Catholic for Life - No. 7 Science and Religion
No. 7 Science and Religion
Science has been the buzzword for decades. Seldom more so than today. According to claimants, science can explain all, will soon be able to do most things, and will also debunk myths and religious beliefs and render God redundant.
So, we ask:
Are faith in God and religion under threat from science?
Are science and religion really at loggerheads?
What do you think?
The Catholic Church and many renowned scientists respond with an emphatic ‘No!’ Why? Because both science and religion seek truth. And the truth is One.
In scientific enquiry man uses God-given talents to explore nature in its myriad forms, to unravel its secrets, to refine knowledge and to be of service to humankind. Religion thanks God for the natural world, but its main concern is the spiritual, the metaphysical and the Divine, which permeate and transcend the physical realm. Most particularly, religion tries to enable mere mortals to recognise and enter into a relationship with the One in and by whom the physical world had its origins, the One who sustains it and who brings it to fulfilment. Thus seen, science and authentic religion operate on different planes. They are compatible with and complement one another. So what’s the fuss about?
Science and So-called Science
The word science comes from the Latin term for knowledge, ‘scientia’, which man has always sought in the interest of his survival and progress. Today, ‘science’ probes nature with observation, experimentation, calculation and the technologies of the times as its principal tools, and then subjects its findings to rational analysis. Conclusions are said to be based on evidence rather than pre-supposition and guesswork. There’s nothing wrong with this.
There are certain matters in which science can instruct religion, and vice versa. Science prompts religions to re-examine their scriptures and to be wary of taking them as providing reliable lessons in history, palaeobiology, anthropology, geophysics, etc. Likewise, religion counsels human wisdom against the usurpation of theological and moral authority, and of disregarding truths that transcend secular thought and feeling, and the opportunistic demands and preferences of those to whom God is only a word.
If there is apparent conflict between science and religion, it is because some devotees of science and some of religion, have exceeded their competence and their briefs. Through ignorance, misunderstanding, excessive zeal or prejudice they have arrived at wrong conclusions. And the policies and practices that spring from such error often yield an unsavoury harvest.
Commonly, the scientist seeks facts, usually about a sliver of reality. Not all of it. Once he has obtained these, he interprets this information and tries to gauge its significance. At this stage he may hypothesise and theorise and fill in the blanks in his story. In so doing, he may either ‘hit the nail on the head’, or ‘hit the nail on the thumb!’
Secular science examines the world of matter (loosely defined) and amasses its pool of knowledge through observing and testing and analysing natural phenomena in ways that can be replicated. However, it tends to dismiss, deny, ignore or side-step whatever the ‘scientific method’ cannot handle, even where the evidence of their occurrence or existence is irrefutable. For example, ‘science’ is profoundly embarrassed by invisible, immaterial realities of life, especially the miraculous. As a result, the world that such ‘science’ investigates and presents is a truncated version of reality.
Growing numbers of people who are both religious and scientist, realise that the truth of religion does not depend on or require an imprimatur from mathematics, the physical and the human sciences. It depends on the One from Whom it is given.
Beyond Science & Reason
* The study of the material universe takes the one who is truly attentive to the boundary of human knowledge, and directs the inquirer towards something beyond the brilliance and inventiveness of man, to a threshold which he is urged to cross, and to enter a realm of superior knowing and fulfilment, in the realisation that it is totally reasonable and life-giving to do so. Some respond to this grace. Many decline the offer.
* When science and reason can proceed no further in the search for meaning, they encounter the mystery of Someone, and the wise among them bow in humble adoration.