Vatican visits CERN's Big Bang machine

Geneva, Switzerland - A senior Vatican delegation visited the world's biggest nuclear physics laboratory, proclaiming that true faith has no problems with science.

The Roman Catholic Church was represented by Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican City's governor, as it toured the CERN facility and its 17-mile (27-kilometer) proton accelerator this week. It welcomed any breakthroughs physicists could provide on understanding the basis of the universe, and said they would also advance religion.

"The Church never fears the truth of science, because we are convinced that all truth comes from God," Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican City's governor, said Thursday in Geneva. "Science will help our faith to purify itself. And faith at the same time will be able to broaden the horizons of man, who cannot just enclose himself in the horizons of science."

Lajolo spoke a day after visiting the laboratory beneath the Swiss-French border and receiving a crash course in particle physics from Edward Witten, a professor at the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, at the forefront of attempts to unify Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity with quantum mechanics.

CERN's atom smasher, the world's largest, is seen as vital in this quest. Physicists hope soon to use the $10 billion machine to smash protons from hydrogen atoms crash into each other at high energy, record what particles are produced and gain a better idea of the makeup of the universe and everything in it.

Damages in the initial startup last September have set the project back a year and it is expected to be turned on again this autumn. Researchers hope the collisions will show on a tiny scale what happened one-trillionth of a second after the so-called Big Bang, which many scientists theorize was the massive explosion that formed the universe. The theory holds that the universe was rapidly cooling at that stage and matter was changing quickly.

Lajolo said scientific truths could "correct some of our opinions" about scripture and faith. He said nothing in science could contradict the Holy Scriptures - only interpretations - because both were rooted in God.