Jesuit Philosopher Works to Demonstrate Compatibility of Faith and Science | Jim Graves | CWR
An interview with Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, president of the Magis Center, about faith, reason, atheism, and Stephen Hawking's "hogwash"
Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, Ph.D., 62, is president of the Magis Center (www.magiscenter.com), headquartered in the new chancery office of the Diocese of Orange, California. The center’s goal is to demonstrate that faith and reason and science are compatible, and to combat the increasing secularization of society, particularly among young people.
Fr. Spitzer was born and reared in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father was an attorney and businessman; he was one of five children. His father was Lutheran; his mother a Catholic and daily communicant. He attended college at Jesuit-run Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, initially pursuing a career in public accounting and finance.
He went on a retreat led by Fr. Gerard Steckler, a former chaplain for Thomas Aquinas College, and “he got me very interested in theology and the Church.” He began attending daily Mass and taking classes in theology and Scripture. He bought a copy of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica from a used book store and began reading it. “I saw the solidity of faith in the light of reason,” he said, “and once that happened, I was ready to go.”
He joined the Society of Jesus in 1974, and was ordained a priest in 1983.
Fr. Spitzer is the author of several books, including Healing the Culture (Ignatius Press, 2000), Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life (Ignatius Press, 2008), New Proofs for the Existence of God (Eerdmans, 2010), and Ten Universal Principles (Ignatius Press, 2010), as well as numerous articles for scholarly journals, and has delivered hundreds of lectures. He is a teacher, and served as president of Gonzaga University from 1998 to 2009. He continues to produce an enormous volume of work despite suffering from poor eyesight throughout his adult life (he has not, for example, been able to drive a car for 30 years), which has gotten worse in recent years.
Fr. Spitzer recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: Prominent atheists often frame the debate between themselves and religious people by saying you either believe in “science”—however they may define it—or what they call the fairy tales of the Bible. What response would you offer such a viewpoint?
Fr. Spitzer: To start, I wouldn’t let them get away with saying faith and science contradict one another. We’re privileged to live in a time when there is more evidence from physics for a beginning of the universe than ever before. I made this point to [atheist scientist] Stephen Hawking in 2010, when I appeared along with him on Larry King Live. Stephen knows this. (Watch the discussion online.)
The debate centered on what was before the beginning of the universe. If you say “nothing”, then there has to be a God. You can’t move from nothing to something. Even Larry King got that. He asked another physicist on the program, Leonard Mlodinow, “How about that Leonard, how can you make something from nothing?” All Leonard could do was to equivocate on the term “nothing.”
CWR: Speaking of Stephen Hawking, he made the news recently when he officially declared himself to be an atheist. Do you find atheism widespread among the scientific community, or do a handful of atheist scientists receive a lot of publicity?
Fr. Spitzer: About 45% of working scientists are declared theists. Another vocal group, let’s say 20%, describe themselves as atheists. A third group is the agnostic naturalists. They’re not sure whether or not God exists, but they don’t what to compromise the naturalistic method by believing in God. I wouldn’t describe them as atheists.
CWR: Scientists often marvel at the intricacies of what Christians call Creation, but seem to suggest that these things developed on their own without a Designer outside the system to create them. Do many scientists have blinders on when it comes to God?