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Science and Catholicism: Two Long-lost Friends

March 7, 2014

Every now and then I come across some book or passage that strikes a beautiful balance between faith and reason, those two amazing human faculties that work wonders when used together but are often regarded as incompatible. Unfortunately, I do not find such passages or books often enough. We live in a fragmented society where it's difficult to put together all the various pieces so we can see the big picture, and I think the most fundamental rupture in our society today is the one between religion and science.

It hasn't always been this way. Catholicism has had a rich science tradition for centuries. In fact, it can even be called the mother of many of the sciences. The big bang theory came from Monsignor Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian Catholic priest. Copernicus was a deacon. Gregor Mendel, a humble monk, is called the father of genetics. Similarly, the Church developed the scientific method to come to a deeper understanding of the truths and laws that govern the natural world. Johannes Kepler, who is known for establishing many laws of planetary motion, sought to prove how God had an intelligible design in mind when he created the universe. Many Catholic philosophers like St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus also established the groundwork for modern science by teaching how faith and reason must work together, how universal truth can be discovered through particular things, and how we know things by the names we give them.

Not to mention, hospitals can be traced back to the days of early Christians who tended to the sick and lame while the rest of society labeled such people as outcasts. The university has its origins in the cathedral schools of the middle ages, and the guilds who sought an adequate way to teach apprentices their trade. So not only are the study of many sciences rooted in Catholic culture, but the establishments in which we pursue these studies also have their foundations in the Church. 

 So why are science and religion so often seen as opposites? I am only theorizing here, but it seems as if the sciences emerged as a way to study the beauty and design of God's creation. But now, it seems like all scientific disciplines are geared toward showing how all natural design in the universe is not necessarily designed by a superior intelligence. If this hypothesis were true, and if the physical world were not intelligently designed, then that would leave us humans as the only known intelligent beings in the universe. For those who think intelligence is the most superior trait in a living thing, that would make humans the most superior being -- more than just top of the food chain, I'm talking about the top of the hierarchy of being. 

But reason tells us that there are some things far beyond the reaches of our intelligence. It is not reasonable to think that all truth is accessible by human reason. The Church has understood for centuries how human reason must work side by side with human faith. As St. Anselm, the father of Scholasticism, stated in the 11th century, "Faith asks that its object be understood with the help of reason; and at the summit of its searching reason acknowledges that it cannot do without what faith presents."

I encourage others to help bridge the chasm that has grown between science and religion. 

 

2 Comments

 

 Comments

 

Nick Satinlink(nicksatin@mac.com)

03/07/2014 6:59am

 

Great article. You're absolutely right. Not only is the Church the "mother of many sciences," though, science only arose at all because of Christianity. Way back in that age mistakenly labeled as the "Dark Ages," the medieval scholastics articulated a field of inquiry they referred to as "natural philosophy," which we know as "science."

They posited, if we are beings made in God's image and likeness, that means, in part, we are rational beings, because God is a rational being. And if God is a rational being, his creation must be "rational," or "orderly." In other words, the universe has to be governed by rational processes. Since we are rational, we can study God's creation and study and learn these processes, in order to better know Him.

People will frequently cite the Greeks as the originators of science, yet that's not so. The Greek worldview is incompatible with science. For instance, Plato was pantheistic in his assertion the cosmos itself was a "single visible living creature" and bequeathed souls into inanimate objects. Aristotle argued celestial bodies move in circles because of their "affection" for this action; objects fall to the ground, not because of some rational process/law, but instead "because of their innate love for the centre of the world."

Not very scientific.

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Amy Miller(aemiller@ramblingspirit.com)

03/08/2014 9:44am

 

On a related note, check out this cool post about a recent talk in the Allentown Diocese relating to the Church and science. http://www.allentowndiocese.org/blog/vatican-astronomer-maintains-catholic-church-is-source-of-scienc

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