“I’m more of a science kind of person” – maybe you’ve heard this one before. The scenario runs something like this: you meet someone; you’re chatting, and naturally the topic of faith comes up; then you’re hit with the bombshell disclaimer, “well, I’m more of a science kind of person, but I find it really interesting…” BOOM!
You may have often been left scratching your head trying to figure what on earth they mean. I think the best and most charitable translation is, “I prefer to believe in only that which has been proven by the scientific method, and God doesn’t really fit with that…”, or as Gaudium et Spes put it, “indeed today’s progress in science and technology can foster a certain exclusive emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism about everything else.”
Let’s start with the technical philosophical one. “Scientism” is the term given to the excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques. The irony here being that the claim that the methodology of science is the only reliable way to secure knowledge of anything, is itself not a scientific claim and can’t be proven scientifically.
Scientific inquiry presupposes several philosophical assumptions!
To be “more of a science kind of person” is to give a lesser precedence to common sense, experience, intuition, reasoning, and much more. All these other methods of understanding the world are appropriate and important to maintain in certain situations.
“By virtue of their methods these sciences cannot penetrate to the intimate notion of things. Indeed the danger is present that man, confiding too much in the discoveries of today, may think that he is sufficient unto himself and no longer seek the higher things” – Gaudium et Spes 57.
Within the history of the Church, there are many people who have given witness, by their life’s work, to the compatibility between faith and science. Here are a few people who will back you up next time you hear the “I’m more of a science kind of person” disclaimer:
Meet Fr. Georges Lemaître.
If you’ve ever heard of the Big Bang theory then you may be interested to know that the man who first proposed the theory of the expansion of the universe was the Belgian priest Fr. Georges Lemaître. Being a priest who was also an astronomer and professor of physics, he was the first to derive what is known as “Hubble’s law” in 1927.
Meet Fr. Gregor Mendel.
Have you ever thought about how much you look like your parents? Then you’ve probably also spoken about genetics at some stage. Well, meet Fr. Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar, scientist, and founder of the modern science of genetics! In 1866 he published his work demonstrating the actions of invisible “factors” in providing for visible traits in predictable ways – what we now call genes.
Meet Br. Guy Consolmagno.
Did you know that the Vatican has its own observatory? It does! The Vatican observatory is an astronomical research and educational institution supported by the Holy See and based in Castel Gandolfo in Italy. Br. Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit, is the director of the observatory and has degrees from MIT and carried out his postdoctoral research and teaching at Harvard college observatory. He entered the Jesuits in 1991.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also speaks of the compatibility between faith and science, it tells us that “though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals the mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth” CCC 159.
And that, “basic scientific research, as well as applied research, is a significant expression of man’s dominion over creation. Science and technology are precious resources when placed at the service of man” CCC 2293.
As if further evidence is required, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution Gaudium et Spes says that, “when man gives himself to the various disciplines of philosophy, history, and of mathematical and natural science… he can do very much to elevate the human family to a more sublime understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty, and to the formation of considered opinions which have universal value.”
So there it is! The Church loves science and actively encourages its pursuit. Science helps us to know the truth and come to better know the beauty in which God has created our world. As Catholics, we may be confident in knowing that – through a good and true pursuit of scientific knowledge – the Church too has a great appreciation for this way of understanding our world.
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