Werner Arber, a Swiss microbiologist who serves as the president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, also said that, while there is still no proof, he is one of a number of scientists who believe there may be life on some planets outside of Earth’s solar system.
He made the comments Oct. 12 during the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization. Arber, the first Protestant to lead the Vatican’s sciences academy, was invited as a special guest to speak on the relationship between science and faith.
“If Jesus Christ would live among us today, he would be in favor of the application of solid scientific knowledge for the long-term benefit of humans and their natural environment, as long as such applications” fully respected the laws of nature, said Arber, one of three winners of the 1978 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.
Scientific discoveries not only enrich humanity’s world views; many innovations can benefit human lives and the environment, he said in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI and hundreds of synod participants.
Just as laws, cultural mores, ethics and religion help guide how people see the world and behave, science, too, can make a contribution, he said.
“It is an important task of today’s societies to update the established set of rules (by) paying particular attention to our acquired scientific knowledge,” he said.
However, the decision over whether a particular discovery should be used must depend upon careful scientific assessment coupled with the voices of the church and civil society, who “are ready to take co-responsibility together with the scientists” in “carrying out a novel shaping of the future” with potentially beneficial technologies, he said.
Having all sides working together can help ensure that scientific knowledge can be applied “for the benefit of human well-being” and the safe, sustainable and responsible development of the planet Earth, he said.
While science can reveal important laws of nature, it cannot fully explain the origins of life or of the universe, said Arber.
The evolution of life and the universe “are now solidly established scientific facts that serve as essential elements of permanent creation,” he said.
“Our planet Earth is just a minute component” of the larger universe, which contains “a very large number of solar systems.”
“At this time we assume that life may also exist on some extraterrestrial planets, but we are still waiting for scientific evidence for this assumption,” he added.