Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Getting a Grip about: Science and Religion

I'm a 'religious person,' in the sense that I take my faith seriously. I'm also fascinated by science: the systematic study of this amazing universe.

The notions that science disproves religion, or that religion opposes science, don't bother me. More accurately, I'm annoyed by the persistence of those Victorian-era attitudes, but they don't affect either my faith or my interest in science.

Learning How This Universe Works

Science tells us how this universe works, how it is changing, and how we grew here. That's good, since we can gain wisdom with that knowledge. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 283)

But there's more to existence than "how." "Why" is something science can't tell us. (Catechism, 282-289)

That hasn't stopped folks from making an idol of science: which is a very bad idea.

Other folks treat science as if it's a Satanic snare: which strikes me as a daft idea.

I like science: but don't expect it to replace faith. I also don't use the Bible as a user's manual for my computer, and that's not another topic.

I don't think it helped that quite a lot of the new scientific and technological wonders looked like 'magic.'

Precious Resources and Ethics

Science is the work of our hands and minds, something which we 'make.' Studying this creation and learning to use it is part of being human. Science and technology are "precious resources," provided that we use them ethically. (Catechism, 2292-2296)

During the 19th and early 20th centuries Western civilization changed, a lot. We developed antisceptics and steam locomotives; telegraphs and kidney dialysis machines. Many of these inventions were practical applications of scientific discoveries.

Science: a Tool, Not an Idol

Feeling that science would solve all our problems may have been understandable: wrong, but understandable. A remarkable number of folks 'believed in' science and the inevitability of progress.1

Idolatry is acting as if something that's not God is divine. It might be literally worshiping an idol. In today's America, folks are more likely to give financial success, good health, entertainment, or science, the sort of attention that should be reserved for God.

That may 'feel right,' or give short-term benefits. But in the long run it's bad for us. (Catechism, 2112-2114)

Science is something we do: a useful tool, but hardly a replacement for God.

Idolizing Science, Cherishing Ignorance

Sadly, generations of 'idolizing' science has left quite a mess.

Some folks put their faith in useful, but limited, tools: and saw religion as a sort of psychiatric condition. Others apparently decided that God wants us to stop learning about this wonder-filled creation.

I think I understand why dedicated secularists say that religious faith relies on ignoring evidence and reason. Embarrassingly, some painfully 'religious' folks seem determined to prove that point.

Saying that the universe is a few thousand years old, based on Bible verses and some math, was an interesting bit of scholarship in 1650. Insisting on Ussher's assertion today, despite what we've learned in the intervening centuries, simply isn't reasonable.

I see no conflict between honestly seeking truth, and seeking God. But I also became a Catholic, so maybe that's not so surprising.

Religion: Reason and Revelation

"Rational arguments don't usually work on religious people. Otherwise, there wouldn't be religious people."
- Doris Egan
Sadly, some 'religious people' seem determined to prove Doris Egan's point. They, and she, may be sincere: but that doesn't make them right.

I think this is a pretty good definition of religion, from a Catholic point of view:
"RELIGION: A set of beliefs and practices followed by those committed to the service and worship of God. The first commandment requires us to believe in God, to worship and serve him, as the first duty of the virtue of religion (2084, 2135)."
(Catechism, Glossary)
There's more to religion, Catholic style, than reason, but it's a start:
"By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works...."
(Catechism, 50)
The "certainty" we get from studying the universe isn't "proof" in the scientific sense, and I've been over that before. (Catechism, 31) (February 22, 2013)

The way I see our use of natural reason and studying the universe, God places breadcrumbs of evidence we can follow. Whether we follow the trail is up to us.

There's more to God than the snippets of reality we find here. God has been dealing more directly, through divine Revelation, for a very long time. (Catechism, 50-67)

Two Millennia and Counting

More recently, Jesus told Simon son of Jonah that he was "Peter," put him in charge, and told the apostles to "...make disciples of all nations ... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you...." (Matthew 16:15-19, 28:19-20; John 21:15-17)

Those orders haven't changed in two millennia, so we're still spreading the Gospel. (Catechism, 74-95, for starters)

By the way, in my native language "make disciples of all nations" can be interpreted as meaning 'force people to agree.' Aside from being a daft way to persuade folks, trying to force our faith on others is strictly against the rules:
"No one is ever permitted to coerce persons to embrace the Catholic faith against their conscience."
(Code of Canon Law, Book III, 748 §2)

Three Sorts of 'Magic'

As I said in today's first post, folks seem to get science, religion, technology, and 'magic' confused. I can see why, in a way, particularly since the first two involve a search for truth.

  • Science
    • What things are
    • How they work
  • Religion
    • Why things are
    • How we should deal with them
  • Technology
    • Applied science
    • Tools we use
  • Magic
    • Harmless entertainment
    • Unfamiliar technology
    • A really bad idea
I've very briefly outlined how I see science and religion in this post. Next, I'll discuss technology and three sorts of 'magic:'
Other related posts:

1 Lately it's been more fashionable to feel that science and technology will kill us all: an equally-silly notion, I think.


Brigid said...

Extra period: "about this wonder-filled creation.."

Verb form? "I see no conflicting between honestly seeking truth, and seeking God."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Oops. Found, fixed, and thanks!

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.