Monday, November 06, 2006

Religion and science, etc., etc., etc.

Whenever I hear of religion and science I tend to think more in terms of faith and reason, and the miraculous balance that the Catholic Church has achieved between them. It seems like media types aren't the only ones endlessly interested in prolonging a dead war between two's hard to pick who to shake your head at more: those philosophers and thinkers who, generation after generation, insist that we are in the last days of religion, or the Christians who insist that the only reasonable way to read Scripture is an utterly reasonless literal interpretation.

I was treated this morning to a few minutes of local talk radio with call ins debating how Adam and Eve's sons had children and how the story of the Tower of Babel accounts for the different races of the world. Adam and Eve, the fall of man, the drama of salvation -- these are the great themes that interest me to no end...unless the conversation falls into either an obsession with whether our first parents had belly buttons or how the mere thought of anything outside of Darwinian evolution is a threat to democracy.

Time magazine apparently has a story about the debate, titled provcoatively enough: God vs. science: Can religion stand up to the test? I was not aware that religion had anything to prove, nor that science was in the business of testing God. The link I provided is only to a summary; the real story must be paid for, thus I have not read it, but it seems like the usual back and forth, noting that those on the side of what could be called "evangelical atheism" have come into new prominence:

It is not an epithet that fits everyone wielding a test tube. But a growing proportion of the profession is experiencing what one major researcher calls "unprecedented outrage" at perceived insults to research and rationality, ranging from the alleged influence of the Christian right on Bush administration science policy, to the fanatic faith of the 9/11 terrorists, to intelligent design's ongoing claims. Some are radicalized enough to publicly pick an ancient scab -- the idea that science and religion, far from being complementary responses to the unknown, are at utter odds.

I would gladly point anyone interested to this most excellent series of articles on the question of Catholicism and evolution (which was, by the way, adapted for publication in Our Sunday Visitor).

But, as always, Pope Benedict cuts through the chatter with a much simpler, more brilliant summation than I could ever offer:

"Christianity does not posit an inevitable conflict between supernatural faith and scientific progress," he stressed, recalling how "God created human beings, endowed them with reason, and set them over all the creatures of the earth." In this way, man became "the steward of creation and God's 'helper.' ... Indeed, we could say that the work of predicting, controlling and governing nature, which science today renders more practicable than in the past, is itself a part of the Creator's plan."

"Man cannot place in science and technology so radical and unconditional a trust as to believe that scientific and technological progress can explain everything and completely fulfil all his existential and spiritual needs. Science cannot replace philosophy and revelation by giving an exhaustive answer to man's most radical questions: questions about the meaning of living and dying, about ultimate values, and about the nature of progress itself."

There seems to me something almost intrinsically dehumanizes about using "hard science" alone to determine your world view, or to demand that only those things with absolute empirical evidence be allowed into the public life of humanity. And the defense against such a mindset needs to be more than forcing philosophy into every biology textbook.

There is a living and true God who created the universe -- and to the great majority of men who have ever lived, this is common sense. And that same God endowed us with the marvelous ability to study that wide world and grow in our understanding of how it works. To me, the scientist that uses DNA and brain patterns to "prove" that religious sentiments are no more than impulses is as silly and guilty as the religious who claims that evolution isn't real because you can't see it happening in a lab.

To quote the late, great John Paul II: "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth."

And to quote popular culture: come on, faith and reason, can't we all just get along?

(UPDATE: I saw on Amy Welborn's blog that she has a link to the whole text of Pope Benedict's comments to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences).

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