Science has been the subject of heated discussion for the past couple of years within our culture. I have often heard very opposing views from people who claim to believe in science. The question arises, what is the role of science in our lives and what can it tell us about ourselves? To begin, 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 verifies 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 reinforce the original hypothesis.
Along with the theme of science comes the question of how it relates to faith. In the famous classic comedy Nacho Libre, the main character, a monk, tells his friend: “I’m a little worried right now. About your salvation and things like that. How come you weren’t baptized? “To which the friend replies:” Why have I never succeeded ok? I don’t know why you always have to judge me because I only believe in science. Although done ironically as a joke, this scene highlights a common misunderstanding that faith and science are incompatible Perhaps you were confused when someone told you that evolution makes God unnecessary, or you were concerned about how free will fits into a material universe.
As for the relationship between science and faith, we must understand that truth can never contradict truth. There is no such thing as scientifically but not theologically true. To address any hot topic, we must first ask ourselves how science and faith fit into our rational minds. Taking a deeper look, we can see that all methods of pursuing the 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 sound a bit daunting, but listen to me. The word faith is used in a few different contexts. As Catholics, we understand that faith is the theological virtue by which “we believe in God and we believe in all that he has told and revealed to us, and that the Holy Church proposes for our faith, because he is the truth itself” (CCC 1814 ). This definition is what we would call supernatural faith, which is a faith of claims beyond the natural world. But there is also natural faith, which can loosely be defined as “a firm belief in unproven truths”. An example of natural faith could be the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow, or perhaps our country’s collective belief that the US dollar is worth something. These are not radical statements, but rather they demonstrate the regular use of faith in our lives.
- Both science and religion require faith.
Perhaps you’ve heard someone say that science requires a degree of faith. A scientist must have faith that the universe has coherent rules that allow for repeated experiments, he must have faith in his senses and observation skills. As for the religious person, it would seem evident that he too requires faith. When we understand science and religion in this context, we can see that both are structured ways of pursuing truth and that both are based on the building block of faith. Science and religion are both subsets of our rationality, both starting from the premise of some form of faith. They are more like brothers, 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 for understanding humanity’s relationship to the world. Pope Saint John Paul II tells us that these two fields must inform each other: “Science can purify religion of error and superstition; religion can purify science of idolatry and false absolutes. Each can attract the other into a larger world, a world in which both can thrive ”(Letter to the Reverend George V. Coyne). Religion sets the guidelines for science. Through our religious understanding that every person is in the image and likeness of God, we can keep human prosperity at the forefront of scientific development. Too often, scientists have forgotten the sacredness of man and engaged in horrific experiments. Likewise, science can purify religion through reason and allow us to admire the amazing natural world that God created.
- Rejoice in the beauty of science.
Science is a refined and narrow tool that can be used for amazing results. One can easily observe the technological and medical advances achieved in a relatively short period of human history, courtesy of science. God has made mankind prosper and the tool of science has been extraordinary for curing sickness and suffering. However, humanity must not be fooled into forgetting the very foundations that allow humanity to understand its own identity.
- Remember to keep priorities straight.
As surprising as the scientific observation is, it is important to recognize religion as primary in this relationship, with science at hand. It is good and necessary to ask questions about our faith, but we want to be wary of getting involved in bad science. For example, in the past, eugenics was considered 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, loved by the love of the Father. If we forget, all the science in the world cannot save us, and in fact it could 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: St Albert the Great, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaitre, etc. Science is not undermining or replacing religion, but rather expanding our understanding and awe of 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 ever closer to the beauty of God. Aside from that, one of these fields can bring disaster and further separate us from our Heavenly Father.