Published on December 19th, 2012 | by Kelly Shircliff Williams4
Science vs. Religion? Part I of II
You 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.”
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.