It’s no secret that some in the religious world approach science with a lot of skepticism. Approaching the two disciplines with a polarized mindset, they feel that they have to pick between religion OR science, as if one is completely right while the other is completely wrong. This, we know as Catholics, is a rather short-sighted approach. As “non-overlapping magisteria,” science and religion represent ways of knowing that speak to different things: science explains WHAT is around us while religion explains WHY it exists and how we’re supposed to use it. These disciplines do not contradict each other, nor can they exist without the other. To have good faith, we need to be well informed about what is going on around us; to study the world around us, we need to have foundation of faith to know how to approach it.
For many, this topic is a bit worn out. An issue only to the most fanatic, the rest of us are left wondering why this is still a topic of debate and why Br. Casey continues to write about it. It’s fair to wonder that. But you see, in this week’s Catholicism in Focus I want to also address this issue’s opposite: scientism.
A topic that has received a lot of attention of late from Bishop Robert Barron, scientism is essentially the same imbalance in relationship between science and religion, except from the other side. Rather than denying that science has anything to offer people of faith, scientism proposes that science is the only thing that can offer knowledge. In other words, “If you can’t prove it, it doesn’t exist.”
What’s so unfortunate about this opinion is not that people take science seriously. Science is a wonderful discipline that allows us to know about the world, which, in turn, helps us to know about God. What’s so unfortunate is that it denies all of the other ways of knowing: history, poetry, literature, art, philosophy, and religion, to name just a few. When looking at a sunset, science can tell us why the colors are the way they are, how hot the sun is, its speed and distance related to the earth, and its effect on human life. Those are all good things. But is that all there is to know about the sun? What about how it makes us feel, the memories it evokes, how it teaches us lessons about life? Surely, when we look at a sunset our thoughts are not focused on the chemical reaction occurring 93 million miles away. No, we’re focused on the beauty of it all, the memory of past sunsets, the constancy of the earth’s turning, the wonder of the universe, and the meaning of life. These are not topics answered by science but captured and shared only by other disciplines. How could we say that all that matters—that the only things that could ever be held true—are the things that we can prove by observation?
No, we need them all. Science is good. Science is wonderful, even. But science does not answer all of our questions. When we look to the marvels of the universe, something like the Big Bang Theory can be extremely helpful, and we should study it to know more about God, but it cannot give us answers to ultimate questions.
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