Monday, February 17, 2014

Faith and Science

Do you know someone who struggles to follow Jesus because of questions raised by modern science?

Maybe it's the seemingly infinite expanse of the cosmos--with hundreds of millions of galaxies, each with hundreds of millions of stars and planets.  Maybe it's the almost incomprehensible pace of technological advances.  Or perhaps it's bio-ethical questions posed by the latest advances in the manipulation of human life at its origins. 

Many people have questions which seem to pit science against faith. For many people, science and technology seem to have all the answers.  There seems to be less and less room for reasonable people to believe in even the existence of God, let alone his providential care for each of us personally, as treasured sons and daughters. 

But what if faith and science are not incompatible, as is so often assumed?  What if they are complementary ways of looking at reality--as long as each is properly understood?  The following five minute video clip asks and answers a fundamental question, Can science disprove the existence of God?; it argues from the very nature and principles of science itself to show that it is impossible to disprove God's existence.   

If we are going to be faithful Christians in the 21st century, we need to keep asking good questions about the relationship between faith and science.  A counselor recently told me about a 5th grade boy who said he no longer believed in the existence of God.  When she asked why, he replied, "You know, the Big Bang."  On the spot, the counselor asked, "If we heard a tremendous noise from the room next door, wouldn't you wonder what caused it?"  He said yes.  She asked, "Would you be satisfied if I said that nothing caused it; it just happened?"  As the conversation moved along, she helped the boy realize that science may be able to tell us a wide variety of things that happened, but science cannot answer the most essential question:  Where did the primordial "stuff" come from?  Or, to put it more succinctly, why is there something rather than nothing?

One part of the problem, of course, is that the popular view of "Science" has expanded far out of proportion to what it rightly is and should be, just as the popular view of "god" has shriveled into a parody what the ultimate being of the cosmos truly is.  In other words, "Science" has morphed into some sort of all-knowing, all-powerful entity whose grasp clearly exceeds the reach of its real competency.  The other part of the problem, is that our common view of "god" has reduced him to a sweet but feeble pet to whom we occasionally turn for comfort or consolation.

The fullness of the Christian faith, however, is centered on the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity:  The all-powerful and yet personal Being who is Love; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who exist in an eternal Communion of Persons and who desire to share this uncreated Love with their creation.  This is the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier of the cosmos revealed in Jesus Christ, as witnessed by the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church. 

Authentic Christian faith understands that there can never be a true conflict with science, since there is ultimately only one Truth.  After all, science is designed to study "What" and "How," but only faith can help us answer the deeper "Why"--for example, why is there an order to how creation unfolds, rather than mere chaos?  Science presumes a basic level of reasonableness and consistency in nature, otherwise it wouldn't be able to study recurring phenomena, conduct meaningful experiments, or test hypotheses.  And science naturally opens onto wonder and awe regarding the creation it studies, as the following ten-minute video clip demonstrates:  It is a "Ted Talk" with a Yale Mathematician who describes the inconceivable mathematical complexity with which the beginnings of human life unfold (the video footage of the moment from conception through the first 8 weeks of a baby's development in utero is simply stunning!).

Of course, faith should also not try to impose a fundamentalistic interpretation of the Book of Genesis onto science's understanding of how God created--as if God was limited to acting within six 24-hour days.  If God chose to unfold his creation over the course of billions of years, through evolutionary processes no less, then perhaps it is a friendly reminder that Eternity is not just a really long time, and that God's will is mysteriously written into the natural order of things. 

A priest recently quipped:  "Billions of galaxies and hundreds of billions of stars?...  Almighty God was just getting started!"  Let's help people come to know and experience the God who is as personal and as purposeful, as intense and as intentional, as Michelangelo's depiction discloses.  Let's help our friends and family see that, as we come to a deeper understanding of his ongoing creative presence, his redeeming love, and his sanctifying work in his creation, we should exclaim:  The Lord of Hosts is just getting started!

Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

P.S.  If you are looking for tremendous online resources on the topic, either to explore or to share with friends and family, check out on either of these priest-scientists, or take a look at the organizations where they help promote an authentic understanding of the relationship between faith and science: