One big conversation in today’s world is the supposed conflict between science and religion. We have written on this before in the general discussion on faith and reason and then more specifically in a commentary on a sermon. This post too is prompted by a sermon although is not so much a commentary on the sermon itself but more a commentary on the relationship between science and religion in general. The kind of thought process behind the sermon we are discussing is however an example of something Christians, and in particular Catholics should avoid. It is excessively fearful of science ( indeed it does not really understand it) and is otherwise sub rational. The Church that so regarded the approach of St Thomas Aquinas that he was pronounced the “angelic Doctor” should never be associated with irrationality. In any case here: is the sermon http://www.audiosancto.org/sermon/20130818-Science-Cannot-Explain-History-Errors-of-Big-Bang-Cosmology.html .
Why is that sermon such a mess? Science is a pursuit of reason examining truths about the natural world and how it works usually through observation and experimentation. Scientific study is a subset of reason. There are other areas of reason such as history or philosophy. Through philosophy we learn important truths about religion like the existence of God and the soul. Theological knowledge based on faith is knowledge about truths that we did not reason to or discover on our own. Rather, we were told these truths by God who reveals them and because He is trustworthy, we believe Him.
For more on this, see our previous posts on faith and reason: http://catholicxray.com/is-faith-reasonable-part-ii/ and on science and religion: (all are listed here) http://catholicxray.com/?s=science
I want this blog post to be relatively short because it is mostly a reiteration of the past posts with a slightly different angle.
In order to have knowledge of truths about God or religion, we must start with our reason. With our reason we can learn about the existence of God, the immortal soul, certain moral duties, and things like that. The body of this knowledge is called “natural religion” because we need not have any supernatural revelation, i.e. God telling us, in order to know these truths. We can learn these truths simply because we are rational human beings. Natural religion is the foundation for all religion. From reason we can know the possibility that God might reveal something that is beyond the capacity of reason alone. We know that this revelation would be trustworthy. We know that we ought to accept it as true and we know how to look for this revelation. It is important to realize the key differences between natural religion and supernatural religion based on revelation. Here is a quick summary:
|Reason alone can determine truths||We need to be told the truths|
|Deductive reasoning is the main process||We look for clues of revelation using induction|
|It is like a skeleton without all the details||Fills in many of the details and specifics|
|Less noble but more foundational||More noble but dependent on natural religion|
|We can either directly observe or directly infer truths||We cannot directly observe truths and we can never discover them on our own|
|We believe trusting our reason and our senses||We believe trusting the word of God|
Natural religion lays out the foundation for revelation by providing us with a background picture and also with the tools necessary to look for when and if God has revealed something. The basic way in which we look for revelation is be open to claims. In other words, when someone claims to have received a revelation, this is the first place to start. From here, we can evaluate the claim to see if it has in fact been revealed by God. There are two means to do this. The first is the negative side of things. First we must see if what the supposed revelation contains is in conformity with reason, including natural religion. If some sort of alleged revelation claimed that human beings had no souls, or that there were four gods, we would know this revelation to be a fraud. Similarly, if the revelation told us the earth is flat, we would know it to be false because science tells us otherwise. It is important to note though that we should be careful when a contradiction emerges. We should not immediately assume that the contradiction is a fatal one. This would simply be rash. To dismiss it a claim to revelation without at least examining the claim would be unreasonable in itself. The second part of examining revelation involves looking at positive evidence in support of that revelation. Positive evidence at its strongest includes miracles that only God could perform. Other evidence however includes “softer” miracles, prophecy, strange coincidences, subtle signs and clues, direct and indirect experience, powerful testimony, internal consistency and beauty, great explanatory value for mysteries of human existence, practical value, the assent of reasonable people, and so forth.
The priest in the sermon above at first points out the problems scientifically with the big bang theory. He dwells on this for a time. This is itself reasonable although the problem is that he seems to think all cosmologists have it wrong and his simple problems debunk a theory that is very broadly, even entirely accepted. Further, he seems to think this is because of some atheistic conspiracy. If this were the case, science would contradict philosophy. Since both are in the realm of reason, we would have to use our minds to figure out where we went wrong. It’s like messing up on an algebra problem, we would just have to go back through the steps and see where we messed up. The priest says that the big bang contradicts first principles or self-evident truths. If this is the case, nearly all scientists who study the big bang and accept it as true are seriously deluded. This is such an extreme charge that I think we can see why it is false at face value. It becomes clear at the end what the priest’s real problem with the big bang theory is. He says that the beginning is a question of history and not of science. The confusion is that he fails to see we can infer history from science because both are tools of reason. Father is not happy with this idea because he says that Moses in Genesis tells us what happened at the beginning and we ought to take Moses seriously but not cosmologists because Moses was speaking the word of God when he was inspired to write Genesis.
Taking the last two paragraphs and putting them together, we should come to the conclusion that if this priest is correct in saying that Genesis gives us a literal account of creation, then it would follow that Genesis is not a trustworthy revelation. We do not always pick science over religion, but when we have multiple lines of scientific evidence up against a supposed revelation, we can assume that this revelation is in fact false. If the priest is correct, he is not giving us good reason to assume that science is wrong, but that Catholicism is.
As a Catholic, am I saying that we should always remain in doubt about our faith? Am I saying that it might be true that Catholicism is not the right religion? No, not at all. This is because the priest is wrong and this is certain. Genesis is not giving us a literal account of the beginning and therefore does not contradict what we know about the beginning through scientific study. Because of this, Genesis passes the negative test for revelation. How do I know Genesis is not giving us a literal account? Besides that this should be apparent due to the language used, and besides the fact that many prominent theologians in history held this view (regardless of science …e.g. St. Augustine wrote extensively on this topic) it is because the Church has said that we need not interpret Genesis literally and we should follow science where it leads. In other words, the Church teaches us that the beginning is a question of science. The priest can say what he wants, but it is not up to him to tell us what to believe as Catholics. This priest has many good sermons at AudioSancto.org but this is not one of them. In this instance, he does not teach what the Church teaches. As Catholics, we must accept Rome’s judgment above the judgment of any priest, any theologian, any individual, any private revelation, any doctor of the Church, or anything else. This truth goes beyond that of science and religion. It is the most fundamental truth of all of Catholicism and the denial of this truth is one of the most pernicious error of our times.
As we contemplate this lets ask for the prayers of the most reasonable of Saints,