Did You Know Know These 3 Scientists Were Catholic?

by December, Faith & Science, September

As a physician, my faith has been questioned by those who think I adhere too much to science and my science questioned by those who doubt my objectivity by being true to my faith. I have always worked to blend those two things, faith and science, in my life. This effort is also evident in the lives of other scientists.

Blaise Pascal

While Blaise Pascal is known for his mathematical theories creating the foundation of modern theory of probabilities, he was moved to transcribe his thoughts on our relationship with God. Born in 1623 in France, Pascal, at an early age, discovered a fascination with mathematics. His work included development on concepts of equilibrium of liquid solutions, the weight and density of air and on the arithmetic triangle. Despite the worldly acclaim he gained from his work, it did not satisfy his heart.  He describes a conversion experience that led him to enter the convent of Port-Royal and there wrote two works he is known for, Les Provinciales (a series of letters) and the Pensées (“thoughts” published after his death) using his scientific rigor to develop his thoughts. In Les Provinciales, he advocated the approach of emphasizing the soul’s union with the Mystical Body of Christ through the virtue of charity. His devotion to the absolute led him to see no salvation apart from a desire for that truth and the love of God. Those who have studied it trace his deepening spirituality through the progress of these letters. Pensées was written as a work of apologetics (justifications of the faith). In one of his most quoted passages from it, Pascal writes his “wager” to overcome the objections of the skeptic: if God does not exist, there is nothing lost by believing in him; but if he does exist, the skeptic gains eternal life by belief in God. Pascal proposes that men can be brought to God through Jesus Christ alone as the descent of Jesus to earth as man allows man to have the knowledge of the infinite. He died at the age of 39.

Louis Pasteur

Despite his achievements, Louis Pasteur was not known as a brilliant student growing up. Born in 1822 in eastern France, Pasteur preferred fishing and art to studying but his father encouraged him to work harder, and he was accepted into the Ecole Normale Superieure, where he excelled in his studies and began his research. He is known for his contribution to modern germ theory with his experiments in fermentation and the process of using heat to sterilize food, which was given his name, pasteurization. He developed vaccines for both animals (anthrax and cholera) and humans (rabies). His work in microbiology and immunology underlies our modern developments in these fields. Pasteur’s faith complemented his work. In a letter to his children, he said “The more I know, the more nearly is my faith that of the Breton peasant.  Could I but know all I would have the faith of a Breton peasant woman?”.  Pasteur did not understand how scientists could not see the existence of God in the world around them. He died in 1895. Above his tomb, his words are engraved: “Happy the man who bears within him a divinity, an ideal of beauty and obeys it; an ideal of art, an ideal of science, an ideal of country, an ideal of the virtues of the Gospel.”

Jerome Lejeune

Jerome Lejeune was a pediatrician and a geneticist. Born in 1926 in a suburb of Paris, Lejeune had a heart for intellectually disabled children and their families and dedicated his life to helping them. He and his colleagues discovered the cause of Down Syndrome as an extra chromosome in pair 21 which is one of the most common chromosomal abnormalities.  Until then, parents often had no explanation for the problems their children had. His discovery led the way to modern genetics and the discovery of chromosomal abnormalities causing other syndromes. Lejeune’s wish was that these discoveries would eventually lead to a cure for these syndromes. However, as countries passed pro-abortion laws, identifying children prior to birth with these changes became the goal. His life’s work became advocating for the protection of the unborn with Down syndrome. Lejeune used his scientific knowledge to defend these children and testify as an expert on their behalf in court cases around the world. His deep appreciation of the dignity of each person through his faith in the Church sustained him in his mission. Because of his work, Pope St. John Paul II appointed him first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life in February 1994, but he died less than two months later. His regret was that he had not completed his mission, “I was a physician who should have cured them and I am leaving them. I have the impression that I am abandoning them.” He was named Servant of God by Pope Francis in 2021. 

My Own Journey

While not as remarkable as these scientists, I continue my journey to integrate faith and science in my life. As a family physician, I am privileged to meet people as they are born and to accompany them as they die. I see God’s mystery in each passage. My patients taught me the dignity of each person. They gave me lessons of triumph of the human spirit against all odds, both physical and spiritual. They remind me the body is an intricate work, combining our human needs with our desire to know that which is greater than we are. As the psalmist wrote “What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him?” How could I not believe in both?

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