Vatican: Pope Francis praises atheist Stephen Hawking for his brilliant work

The pair met in Rome today as members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences gathered for a conference.

Francis appeared delighted to greet the theoretical physicist, who has met three previous Popes, by touching his shoulder as he welcomed him warmly.

The pontiff then addressed a group of scientists, saying their role in finding creative solutions to the world’s problems is more urgent than ever.

VATICAN, Italy – According to MailOnline he praised the increasing collaboration between scientific and religious communities in stopping climate change.

‘It falls to scientists, who work free of political, economic or ideological interests, to develop a cultural model which can face the crisis of climatic change and its social consequences, so that the vast potential of productivity will not be reserved only for the few,’ the Pope said. 

He called on science and religion to work together to address water shortages, renewable forms of energy and food security.

Francis stressed that with the cooperation of scientists, the creation of ‘a normative system’ that includes ‘inviolable limits and ensures the protection of ecosystems’ is now necessary.

This must be done, he said, before ‘irreversible harm is caused not only to the environment, but also to our societies, to democracy, to justice and freedom.’

He added he was worried that ‘well-founded scientific opinion’ about the state of the planet is disregarded with ‘ease.’

And he warned that if humans continue ‘subjecting inanimate matter to our whims,’ we face the ‘grave loss to biodiversity, among other ills.’

Francis closed his speech by extending his ‘best wishes’ and offering his blessing to the scientists and their families.

His comments came as he spoke to members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as they gathered for a conference entitled Science and Sustainability:

Impacts of Scientific Knowledge and Technology on Human Society and its Environment. 

Hawking, who has been a member of the society since 1986, has also met Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

There was mystery about whether or not the physicist believed in god until he declared in 2014: ‘In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind.’

He went on to explain his atheism: ‘Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. 

‘What I meant by “we would know the mind of God” is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.’

Hawking has often spoken out about the danger of climate change, recently penning an open letter slamming Donald Trump for his stance on the issue. 

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences was established in 1936 by Pope Pius XI to promote the progress of maths and science.