Religion and Science: Different Paths to Reality

Scientific discoveries haven’t threatened my faith.

I don’t see how they could, since I think that reality and truth exist. And that they’re real.

In other words, I think I’m not a figment of your imagination and that we live in the same universe. We see it from different angles, since no two people occupy exactly the same slice of space-time. Our metaphorical points of view may not match, either.

Here’s what started me thinking about science, religion, and making sense:

“…science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both….”
(“Laudato si’,” 62; Pope Francis (2015))

That’s from the encyclical’s second chapter. It’s part of the Pope’s explanation for why he’s talking about religion in something he hopes everyone will read.

I read that bit during my weekly hour in Sauk Centre’s Eucharistic Adoration chapel.

It reminded me that it’s been a while since I talked about science and religion. And why I think using our God-given brains doesn’t offend a dyspeptic deity.

That bit from “Laudato si'” reminded me. Not the chapel.

Pronoun trouble, as Daffy Duck remarked, and that’s another topic.1

Truth, Beauty and Knowing God

Thinking that paying attention to God’s creation won’t interfere with worshiping God isn’t new.

“…God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures — and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. … Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth….”
(“Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893) [emphasis mine])

“Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air…. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look; we’re beautiful.’…
“…So in this way they arrived at a knowledge of the god who made things, through the things which he made.”
(Sermon 241, St. Augustine of Hippo (ca. 411))

Neither is thinking that we live in a “very good” universe, and that God is even better.

“Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods,
let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these;
for the original source of beauty fashioned them.
“Or if they were struck by their might and energy,
let them realize from these things how much more powerful is the one who made them.
“For from the greatness and the beauty of created things
their original author, by analogy, is seen.
(Wisdom 13:35)

“God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.”
(Genesis 1:31)

The notion that science and religion can’t get along goes back to the 19th century.

Maybe the 17th or 18th. Except then it’d have been natural philosophy and religion. “Science” wasn’t a word until William Whewell’s day.2

Denouncing or Distorting Science: What’s the Harm?

I could be a Christian and believe that what we’ve learned over the last four centuries is a Satanic lie. Or at least wrong. And something that threatens my relationship with God.

I’d have a harder time keeping that attitude while being a Christian and a Catholic.

“…if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God. … we cannot but deplore certain habits of mind, which are sometimes found too among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful independence of science and which, from the arguments and controversies they spark, lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are mutually opposed.…”
(“Gaudium et Spes,” Pope Bl. Paul VI (December 7, 1965) [emphasis mine])

Non Sequitur’s Church of Danae is, happily, imaginary: a comic strip’s caricature.

Problem is, folks do occasionally promote weird ideas.

A problem, as I see it, is that Piltdown Man and Archaeoraptor look like evidence that science is bogus to folks who maybe don’t like newfangled ideas.

And incidents like the Scopes Trial and late-1980s televangelist meltdowns look like evidence that faith and folly are synonyms to folks with more au courant tastes.3

What gets lost in the shouting is that truth matters in science and faith. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 31, 159)

Religion and natural science are fighting a joint battle in an incessant, never relaxing crusade against skepticism and against dogmatism, against disbelief and against superstition, and the rallying cry in this crusade has always been, and always will be: ‘On to God!’
(“Religion and Natural Science,” Translated and published in “Max Planck: Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers” (1968); via Wikiquote [emphasis mine])

Truth, God and Priorities

This universe is a nice place.

But wouldn’t it be more — spiritual? — to close my eyes, stick my fingers in my ears and hum real loud: ignoring the beauties and wonders around me?

Maybe, by some standards. Not mine. I’m a Catholic.

My faith is a willing and conscious decision to embrace God’s truth. All of God’s truth, including what we can see in this universe. Studying God’s work makes sense, since I think God creates everything. (Genesis 1:131; Catechism, 142155, 325349)

Taking this universe, and what we’ve been learning about it, and making that my life’s be-all and end-all? That would be a very bad idea and I shouldn’t do it.

Putting anything or anyone other than God, including this universe, at the top of my priorities would be a bad idea. That’s where God belongs. (Catechism, 2110, 21122113)

Again, I think all truth points toward God. Showing an interest in God’s creation and taking God seriously isn’t a problem. (Catechism, 27, 3135, 41, 74, 282289, 293294, 1723, 2294, 2500)

If I’m doing it right, paying attention to God’s creation points me toward God.

Faith, Reason and Metaphorical Wings

(From NASA/ESA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Then there’s the notion that faith fizzles if one thinks too much.

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Exodus 33:18; Palms 27:89; 63:23; John 14:8; 1 John 3:2)….”
(“Fides et Ratio,” Pope Saint John Paul II (September 14, 1998) [emphasis mine])

And that’s another topic, for another day.

More of my take on paying attention and making sense:

1 Science, Daffy Duck and me:

2 Natural philosophers, William Whewell and the Enlightenment

3 Hoaxes, scandals and seeking truth anyway:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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