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. –Blessed John Paul II, Fides et Ratio
Faith and science do not oppose to each other, they compliment each other. I’ve never fully understood why someone would negate years of scientific study and insurmountable evidence to cling to a past hypothesis that has been proven incorrect. The Flat Earth Society is a great example of clinging to such a hypothesis. And no, that is not a joke.
Perhaps the biggest problem is when people confuse the Bible for a history, science, or biology textbook. It is none of those things. The Bible is the story of salvation and the truths that are needed in order to achieve it. The Bible is not one book but it is a collection of books, a library if you will. There are books of poetry and prose that are meant to be read allegorically and then there are books that are more biographical in nature that are to be taken more literally. Oftentimes within the same book we find both allegory and literal passages.
The creation story found at the beginning of Genesis is a great example of allegory. It isn’t a literal explanation in how God created everything. Always at the forefront of the faith and science issue is the question of young Earth versus old Earth. Was all of creation created in six literal days or billions of years? The overwhelming evidence points to billions of years. Does that somehow negate that a higher being created the cosmos? I don’t think so.
Humans are extremely curious and we are always trying to understand our surroundings. Science is the conduit by which we learn about the world around us. For me, science is another way to have an encounter with our creator. It’s not something big and scary, but it is extremely complex, magical, and awe-inspiring. At the top of this post I quoted soon to be Saint Pope John Paul II from his encyclical on Faith and Reason. It is an excellent starting point for anyone who has questions concerning faith’s role in science and vice versa.
Throughout history there have been many Catholic scientists that have increased our knowledge of the world around us. Here is but a tiny list of such scientists:
- Georgius Agricola – founder of geology.
- Nicolas Steno – Catholic convert who would go on to be a Bishop played a crucial role in the development of modern geology, and contributed to the study of paleontology.
- Roger Joseph Boscovich, S.J. – a Jesuit who is famous for his atomic theory, given as a clear, precisely formulated system utilizing principles of Newtonian mechanics. He also gave many important contributions to astronomy, including the first geometric procedure for determining the equator of a rotating planet from three observations of a surface feature and for computing the orbit of a planet from three observations of its position.
- Maria Gaetana Agnesi – She was a linguist and mathematician, and is credited with writing the first book on both differential and intregal calculus.
- Gregor Mendel – an Augustinian friar who is the father of genetics.
- Georges Lemaître – a priest, astronomer, and professor of physics who is also the father of the Big Bang Theory.
The Church has always embraced scientific endeavor. Yes, there have been times when the Church doubted certain scientific discoveries, but the same is said within the scientific community when something new comes about. In the world of archaeology there is a debate over when the America’s was settled, and if you are on the “wrong” side (ie-Pre-Clovis) of the debate you might have your reputation tarnished at best and career over at worst.* Just as there is debate within the scientific community the Church also enters into the debate from time to time because she too has a love of science.
* Hopefully the debate isn’t as fierce as it was ten years ago while I was at university. I don’t know because since that time I’ve been busy either a) trying to save money so I could attend Grad school or b) putting that dream on hold and raising a family.