Pope Francis says "...the Church never ceases to encourage the progress of science and technology at the service of the dignity of the person..." to the Academy for Life

Hall of the Consistory
Monday, February 20, 2023
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
dear brothers and sisters,
Your Eminence, dear Bishops!
I warmly welcome you! I thank Archbishop Paglia for the words he addressed to me and all of you for the commitment you dedicate to the promotion of human life. Thank you! In these days you will reflect on the relationship between the person, emerging technologies and the common good: it is a delicate frontier where progress, ethics and society meet, and where faith, in its perennial relevance, can provide a valuable contribution. In this sense, the Church never ceases to encourage the progress of science and technology at the service of the dignity of the person and for an "integral and integral" human development [1]. In the letter I sent to you on the occasion of the twenty-fifth year of the foundation of the Academy, I invited you to delve into this very theme [2]; now I would like to reflect with you on three challenges that I consider important in this regard: the change in human living conditions in the technological world; the impact of new technologies on the very definition of "man" and "relationship", with particular reference to the condition of the most vulnerable subjects; the concept of “knowledge” and its consequences.
First challenge: the change in man's living conditions in the world of technology. We know that it is proper to man to act in the world in a technological way, transforming the environment and improving its living conditions. Benedict XVI recalled this, stating that technology "responds to the same vocation as human work" and that "in technology, seen as the work of his own genius, man recognizes himself and realizes his humanity" [3]. It therefore helps us to understand ever better the value and potential of human intelligence, and at the same time speaks to us of the great responsibility we have towards creation.
In the past, the connection between cultures, social activities and the environment, thanks to less dense interactions and slower effects, was less impactful. Today, however, the rapid development of technical means makes the interdependence between man and the "common home" more intense and evident, as already recognized by Saint Paul VI in Populorum progressio [4]. Indeed, the strength and acceleration of the interventions is such as to produce significant mutations - because there is a geometric acceleration, not a mathematical one -, both in the environment and in human life conditions, with effects and developments that are not always clear and predictable. Various crises are demonstrating this, from the pandemic to the energy crisis, from the climate crisis to the migration one, the consequences of which have repercussions on each other, amplifying each other. Healthy technological development cannot fail to take these complex interweaving into account.
Second challenge: the impact of new technologies on the definition of "man" and "relationship", especially with regard to the condition of vulnerable subjects. It is evident that the technological form of human experience is becoming more pervasive every day: in the distinctions between "natural" and "artificial", "biological" and "technological", the criteria with which to discern what is human and of technology become increasingly difficult. Therefore, a serious reflection on the very value of man is important. In particular, it is necessary to decisively reaffirm the importance of the concept of personal conscience as a relational experience, which cannot disregard either corporality or culture. In other words, in the network of relationships, both subjective and community, technology cannot replace human contact, the virtual cannot replace the real and neither can social media replace the social sphere. And we are tempted to make the virtual prevail over the real: this is a bad temptation.
Even within scientific research processes, the relationship between the person and the community signals increasingly complex ethical implications. For example in the health sector, where the quality of information and assistance of the individual largely depends on the collection and study of available data. Here we must address the problem of combining the confidentiality of personal data with the sharing of information concerning them in the interest of all. Indeed, it would be selfish to ask to be treated with the best resources and skills available to society without helping to increase them. More generally, I am thinking of the urgency that the distribution of resources and access to care benefit everyone, so that inequalities are reduced and the necessary support is guaranteed especially to the most fragile subjects, such as disabled, sick and poor people .
This is why it is necessary to monitor the speed of transformations, the interaction between changes and the possibility of guaranteeing an overall balance. Furthermore, it is not said that this balance is the same in the different cultures, as instead the technological perspective seems to assume when it imposes itself as a universal and homogeneous language and culture - this is a mistake -; the commitment should instead be aimed at «making sure that everyone grows with the style that is peculiar to them, developing their ability to innovate starting from the values of their own culture» [5].
Third challenge: the definition of the concept of knowledge and the resulting consequences. The set of elements considered so far leads us to question ourselves about our ways of knowing, aware of the fact that the type of knowledge we implement already has moral implications in itself. For example, it is simplistic to seek the explanation of phenomena only in the characteristics of the single elements that compose them. More articulated models are needed, which consider the intertwining of relationships of which the single events are woven. It is paradoxical, for example, referring to technologies for enhancing the biological functions of a subject, to speak of an "augmented" man if one forgets that the human body refers to the integral good of the person and therefore cannot be identified with the biological organism alone. A wrong approach in this field actually ends not with "augmenting" but with "compressing" man.
In Evangelii gaudium and above all in Laudato si' I highlighted the importance of knowledge on a human scale, organic, for example by emphasizing that "the whole is superior to the parts" and that "everything in the world is intimately connected" [6 ]. I believe that such ideas can foster a renewed way of thinking also in the theological sphere [7]; in fact, it is good that theology continues to overcome eminently apologetic approaches, to contribute to the definition of a new humanism and to encourage mutual listening and mutual understanding between science, technology and society. The lack of a constructive dialogue between these realities, in fact, impoverishes the mutual trust which is at the basis of all human coexistence and of all forms of "social friendship" [8]. I would also like to mention the importance of the contribution that dialogue between the great religious traditions offers to this end. They have age-old wisdom which can help in these processes. You have shown that you know how to grasp the value, for example by promoting, even in recent times, interreligious meetings on the themes of the "end of life" [9] and artificial intelligence [10].
Dear brothers and sisters, faced with such complex current challenges, the task before you is enormous. It is a matter of restarting from the experiences that we all share as human beings and of studying them, assuming the perspectives of complexity, trans-disciplinary dialogue and collaboration between different subjects. But we must never be discouraged: we know that the Lord does not abandon us and that what we do is rooted in the trust we place in him, the "lover of life" (Wis 11:26). You have worked hard in recent years to ensure that scientific and technological growth is increasingly reconciled with a parallel "development of the human being as regards responsibility, values and conscience" [11]: I invite you to continue on this path, while I bless you and ask you, please, to pray for me. Thank you.


[1] Lett. enc. Laudato si’, n. 141.

[2] Cfr Humana communitas, 6 gennaio 2019, nn. 12-13.

[3] Benedetto XVI, Lett. enc. Caritas in veritate, n. 69.

[4] Cfr n. 65.

[5] Lett. enc. Fratelli tutti, n. 51.

[6] Esort. ap. Evangelii gaudium, nn. 234-237; Lett. enc.  Laudato si’, n. 16.

[7] Cfr Costit. apost. Veritatis gaudium, nn. 4-5.

[8] Cfr Lett. enc. Fratelli tutti, n. 168.

[9] Cfr Dichiarazione congiunta delle religioni monoteiste abramitiche sulle problematiche di fine vita, 28 ottobre 2019.

[10] Cfr Firma della Rome Call for AI Ethics, 10 gennaio 2023.

[11] Lett. enc. Laudato si’, n. 105 .

Source: Vatican.va