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Natural Science

Vatican science to continue despite Pope’s resignation

  • Vatican Science Meeting

    Located within the Vatican garden, Casina Pio IV is a 16th century villa that houses the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. (Edwin Cartlidge)

  • Pope Resigns Science Continues.jpg

    April 19, 2005: Pope Benedict XVI greeting the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica moments after being elected, at the Vatican. On Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 Benedict XVI announced he would resign Feb. 28, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years -- but that shouldn't affect science at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

Despite the historic resignation of Pope Benedict, it's still science business as usual at the Vatican -- including research into the role of stem cells in medicine, advanced neuroscience, the study of climate change and more.

The Vatican is the head of the Catholic Church, of course, but few realize it’s also the headquarters of The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the world’s first exclusively scientific academy. And the group will continue on schedule regardless of who runs the Catholic Church, explained Martin Rees, a professor at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy and a member of the Pontifical Academy’s council.

“I don't imagine it will have any effect,” Rees told

The existence of the Academy is probably a surprise to many, who view the Catholic Church as “anti-science.” But in fact, the church has long argued for a reconciliation of science and faith. Reality is a far cry from the caricature often seen in pop culture, in movies like "The DaVinci Code" and "Angels and Demons" that portray the Catholic Church as butting heads with science.

That's good fiction, but it's just not true.

In fact, it was a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, who first proposed the Big Bang theory in 1927, on the basis of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, according to the American Natural History Museum in New York. The current Pope wrote about it in a 1995 book, and John Paul II called science a "highway to wonder" way back in 1979.

Indeed, next on the docket is an April workshop on evolution.

"Is Man the culmination of evolution? Is he an incidental result of randomness?" reads an online description of the April meeting. "Nine billion years went by between the Big Bang and the formation of a primitive lifeless ocean on planet Earth, then another 4 billion years passed by between this primitive ocean and Man, with 100 billion brain cells and the ability to question his role in the History of the Universe and of Life and to reconstruct his own history."

Founded in Rome in 1603 by Federico Cesi, Giovanni Heck, Francesco Stelluti and Anastasio de Filiis with the name Linceorum Academia, it was reestablished in 1847 by Pius IX with the name Pontificia Accademia dei Nuovi Lincei. It was moved to its current headquarters in the Vatican Gardens in 1922, and given its current name and statutes by Pius XI in 1936.

Werner Arber, current president of the PAS and a Nobel prize winner for his work in physiology, did not respond to a email.