There's science and then there's science

Thursday, October 18, 2018 - Updated: 3:15 pm

By David Mills

Her daughter had gone to medical school and lost her faith, she said. The new doctor told her mom that she had learned too much science to believe all that religious stuff anymore. Two other women in the audience added their own stories of raising their children in the church only to see them seduced by “science.”

SS. John and Paul Parish in Franklin Park/Marshall Township had asked me to speak on the subject of “science or religion?” They chose the “or” in the title instead of an “and.” The mothers’ stories showed they had reason.

Is it really “or?” The church says no.

The church explains that there’s science and there’s science. There’s the careful investigation of nature, which tells us all sorts of interesting things and produces all sorts of practical blessings. Then there’s using science as the sole and final guide to life, the universe and everything. This idea is sometimes called “scientism.” It’s always used against religion.

Scientism insists we can study God the way we study nature. Can you see him? No. Can you measure him? No. Can you experiment on him? No.

The “scientist” in the second sense says, “Here’s what we think about gravity. We keep dropping bowling balls off buildings and every single one hits the sidewalk. We figured out how gravity makes the planets move. And sure enough, they move that way. But you can’t do that with God. So, no God.”

Everyone’s favorite scientist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, said this, speaking to CBS. Talking about religious faith, he said, “There’s just no evidence of it. And this is why religions are called ‘faiths’ collectively. Because you believe something in the absence of evidence. That’s what it is! That’s why it’s called ‘faith!’ Otherwise we would call all religions ‘evidence,’ but we don’t, for exactly that reason.”

Tyson only allows evidence for God that would be evidence for gravity. Notice the crucial thing here: he just doesn’t say, “You can’t prove God exists.” He says, “You have no evidence. You have no reason to believe in God.” Apparently we just believe because we want to.

Our whole world thinks this way. We Catholics naturally pick it up. We start to think the way the world thinks because it’s in the air we breathe. We feel there are things we believe and things we know. We believe our religion, but we know our science. Belief is less sure than knowledge. Therefore, knowledge/science tops belief/religion.

Belief/religion is closer to having a favorite football team or a special diet plan. Knowledge/science is like recognizing the reality of gravity. The world says, “It’s great if your beliefs work for you, but don’t think they’re true for anyone else.”

No, the church says. The issue’s not that simple. Reality is one thing, yes, but with different parts. It includes God and the supernatural, nature and man, who’s a mixture.

Here’s the important thing: we must use the right tools to study each part. That’s the real meaning of the word “science” or scientia. It’s the disciplined, methodical, careful way you understand the thing you want to understand. The tools we use to study the movement of the planets don’t tell us anything about God. They’re not designed to do that. We know him in a different way than we know gravity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers the question “science or religion?” with two quotes, one from each Vatican Council. She says, “Both! But each in its place.”

The First Vatican Council declared: “There can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.”

The Second Vatican Council said it a little more clearly: “Methodical research in all branches of knowledge … carried out in a truly scientific manner, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.” God guides the scientist studying nature because he made the world that the scientist studies.

What did I say to the heart-broken mother? We’ll talk about that next time.

Mills and his family are members of St. Joseph Parish in Coraopolis.

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