlimited, and therefore, free manner. It chooses its routes with the criterion of virtuous growth and not that of limit. We can therefore talk of scientific research as, not impeded by the recognition of ethical criteria that lead its exercise: "Seen from this point of view, science shines forth in all its value as a good capable of motivating an existence, as a great experience of freedom for truth, as a fundamental work of service. Through it, each researcher feels that he is able himself to grow, and to help others to grow, in humanity" (Discourse to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, November 13, 2000, n. 3, in Papal Addresses, 2003, p. 387). It is the exercise of virtue, not the accordance on a limit, that leads to this growth in humanity.
Christian Revelation finds itself in continuity with the perception of an ethical and person-centered dimension present in scientific activity. This highlights that the tending towards the truth of the service to the human being on the part of the freedom of research is grounded in the transcendent dignity of the human creature as God's image. Science and philosophy ultimately refer to this supernatural dignity, when the former acknowledges the emergence of the human being over nature, and when the latter points out the moral rule that each human person must always be treated as an end and never as a means. All this may help us to remember what consists of the true autonomy of nature and the true autonomy of human freedom. The negligence of these principles has engendered dangerous consequences, especially obvious in contemporary society. Examples bearing witness to this are: the loss of the understanding of science as a quest for truth, reducing scientific activity to a role of a mere pragmatic instrument, employed by subjects, other than scientists, in a functional and utilitarian way, as a means for economic gain; the theoretical planning and the practical production and use of the planet's resources following modalities that do not answer to the rightful demands of material and spiritual progress of peoples; and especially, the legitimization of arbitrary interventions on human life, particularly in the phase of its conception, which eloquently indicates an understanding of human autonomy and freedom as separated from the truth of the human person. From Christian thought, grounded on the Biblical message, the contemporary culture could still draw important inspirations to overcome the conflict between ethics and technology. Useful elements would be provided to rediscover how to give back to all created things, and firstly to human beings, the meaning they have in the divine plan; this would restore them with the knowledge of the truth about their own being, and therefore, with their own autonomy.
Council of Florence, DH 1333; Pius IX, DH 2850-2859; Lumen gentium, 36; Gaudium et spes, 34-36, 41; Apostolicam actuositatem, 7Laborem exercens, 25. John Paul II: General Audience, 2.4.1986; Meeting with scientists and students in the Cologne Cathedral, 15.11.1980, ORWE 24.11.1980, pp. 6-7; Discourse to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 13.11.2000, Papal Addresses pp. 385-388.
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