Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Faith and Science?

NASA x-ray photo of soil on Mars
 A counselor I know recently told me about a fourth grader who claimed he knew that God didn't exist.  When she asked him why he was so sure, the boy responded by saying that he had learned about the Big Bang.  In a moment of inspiration, the counselor looked at the boy and said, "If there was a big bang in the room next door, would you wonder what had caused it?"  Naturally, the boy said yes.  She continued, "If I told you that nothing caused it--it just happened, would that answer satisfy you?"  Of course, the boy said no.  He acknowledged that he would want to know why the big bang had happened.

As Christians living in an era defined by scientific and technological advances, are we resigned to talking about "faith or science," or is it possible to talk about "faith and science"?  The Nicene Creed boldly professes belief in God, "the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible."  But, as believers, do we too often retreat into either a blind fideism or an atheistic rationalism--or do we actually believe what we profess? 

In the Diocese of Joliet's monthly framework for the Year of Faith, November's theme is "Faith and Science."  The "and" is intentional:  It reflects the traditional Catholic perspective on the complementarity of faith and reason.  The "and" also suggests that, just as science has its proper place, faith supplies answers for questions that science cannot answer.  (Links to a variety of YouTube clips on this theme are available at the Diocese of Joliet's resource page for November.)
Indeed, whereas science is rightly concerned with the "what" and the "how" of the physical world, faith addresses the "why" behind the "what" and the "how."  Science may explain what happened at the beginning of the universe (e.g., the Big Bang theory), but faith asks and answers the deeper question:  Where did the initial matter and energy of the universe come from?  And, even more fundamentally, why is there something rather than nothing?  Science may explain how creation unfolded (e.g., through evolutionary processes), but faith answers the deeper question about who created and guides these processes, as well as where they are headed.

In the Church today, we can find countless witnesses to the incredible blending of faith and science--among other places, in the work of faithful believers who are also astronomers (such as Bro. Guy Consolmagno at the Vatican Observatory, www.vaticanobservatory.org), bioethicists (Fr. Tad Pavolchick at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, www.ncbcenter.org), physicists (Fr. Robert Spitzer at www.magisresonfaith.org), and philosopher-cultural historians (Fr. Robert Barron at www.wordonfire.org). 

In his weekly Wednesday Audience on November 14th, Pope Benedict described the study of the created world as one of the three main paths to the discovery of God.  The Holy Father explained:  "We must recover and restore to modern man the chance to contemplate the creation, its beauty and structure. The world is not some shapeless mass; rather, the more we know it, the more we discover its wonderful mechanisms, the more we see a design, a creative intelligence. Albert Einstein said that the laws of nature reveal 'an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection'."

Both faith and science open us onto different insights about this Intelligence.  Jesus assured us that all those who sincerely seek shall find.  So let's encourage inquiring minds to seek the "Who" and the "Why" behind the "What" of the created world.  After all, our "Father almighty" doesn't want our faith to be blind or our reason to be reduced to merely what we can see and measure.  Rather, he wants us to know him, in order to better love and serve him.