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Nicholas Hardesty for May: Religion and science are not at war

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Many people reject religion and even leave the church today because they believe that religious faith is at odds with reasonable, scientific inquiry.

You may have heard it before:

  •      “I’ll believe in God if you can give me empirical proof that God exists.”
  •      “How can I take Catholicism seriously when it persecuted Galileo?
  •      “The church has always been anti-science”

There’s a lot that could be said in response. What we need are some basic points we can useeto “seize the moment” whenever objections like these arise.

Point 1: Some of the greatest scientists ever were Catholics. If being Catholic means being anti-science, then why have so many Catholics made significant advances in various scientific fields? Here are just three examples (there are dozens more):

  • “Georges Lamaitre: First proposed the “Big Bang Theory” of the origins of the universe; was a Catholic priest.
  • Gregor Mendel: Considered the father of the scientific field of genetics; was an Augustinian monk.
  • Nicolaus Copernicus: First proposed that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe; had a doctorate in Canon Law and was a canon of Frombork Cathedral. 

These are intellectual giants in the history of scientific progress, and they were all committed Catholics.

Point 2: Catholic beliefs lead to scientific advancement. We never answered our earlier question: If being Catholic means being anti-science, why then are Catholics numbered among the most important scientists of all time? The answer is because Catholic beliefs foster scientific inquiry.

If Catholics (and Christians, broadly speaking) did not believe there was a law and an order to the universe (given to it by a supreme Lawgiver), then there would be no point in scientific inquiry. The whole reason you “do science” in the first place is in order to discover and better understand the things of this world and the laws that govern them. Scientists approach their work with the presupposition that these laws exist – and that’s a very Christian way to look at things.

Even the persecution of Galileo was not the result of an anti-science bias. Church officials consulted leading astronomers and sincerely believed they had science on their side. And at any rate, it wasn’t Galileo’s science that got him in trouble, it was his insistence that certain Bible passages about the sun must be interpreted in a particular way. If Galileo had stuck with science and presented his findings as a theory (instead of the absolute truth), then the church would have had no issue with him, just as there was no issue with Copernicus before him.

Point 3: Truth is not limited to what can be empirically observed. Many people reject religion and God because they insist that science is the only truth. But, truth is not bound by what science can reveal. As soon as someone says otherwise, they actually prove the point.

The statement “truth is bound by what science can reveal” is not something that can be put under a microscope. It’s not a scientific truth claim, it’s a philosophical one. Science can only answer the question, “Why?” up to a certain point. After that, philosophy and theology must take over.

Once people realize that they actually depend on certain non-scientific truth claims to construct their worldview, then they are usually more open to what philosophical and theological truths might tell them about the world and their place in it. 

A Match Made in Heaven

Ultimately, religion and science cannot be at war because they both come from the same God. As the Catechism tells us, “The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of  God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are” (no. 159). Thanks be to God!

Nicholas Hardesty develops new digital courses for Vocare, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s online catechist certification process. Contact him with new course ideas at [email protected].

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