Science has been the topic of fierce discussion lately within our culture these past two years. I have often heard very much opposed opinions from people who both claim to believe in science. It begs the question, what is science’s role in our lives, and what can it tell us about ourselves? To start us off, we need to get to the heart of what is meant by science. Modern science is widely understood as a structured process in which man tests his empirical knowledge through controlled experiments and analysis. In other words: Start with an idea/hypothesis, create a controlled experiment to test the hypothesis, and process the results to disprove or bolster the original hypothesis.
Along with the topic of science comes the question of how it relates to faith. In the famous comedy classic Nacho Libre, the main character, a monk, says to his friend: “I’m a little concerned right now. About your salvation and stuff. How come you have not been baptized?” To which his friend replies: “Because I never got around to it ok? I dunno why you always have to be judging me because I only believe in science.” Although done in a tongue in cheek manner for a joke, this scene highlights a common misconception that faith and science are not compatible. Maybe you have been confused when someone tells you that evolution makes God unnecessary, or have been troubled on how free will fits into a material universe.
Concerning the relationship between science and faith, we have to understand that truth can never contradict truth. There is no such thing as something being true scientifically but not theologically. In order to approach any hot topic issue, we have to first ask how science and faith fit into our rational minds. Upon taking a deeper look, we can see that all methods of pursuing truth are not in competition, but rather work together so that we can understand the world around us.
Faith is more than religion.
This statement may seem a little off putting, but hear me out. The word faith is used in a few different contexts. As a Catholic, we understand that faith is theological virtue by which we “believe in God and believe all that He has said and revealed to us, and that the Holy Church proposes for our belief, because He is truth itself,” (CCC 1814). This definition is what we would call supernatural faith, that is a faith of claims beyond the natural world. But there is also natural faith, which can be loosely defined as “a firm conviction of truths not fully proven.” An example of natural faith would be the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow, or perhaps our country’s collective belief that the United States dollar is worth something. These are not radical claims, but rather demonstrate the regular use of faith in our lives.
Both science and religion require faith.
Perhaps you have heard someone say that science requires a degree of faith. A scientist must have faith that the universe has consistent rules that allow for repeated experiments, they must have faith in their own senses and observational skills. As for the religious person, it would seem self-evident that they require faith as well. When we understand science and religion in this context, we can see that both are structured manners of pursuing truth and that both rely on the building block of faith. Science and religion are both subsets of our rationality, both beginning with the premise of some form of faith. They are more similar to siblings, children of rationality rather than rivals of competing perspectives.
Science and religion must work together for the good of humanity.
Religion and modern science are both disciplines of understanding humanity’s relationship to the world. Pope Saint John Paul II tells us that these two fields are to inform one another: “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish,” (Letter to Reverend George V. Coyne). Religion establishes guidelines for science. Through our religious understanding that each person is in the Image and Likeness of God, we can keep human flourishing at the forefront of scientific development. Too often have scientists forgotten the sacredness of man and have engaged in horrifying experiments. Likewise, science can purify religion through reason and allow us to marvel at the amazing natural world God has created.
Rejoice in the beauty of science.
Science is a refined, narrow tool that can be used for amazing results. One can easily observe the technological and medical advancements achieved in a relatively short period of human history, courtesy of science. God made humanity to flourish, and the tool of science has been amazing for treating disease and suffering. However, humanity must not be fooled into forgetting the very foundations that allow humanity to understand its very identity.
Remember to keep priorities straight.
As amazing as scientific observation is, it is important to recognize religion as primary in this relationship, with science close at hand. It is good and required to ask questions about our faith, but we want to be cautious of getting caught up in bad science. For instance, in the past, eugenics was seen by many to be a very scientific study to justify an individual’s racist beliefs. We must always keep in mind the central truths of our faith, that we are created as unrepeatable beings, cherished by the Father’s love. If we forget that, all the science in the world cannot save us, and in fact might be misused to hurt humanity. Simply put, humanity can and has survived longer with bad science than with bad religion.
Conclusion: As a Catholic, there is no need to fear the pursuit of modern sciences. Some of the greatest scientists in history have been faithful Catholics: Saint Albert the Great, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaitre, etc. Science is not undercutting or replacing religion, but rather it expands our understanding and awe for God’s creation. However, we must always recognize that religion is crucial to the purity of science. Together, these two rational systems can bring man evermore closer to the beauty of God. Apart, either of these fields can bring disaster and further separate us from our Father in heaven.
faith • science • the culture project