Faith and science: Happy together

Sister Judith Sutera | August 10, 2017

In publicity about the eclipse, readers may have noticed references to astronomers who will be giving talks at Benedictine College and Mount St. Scholastica.

They are described as “fellows of the Vatican Observatory.” These are not necessarily people from the Vatican in Rome, but highly regarded astronomers from around the world who are involved with research sponsored by the Vatican Observatory.

Many people wonder why the Vatican even has an observatory. The answer goes back many hundreds of years. Understanding the movements of the heavens was important for establishing the modern calendar, by which the Church calculated important feasts like Easter, the date of which changes each year based on phases of the moon.

Even Galileo, whose disagreements with the Church are both important and misunderstood, was well within the tradition of study which the Church had supported. In a time before major public universities, the Catholic Church was a center of learning and discovery and provided financial support and the education of scholars in many areas, including the natural sciences.

The Catholic faith is among the religions that do not reject science. Rather, it celebrates the wonders of the universe because it believes that every star and atom and dinosaur was made by a loving creator. There are some people who believe that faith and science cannot both be true and good. There are even faith traditions which reject all medical treatment, holding that God alone will cure their illnesses. But didn’t God create doctors and nurses and scientific researchers, giving them inquisitive minds and skillful hands and caring hearts? Is not their ministry a legitimate way for God to heal illness?

For those who believe in a literal interpretation of scripture, it is difficult to reconcile faith and science. They would say that if the Bible is the true Word of God, then creation has to have happened in seven days. But the same Bible says, “With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8).”

Those who do not hold a creationist view would say that it is not necessary to see creation as seven 24 hour days. In fact, both science and religion describe the same progression of creation: first the heavens, then the earth, the water, the plants, the simpler creatures, the mammals and eventually humans.

The initial act of creation, according to a common scientific theory, is the “big bang.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines this as a moment when “the universe originated … in an explosion from a single point of nearly infinite energy density.” So the admission that some unknown immensely powerful something was behind the organizing of the chaos leaves a wonderful space for belief in God.

Faith and science should be able to walk beside one another. The Catholic Catechism states that “the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”

There is, of course, the threat of science being a danger to morality. I’m reasonably sure that God is not pleased that nuclear power was used to make atomic bombs. But that is the risk of having been created with free will, which can certainly be misused. The sin here is not with science but with human choices.

So whether it’s in a solar eclipse, a life saved by technology, or just the wonder of our own being, faith, and science can both give cause for celebration.