Science, faith see things differently

Friday, October 26, 2018 - Updated: 8:53 am

By David Mills

What do you say to the heart-broken mother whose child chose science over Catholicism? Last time, I wrote about a mother who spoke up after a parish talk I gave. Her daughter had lost her faith at medical school. As a new doctor, she thought she had learned too much science to believe in religion. Two other women added their own stories of raising their children in the church only to see them seduced by “science.”

I said in my talk that the church points out that God created the things of the world and the things of faith. Therefore, they fit together. We may not see at the moment how a scientific claim fits with a church doctrine, but God invented both, so they do. Someone will figure it out eventually.

The tricky part is that we understand different parts of reality in different ways. We study gravity one way, we think about God in another. We see the difference all the time. A doctor examines a friend’s physical heart with an EKG and all his other tools. You know his heart in the other sense by being with him, by seeing what he does and hearing what he says. The doctor might say he has a bad heart while you say he has a good heart. You’re both right.

Most anti-religious people don’t see this. They try to claim that science gives us real knowledge while Christianity gives us fake knowledge.

Which is wrong. The doctor can’t say, “The EKG says your friend is a jerk.” In the same way, the chemist or the physicist can’t say, “My instruments don’t find God anywhere.” The simple answer is: “Of course they don’t. That’s not what they’re for.”

So what can we say to the mother whose child has left the church and claimed “science” as her reason? The conversation went in a different direction, which was kind of a relief. Because the answer’s tricky.

People start believing and stop believing for all sorts of reasons. When they stop believing, they may well not want to say why. They don’t want to upset you. They give you an excuse.

In our culture, saying “But science!” seems to justify almost anything. You can say “Science!” when you mean “I just don’t want to live as a Catholic anymore.” You may just want to keep selling people fake investments. You’re making good money. The church makes you feel guilty about it. So you say “But science!” and stop going to Mass.

You see why it’s tricky. When sad parents tell you their child has left the faith, you don’t know why. The child may say “But science!” to let them down easy. He doesn’t want to tell them the truth, and say, “I cheat old people out of their life’s savings.”

What would I have said to the worried mother? First and most important, we have good reason to believe the Catholic faith. A serious rational case can be made that the church tells us the truth about God and his creation. The case is made using philosophy, history, psychology and other ways of understanding the world, including the physical sciences. Nothing those sciences say affects it.

The church makes at least as good a claim to truth as science. I think a better one because she sees the nature of things. Science sees how things happen in this world. Christianity sees why we have a world at all and what it all means.

I’d say to the mother: Have confidence in your faith. Don’t act as if the faith had to prove itself to science. Don’t try to talk your daughter out of her faith in science, unless she really wants to think about it. If she does, there’s lots she can read.

Try to help her recover her belief in God and his church. Not everyone can argue this well. If you can’t, you can still talk to her daughter about the faith, about what it means to you, why you go to Mass and confession, your friendship with your favorite saints, the prayers you love, the church’s good works you love. You can argue for the faith that way. The best answer to “But science!” is “Come and see.”

Mills is the editor of Hour of Our Death (www.hourofourdeath.org).

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