Friday, September 17, 2010

Science, Religion, and the Pope

I didn't convert to Catholicism just because we've got a patron saint of scientists. On the other hand, I like belonging to a Church where I don't have to put my frontal cortex in 'sleep' mode every Sunday.1

Science, Religion, and What 'Everybody Knows'

Don't I know that religion is bitterly opposed to science?

No, I don't. And neither did Gregor Mendel and Copernicus.

I do know that there are folks who feel that science is anti-Christian, and that Christianity is anti-science.

There are folks who apparently believe that shape-shifting space-alien lizard people really run the world's nations. (I'm not making that up.) They may be very sincere: that doesn't mean they're right.

Sound Bites and the Careful Catholic

Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on science and ethics could be reduced to a sound bite.

That's okay for the evening news and other applications, but ultra-short quotes can skip important details.

Take this hypothetical example:
"In the United Kingdom, the Pope warned students in all Catholic schools about science: 'a scientific outlook becomes dangerously narrow'."
The quote is accurately copied from Pope Benedict XVI's statement. The sound bite-size quote does not, however, tell the whole story.

By the way, no news service boiled down the Pope's statements quite that way. On the other hand, doesn't that 'warning' sound quite a bit like what you see in the news, about 'those religious people?' I've written about that before. (May 20, 2010)

Science, Religion, and Seeing the Big Picture

Here's an excerpt from a somewhat-more-complete report of Pope Benedict XVI's remarks:
"Pope: Science becomes 'dangerously narrow' when religion, ethics ignored"
Catholic News Agency (September 17 2010)

"Benedict XVI stressed the need for open minds in science on Friday, adding that researchers must be ready to consider religious and ethical perspectives. His words came as the U.K. prepares to pass provisions protecting sex changes next month.

"The Holy Father told students in a live broadcast that reached every Catholic school in the U.K. that they must 'always remember' to maintain sight of the 'bigger picture' in their studies. 'Never allow yourselves to become narrow,' he told them.

" 'The world needs good scientists, but a scientific outlook becomes dangerously narrow if it ignores the religious and ethical dimension of life, just as religion becomes narrow if it rejects the legitimate contribution of science to our understanding.'

"Ethics, especially sexual ethics, have been on Catholics' minds lately as the U.K.'s Equality Act will enact new provisions on Oct. 1. Among other proposals that seek to protect the disabled and breastfeeding mothers are others concerning sexual themes...."
About that phrase, "especially sexual ethics?" Don't I know about the pedophile priests?! Yes, I do. I've written about that matter before, too. Quite often. Moving on.

I'm strongly inclined to agree with both halves of what the Pope said:
"...'...a scientific outlook becomes dangerously narrow if it ignores the religious and ethical dimension of life, just as religion becomes narrow if it rejects the legitimate contribution of science to our understanding.'..."
(Pope Benedict XVI, via Catholic News Agency (September 17 2010)
Science without ethics isn't, sadly, limited to B-movie mad scientists. That's something I take personally - and, again, have written about before. (February 3, 2009)

Religion that won't see what's been learned about this astounding creation, also sadly, is also very real.
God Thinks Big: Works For Me
Me? I'm okay with the idea that God is smarter than I am, and apparently made a creation that's a whole lot older and a great deal bigger than some folks thought, a few thousand years back. I'm even willing to think that this creation hasn't always been exactly the way it is now.

And that it's changed a bit since Egypt had pharaohs. No contemporary pharaohs, for one thing.

I'm not going to tell God that He couldn't have made a world where things never change. But it's fairly obvious that we're in one that does.

The way I see it, it's God's creation, God's rules, God's call. Even if I didn't like it, what higher authority would I complain to?

Related posts:
1 The frontal cortex is where we do a lot of our thinking. And it turns out there's a physiological connection to why emotions and reason don't play well together:

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