I was requested by one person who posted a comment on my blog to please comment upon the relationship between faith and science. I’m happy to oblige!
Faith and Science: what does the juxtaposition of these terms signify to you? Are they an oxymoron (words that contradict each other, like a “married bachelor”)? Sadly many people view them this way, as if we either must believe the Bible or believe science, but not both. For example, it is in fact very true that there were and still are many fights in the Southern Bible Belt and elsewhere regarding the teaching of Creation vs. Evolution. The creationists believe that the world came to be precisely as the Book of Genesis tells us, while evolutionists will tell you that God had nothing to do with it, that it all started with the Big Bang. (Sounds like a TV show theme song!) We Catholics are often stuck right in the middle of this never-ending conflict. The biggest problem for Catholics about the whole debate is that this fight is not ours!
Faith and science do not preclude each other; in fact, they complement each other perfectly. The only people who have problems seeing this are the fundamentalists on both sides, Christians, for example, who believe the world was created in seven 24-hour periods, and that if the Bible doesn’t say it is true, it isn’t, and atheistically-based scientists who believe their job is to prove believers wrong about God and to use their scientific discoveries to prove that God doesn’t exist. Both sides are wrong. First, the Bible never claims and never did claim to be the absolute word on every bit of knowledge ever to be had. If that were the case, we could never cook our food, for we don’t find any recipes in the Bible to tell us what the proper temperature and time for cooking a 21 pound turkey is! By the same token, figuring out how things work in the world and how they came about by no means disproves the existence of God. If you imagine a very smart person who takes a piece of chocolate cake, analyzes it, figures out that all the ingredients (sugar, chocolate, eggs, etc.) got mixed together and heated at a certain temperature for a certain time and then got covered with icing, if he told you his (correct) conclusion thereby proves there’s no such thing as a baker, what would you say? That’s foolishness! Figuring out how something was made by no means proves that no one made it.
Pure creationism to the exclusion of any scientific knowledge is not a Catholic belief but one held by Fundamentalists. For us, science and theology go hand in hand. They are not bitter enemies but twin sisters. Catholics have always been at the forefront of learning and scientific knowledge. Observe just a few facts: the modern university system was in fact created by the Catholic Church. The oldest university in Western Civilization is the University of Bologna, founded in 1088. Some of the greatest teachers of higher learning throughout the Middle Ages, including the modern sciences, were priests and bishops: St. Bonaventure, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, just to mention a few. Pope Sylvester II (pope from 999-1003) was a prolific scholar and teacher. He endorsed and promoted study of Arab/Greco-Roman arithmetic, mathematics, and astronomy, reintroducing to Europe the abacus and armillary sphere, which had been lost to Europe since the end of the Greco-Roman era. He is said to be the first to introduce in Europe the decimal numeral system using the Arabic numerals. It was Pope Gregory XIII who introduced the modern calendar that corrected errors in the Julian calendar, and to this day the Pope’s summer residence at Castelgandolfo boasts the magnificent Vatican Observatory, with two state of the art telescopes that are run by the Vatican Observatory Research Group. These are hardly indicators of a Church that despises science, are they? No, theology and science go hand-in-hand, and the only people who have problems with it are those fundamentalists on either side who automatically think one precludes the other.
Okay, so how about Creation vs. Evolution? Let’s take a look: First, we have never claimed that the stories of creation in the Book of Genesis represent an eyewitness account of how God created. Those who believe every word is scientifically or historically accurate will have a hard time explaining why there are two stories of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis that contradict each other on the order of creation. In Chapter 1 we see the familiar seven-day creation account where God creates simply by willing something into existence: “Then God said, ‘let there be light’, and there was light”(Genesis 1:3). He starts small and builds up to man. “’Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’…and so it happened…male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27). Once he has created man, he has created his masterpiece. It is finished, and he rests. We also see that everything is orderly, good, and all leads up to the creation of man. In other words, man is the ultimate end of all creation; all exists for him. Then, immediately after God has finished creating, he seems to be starting all over again with a barren land from which “the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Wait a minute! Didn’t we just see that in Genesis 1? What did God do, destroy what he had just done and start all over? No, of course not! Both of these stories are from ancient oral traditions that predate the writing of the biblical texts. When the biblical writers got around to writing down the Book of Genesis in an organized text, they had both of these ancient stories before them. The first one tells of God’s transcendent power, his sovereignty, his ability to create merely by his will, and that all led up to man, who had dominion over it all, and it was orderly and good. The second story shows God molding clay into man and breathing into him, working very immanently. He creates the man and cares for him. He creates the garden for him, and then declares it is not good for him to be alone, so he makes a suitable partner for him. First he creates the animals, but none of them is a suitable partner, so he forms the woman out of Adam’s rib (something near his heart) and brings her to him. The man accepts her at last as “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones”, and the text then explains that “this is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Genesis 2:24). So they have these two stories which contradict each other in historical ‘fact” but which both tell important things about God and his love for us. Which one is right? Well, they both are! Both relate important points about our relationship with God. No one for a moment believed that either one was written by a stenographer taking notes as God created. Only the Fundamentalists believe that! We are not Fundamentalists.
Now let’s look at the scientific end. Some people try to disprove the existence of God by quoting the Big Bang Theory. First of all, we must remember that this is still a theory and not an established fact. I do think there’s a lot of merit to it, but even if someone someday proves the Big Bang so that it is no longer a theory but a scientific fact, does that prove God doesn’t exist? Of course not! All they did was discover how God created! You haven’t gotten rid of God! How does figuring out how something came about prove that no one created it? There is nothing in the Big Bang Theory that requires it to be a product of chance that was not guided by anyone.
I find religiously-minded people who are afraid that science is going to one day disprove the existence of God to be terribly naïve and weak in faith. How can exploring God’s creation possibly prove he doesn’t exist? Does that make any sense? At the same time, scientists who believe that science will one day prove God does not exist are being equally naïve and in fact unscientific. Just logically speaking, if you ask me to believe that the world in all its magnificent array was merely the perchance result of actions over time that were not guided by anyone but just happened that way or that a conscious mind guided it, which is easier? I am perplexed by scientists who reject the idea of intelligent design, that God guided the scientific actions that bring things about. What are they so afraid of?
Scientific people tell us constantly that the existence God cannot be proved, therefore, we have to trust only the solid proof of scientific experimentation. But the fact of the matter is, scientists place their faith in others’ writings all the time. Someone recently wrote on my blog that he knows science to be true because he can do the experiment himself and prove it. Fair enough. But until he does, he’s putting faith in another’s words. It’s not feasible as a scientist to say you’d only believe something once you’ve proven it for yourself. So scientists trust the evidence of others just as we trust the evidence of faith. Scientists have been wrong before, and people feel rather foolish who put their trust in their findings, only to discover they were in error. So there’s always going to be faith involved, and neither religion nor science will ever preclude the other.
We have no problem reconciling belief in God’s creation with scientific facts. Truth can’t contradict truth. If a religious truth and a scientific truth seem at first to contradict each other, all that means is that there is something about one or the other, or perhaps both, that we don’t fully understand. Once we understand them both completely, they fit hand and glove!