Pope Francis smiles at a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life  (Vatican Media)

By Devin Watkins

Feb 13 2024

At an audience with members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Pope Francis reflects on humanity’s search for meaning and says relationships with others lie at the heart of our existence.

Pope Francis held an audience on Monday with participants in the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which is focused on the theme: “Human. Meanings and Challenges”.

In his address, the Pope highlighted the importance of the Academy’s efforts to explore “what is distinctive about the human being.”

Reflecting on the prevalence of technology in all aspects of human life, he pointed out that it is impossible to reject technology out-of-hand as opposed to human flourishing.

“What is needed,” said the Pope, “is to situate scientific and technological knowledge within a broader horizon of meaning, and thus to avert the hegemony of a technocratic paradigm.”

Uniformity of thought vs diversity of opinions

He offered the example of technology reproducing various aspects of the human person, such as efforts to employ binary code as a digital language able to express every type of information.

Noting the obvious parallel with the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9), Pope Francis said God’s response to the human desire to create a single language is not mere punishment.

Rather, he noted, God confused human language as “a kind of blessing” with the purpose of countering the tendency to force all people to think exactly the same as others.

“In this way,” he said, “human beings would come face to face with their limitations and vulnerability, and be challenged to respect differences and to show concern for one another.”

Depth of relationships beyond language

Pope Francis invited scientists and researchers to always exercise their craft responsibly and know that their creative act is always subordinate to the creativity of God.

Artificial intelligence, or “talking machines,” as he called them, can never be endowed with “spirit,” and so technological advances must take place in such a way as to prevent “the disfigurement of what is human”.

The Pope went on to say the main task of anthropologists is to develop “a culture that, by integrating the resources of science and technology, is capable of acknowledging and promoting the human being in his or her irreducible specificity.”

There is a higher plane to human relationships than language, which lies in the sphere of “pathos and emotions, desire and intentionality,” he said.

Only human beings, he added, can perceive and convert these empathic exchanges into positive and beneficial relationships with others, aided by God’s grace.

Planting trees whose fruit others will harvest

Pope Francis praised the Pontifical Academy for Life for seeking to create a cross-disciplinary dialogue where researchers can exchange their views on technological development.

He highlighted the initiative’s similarity to the ongoing synodal process in the Church.

“This process is demanding,” he said, “since it involves careful attention and freedom of spirit, and readiness to set out on unexplored and unknown paths, free of useless attempts to ‘look back’.”

In conclusion, Pope Francis said Christianity can offer a far-sighted aspect to the technological-cultural dialogue.

“Christianity has always offered significant contributions,” said the Pope, “absorbing meaningful elements from every culture where it has taken root and reinterpreting them in the light of Christ and the Gospel, appropriating the linguistic and conceptual resources present in various cultural settings.” – Vatican News