Science vs. Religion? Part I of II

[ 4 ] December 19, AD 2012 |

Car_darwinFishYou know the symbol: the ancient Christian fish that’s sprouted legs and bears the name Darwin. There’s a car down the street from me that has one and every time I see it, it makes me sad. Not angry, but sad. There is this perceived opposition between the two worlds of science and religion that is keeping people, especially scientists, from knowing the fullness of the Truth. It’s time to debunk the myth that science and Christianity are opposed.

I’m married to a scientist and when people first find that out, they’re puzzled. How can a devout Catholic be married to a “devout” scientist? To many, it’s a more incompatible match than a staunch “Tea-Partier” and a radical Liberal. We tell them: actually, we find no opposition between his career and my faith.

To understand this it’s helpful to begin with the relationship between faith and reason, as it’s obvious to most that religion is rooted in faith and science is rooted in reason.  But reason has something to do with religion too.  While we know God by faith, we can also know him by reason. In other words, belief in God is a reasonable position. It’s so reasonable, in fact, that great thinkers, such as St. Anselm and St. Thomas Aquinas, have outlined very convincing “proofs” for God’s existence. (I put “proofs” in quotes because they are proofs in the philosophical and not scientific sense). If faith is reasonable then, faith and reason cannot be opposed.  The Church takes it even a step further.  Not only are faith and reason not opposed, they are meant to work in harmony. Pope John Paul II puts it ever so eloquently when he states at the beginning of his Encyclical Letter, Fides et Ratio: “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.”

Faith-and-Reason1

As far as the relationship between religion and science go, the way I see it is pretty simple. God created the world. Science studies that world. Whatever science discovers does not threaten my faith, because it studies what God created.  The Church agrees, and (no surprise here) puts it a lot more eloquently. Gaudium et Spes from the Second Vatican Council states,“… methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. 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” (GS 36 § 1).

My husband does not align himself with a particular religion, but the way he understands the relationship between science and religion is  also quite simple. There are two realms in the universe: the physical and the spiritual. Science studies the physical, but it isn’t equipped to study the spiritual. While the two realms certainly overlap and do so most poignantly in the case of the human person, science can’t make any claims about the spiritual realm. Therefore, for him, the argument his colleagues often make that science disproves the existence of God holds no water. Furthermore, religion isn’t equipped to make scientific claims.  The Church can shed light upon the ultimate origins of the material order, the meaning of life, the relationship between body and soul, etc., but when it comes to studying how exactly the physical world works, she is no expert, nor does she claim to be.

Hopefully this gives you  something to think about when considering the relationship between religion and science, whether you come from the religion side, the science side, or both.  However, we can’t stop the discussion here.  Probably the most contentious perceived conflict between science and religion is, you guessed it, the theory of evolution.  In the interest of treating this subject adequately, please stay tuned for the next part in this series, where I’ll discuss how important this concept is to science and how it does not threaten our faith as Catholic Christians, and can even be a source of wonder at the ingenuity of our loving Creator.

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Category: Career, Columnists, Religion

About the Author ()

Kelly is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied Theology and Philosophy. She earned an M.T.S. from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family where her focus was the new feminism of Pope John Paul II. She's written, given talks, and taught a short course on the subject at Virginia Commonwealth University. Kelly is married to Dr. Stephen Williams, a research scientist at the University of Virginia. They live in Charlottesville, VA with their two dogs, Gibbs and McKinley.
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  • Michael

    Rather than two realms to study, the natural and the supernatural there are two methods of inquiry, the evidence based searching for error and the faith based. The former has lead to a common body of knowledge accepted by people of many languages, races and backgrounds all around the world while the latter has lead to tens of thousands of disparate, mutually incompatible religions/denominations.

    The best way to illustrate why science makes progress and religion is still having the same arguments it had thousands of years ago is to ask a scientist and a religious person “Can you explain when science/religion has been wrong about a fundamental belief or opinion?” The scientist will list off multiple situations where science had previously accepted theories and how they were proven wrong. The religious person will do the same but will not include their own denomination in the list. But then you have to stop them as ask them when their particular denomination has been wrong? I’ve never had anyone off an example of where their own denomination has changed its teaching on a fundamental issue of faith.

    And there in lies the difference. Modern science has learned through its few short hundred years of existence that importance of that lesson, religion with thousands of years of seniority has not or perhaps can not accept that.