Being Reasonable About Faith and Science | William L. Patenaude | Catholic World Report
The recent “Modern Science/Ancient Faith” conference explored the oft-misunderstood relationship between science and Catholicism.
“Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequently, 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.” — Catechism of the Catholic Church, par 159.
Portsmouth, RI —Can faith exist in a world where science is demonstrating ever more details of creation and the evolution of human life? Is there a place for science among those who believe that the Book of Genesis is God’s inspired revelation?
Such questions anchored “Modern Science/Ancient Faith,” a conference sponsored by the Benedictine-run Portsmouth Institute, housed in Rhode Island’s Portsmouth Abbey School, on June 22-24. The event brought together some ninety scientists, theologians, philosophers, clergy, lay faithful, and skeptics—or some mix of the above—to explore the dialogue between the natural sciences and Christianity.
While few participants expressed difficulties with the coexistence of faith and reason, the how of this coexistence wasn’t always in agreement. Some demanded a decidedly scientific approach to questions of beginnings. Others championed a more literal understanding of Genesis. This made for polite but fiery discussions that began in the early summer’s heat of the Abbey’s grounds and now continue online.
After opening with Adoration and the Rosary, the first talk was a review of the Galileo affair by Rev. Dom Paschal Scotti, O.S.B. His presentation set an amicable tone for the conference by demonstrating Christianity’s affinity for the natural sciences. The priest made clear that the driving issue at play in Galileo’s run-in with the Church was not an inherent fear of science. Rather, most Catholic theologians and scientists working with Galileo fought with the astronomer to keep scientific observations in their proper arena.
And as in the modern debates about issues such as evolution or climate change, what further inflamed the Galileo saga were the nuances of human sin, politics, and egos. According to Fr. Paschal, relations between Galileo and the Church were complicated by issues such as tensions between the Dominican and Jesuit orders; secular pressures on Pope Urban VIII; Galileo’s often aggressive approach and sometimes sarcastic writings; and the effects of Protestantism’s demands for sola scriptura.
Fr. Paschal noted that, human failings notwithstanding, an incarnational faith by its nature intersects with the natural world and, thus, the sciences—and this may explain why Christianity was the fertile ground from which the natural sciences could take root.