Faith and Science, an Essay
This, from a close associate. In interesting, and thought provoking read.
Enjoy! The Rev.
A friend asked me to reflect on some controversy over the public statements emerging from The Vatican on the subject of evolution and Christian Faith. This is certainly not authoritative information from the Catholic Church, but personal reflections and observations from one who finds his home within that Church.
My father was probably the most devout man I knew. His piety and faith were both inspiring and a stumbling block to me. The inspiration is obvious, a man of such easy intelligence who never discarded the depths of faith in God and belief in Jesus as His Son, our Savior. The stumbling block may be tougher to understand, unless you are a boy, trying to be like Dad. I felt I could never achieve such heights, nor such certainty and sure knowledge as he possessed.
Dad was a man of science.He had a PhD and a constantly challenging inquisitive mind which made him both a font of knowledge to me and a goad, encouraging and tasking me to aspire to learn, to study, to explore. There was always a book at hand, somewhere to make a point. Even as a child, if the time arose where I could cite a source to back my opinion, and provide evidence, than Dad would acknowledge the accuracy of my statement, even as it might refute something I had previously been taught, even if by himself.
As I grew and learned, I discovered, as most sons will, that Dad did not know everything, and he was beset by the same doubts and frailties and weaknesses which afflict most men. We had occasional conversations on various matters, as breezy as football and dating, as deep as science and faith. I recall one conversation, which has always lingered in my memories. My father revealed to me that early in his career, in the early 1960’s that he was often challenged on two sides. One would challenge his bona fides as a ‘true scientist’ as he was a devout Roman Catholic. From the other side he would be questioned on the verity of his faith, as he worked in the field of science, which challenged religious faith and dogma. He maintained relentlessy that there was, and could not be a conflict. Science and Faith were equally important, and need not contradicted each other.
I began to realize that I was quite fortunate in my upbringing and education. I was never given an either/or position. I don’t recall ever having to choose faith or reason. I seem to have always believed that as God created the world, the universe, well, everything, then the very laws of the universe were God’s laws. Recall that natural law theory teaches that the natural law is inscribed in man’s very heart. We are born seeking God, and are not complete until we are with Him. Recall Augustine’s Confession “ Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee O Lord” We are created, as is all else, with the inscription of God’s Hand upon us. If God created the laws, then science, the search for, and study of those laws cannot be opposed to faith. It must, in fact be part, and a fundamental part of that faith. Paul Davies, in his 1995 Templeton Prize address covered much of this both more completely and more eloquently than I could aspire to. I encourage you to read it. It was printed in First Things, in August/September 1995. I commend that journal to anyone.
Over the years I have been enmeshed in discussions which reflected much of this issue, and I have read and seen distortions on both sides. Recall the “social Darwinists” who have taken tiny portions of some of Darwinian arguments and extrapolated vast evil social theories from this. The Eugenics movements from early in the Twentieth century, embraced by the Nazi party in Germany, and many including Lindbergh, and Franklin Roosevelt in the USA. The current Planned Parenthood monster emerged from Margaret Sanger’s personal eugenic philosophy. Embryonic stem cell research, cloning, ‘therapeutic cloning’, euthanasia movements, ‘assisted suicide’ all are extensions of such a Godless interpretation of Darwin’s observations and theories.
There have been countless perversions of religions to accomplish evil ends, which need not even be reviewed here. The anti religious in the media are quite content to do so at great length and have no need of my help.
Now there has arisen a vast conflict, between Creationists, ‘Intelligent design’ proponents and their allies, and what I like to call the ‘neo Darwinists, and believers in ‘Scientism” on the other hand.
Apparently the Vatican has now been put squarely in the crosshairs of this match. Recent statements from various Vatican organizations (particularly the Pontifical Council for Culture) and from Pope John Paul II, and reaffirmed by Pope Benedict XVI, have given support to, or at least not condemned evolutionary theories. Note carefully, none of this has given total and unequivocal approval to “Darwinian evolution”, nor to Darwinian social theory”. What is being stated, as I can see it, is that God and Science are not antithetical. What is being presented is actually quite simple, and, if one takes the time to read and reflect on the totality of what is being discussed, it is quite supportive of Faith, and supportive for believing Christians. We are told that “ Genesis is not a science text book”, however, what is often lost is the second clause in that discussion: “Science texts cannot be used as theological resources.”
Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture was quoted well in several matters: “There is a doctrine of creation which is obviously part of the church’s teaching, and which is elaborated in a strictly theological context,” Ravasi said. “But if I use this doctrine ideologically in the scientific field, then it breaks down.” On the other hand, he said: To be sure, it’s just as dangerous for scientists to draw metaphysical conclusions from the fossil record as it is for religious believers to use Genesis as a science textbook. He said that over the years, he’s sometimes heard scientists make theological statements that are “frankly laughable.”
God has given us a universe which operates on His rules, and often hidden the mechanism from our view. He has also given us the tools with which to seek him. A rejection of that divinely inspired curiosity is, to my thinking, a rejection of God’s gift. We are all called to Him. We are all given talents. Those with such talents toward science, knowledge and exploration are required to use them, but, just as with any gift, one must use them wisely and in a way which glorifies God, not man. A rejection of knowledge which does not seem to fit our current notion of the universe and our place in it is a failure to utilize our God given talent. Man learns, slowly, and haltingly. Where we once believed that our faith would be destroyed should we acknowledge that the Earth is not the geometric center of the universe, we now accept that, and the splendor of the vast universe as one more manifestation of the greatness of He who created it. Accepting a God, who set in motion so elegantly beautiful a universe, which unfolds in mystery and grace, moving inexorably toward our discovery, and eventual union with Him cannot, to me, be against my Christian faith. It is instead, and affirmation of the joy and wonder of Creation, still filled with mysteries, and breathtakingly complex beauty both physical, and spiritual.
Evolution, at least in my mind, does not, nay cannot displace, nor compete with the Divinely inspired Creation.Evolution is God’s work, unfolding through time, providing a window, allowing us to see some of the system God created in action. A close up look at some of the gears, so to speak. The precision, the directedness, the yearning ever higher, striving toward the ineffable glory of the Creator merely confirms my faith, strengthens my soul and refreshes my belief that God is always and everywhere present, waiting for me to find Him.