How did the idea of creating a spiritual center on the Saclay plateau come about?
Father Dominique Degoul: Under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, the State decided to regroup geographically and administratively a large part of French scientific research on the Saclay plateau. The major engineering schools have been brought together in two groups: the Institut polytechnique de Paris and the University of Paris-Saclay.
To read: Christian researchers, or how to reconcile science and faith
The Bishop of Évry-Corbeil-Essonnes at the time, Mgr Michel Dubost, then contacted the Jesuits because we have a tradition of accompanying students from the Grandes Ecoles and of interest in the scientific world. We even see from time to time the name of a 17th century Jesuit astronomer given to an asteroid!
The animation of the center is entrusted to the Society of Jesus, but the launching of the project is a joint initiative of the Society with the financial contributions of the dioceses of Évry, Paris, Versailles and Nanterre. Partnerships will also start with the Center Sèvres-Jesuit Faculties in Paris and the Collège des Bernardins.
What is the purpose of this center ?
D. D. : To be the place of presence of the Church on the plateau of Saclay. We want both to offer a pastoral activity to the Christians of the plateau who wish it, and to enter into conversation with the scientific world, to reflect with it on the societal, anthropological and perhaps spiritual questions implied by scientific developments.
For example, the development of artificial intelligence raises ethical or economic questions because it threatens a certain number of professions, in particular intellectuals. It also raises more fundamental, anthropological questions: can we speak of a consciousness of machines? What makes our specificity as human beings if not our ability to think?
Thanks to conferences for the general public and working groups with people working on the set, we want the center to be a place where we dialogue, in a logic of argumentation, an ethics of conversation where there is no acts neither to anathematize nor to blur difficult questions so as not to deal with them. Let’s dare to talk about what hurts, in a peaceful way. This will help us identify what the real issues are.
You are a student chaplain. How do they position themselves in relation to all these questions?
D. D : The Catholic engineering students that I meet are not in rejection of technology, as some young graduates of the AgroParisTech school were able to demonstrate a year ago. Rather, they are confident that they can help find solutions to the challenges ahead.
At the same time, I perceive in them a somewhat dull anguish. On the environmental question, they are caught in a contradictory tension between the necessary modifications of individual behavior – changes in which they participate – and what would suppose enormous modifications of the infrastructures. Between the need to change everything and the difficulty of knowing where to start.
All of their questioning relates to how, as Christians, present a model of good living? While the youngest among them may reproach the “boomers” for having mismanaged the world, I hope that the Teilhard Center will encourage a conversation between these generations.