For the first few weeks of school, I led a discussion group on faith and science. I decided to summarize my points on this blog for your benefit. This post is on the relationship between faith and science. In future posts I will cover supposed reasons why God has been disproved, and close with reasons to believe in God.
So why faith and science?
As a graduate of the University of Illinois with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, I come from a prestigious university well known for engineering (EE is #3 in the nation). In this environment, faith in God is often bashed as blind and baseless. Our culture in general in the West often makes fun of people of faith for being “ignorant.” Despite these criticisms, I found my faith while in college and found answers to all of the questions that I had. I hope to explain some of the answers that I found in this post and in the following ones.
What is faith? What do we mean by faith?
In the strict religious sense, faith could be defined as whether or not you believe revelation from God. But faith is also used in everyday experiences. For example, if I were to tell you that my favorite color is green, there would be no way for you to prove that I’m telling you the truth. In addition, when we start our car in the morning, do we double check that all of the parts and equipment will work? Do we double check our brakes? No, we don’t. These are examples of faith, but they aren’t blind faith.. there is actually reason involved in these decisions.
You probably trust that with sharing a simple thing like my favorite color, I wouldn’t have a reason to lie. In addition, you probably have the idea that I’m at least a pretty decent person and wouldn’t be prone to lying. With regards to the car, we realize that though we haven’t checked all the parts, they were working just fine last night and nothing should have changed over the course of the night. In a similar way, our faith in God isn’t just blind. We have good reasons to believe, reasons that aren’t always 100% verifiable, but they can make a very solid case. I’ll be going through these with you over the next couple of blog posts in this series.
How does God reveal Himself to us?
God reveals Himself to us in many different ways: through reason, philosophy, and the sciences, in the world around us, in who we are, and in what He directly reveals to us. God reveals Himself to us through reason as we contemplate how the world came to be and exists. He reveals Himself to us through our own longings like our desire for the infinite, for truth and happiness, for unconditional and infinite love. God reveals himself to us in the human person: in our desire to truth and beauty, our sense of morality, and our own inherent idea of God. God also reveals Himself more directly, as the God of Noah, Abraham, and Moses. As a Christian I believe that God most fully revealed Himself as Jesus. God reveals Himself in the world from its order and beauty.
What is science?
When we think of science, (I hope) we think of the scientific method, which allows us to test and prove things in a quantifiable manner.
The Scientific method:
1. Define a question
2. Gather information and observe
3. Form hypothesis
4. Test the hypothesis, perform an experiment
5. Analyze the data
6. Draw conclusions from data
7. Publish results
8. Retest conclusion
The scientific method is a powerful way to make conclusions about quantifiable phenomena. We can use science to measure data in the physical realm, but even science has its limits. With the scientific method, we can find out what we are made of and how our bodies work, but we can’t find out our purpose and meaning in life.
An interesting point to make is that science isn’t the only rational system of thinking: all of the branches of philosophy require reason. Philosophy is basically the study of being: what exists and why they exist. This is specifically called metaphysics and is the basis of all philosophy. There are other branches of philosophy, like philosophy of man (what is human nature), philosophy of ethics (how should man act), philosophy of politics (how should society be), epistemology (study of knowledge, how does man know what he knows), and finally natural philosophy (study of nature). What we call science is actually only one branch of philosophy, natural philosophy. All the other branches of philosophy still require reason and rational thought, but often the only one that we think of nowadays is science.
Can the scientific method be applied to God? We know that science can only be applied to things that we can quantify, things we can measure and observe. So now we have to see if God matches up to these requirements.
Who/What is God? How would you describe Him?
There are a few traits that we have to become familiar with in order to describe God. The first is that God is omnipotent, which means that God is all powerful. The next is that God is perfect- all good and benevolent. God is also omnipresent, which means that He is continuously and simultaneously present throughout the whole of creation. God is eternal- He always was and always has been. The final important trait of God for now is that He is transcendent, or outside of the universe.
With all of this in mind, we have to realize that God cannot be studied by science. Since God is transcendent, he can’t be measured or observed. God isn’t a material being (besides the part where Jesus walked here on Earth and Jesus in the Eucharist in the Tabernacle of your local Catholic Church).
How does the Catholic Church view faith and science?
Believe it or not, Pope John Paul II wrote an entire encyclical on the topic in 1998, called Fides et Ratio (Latin for Faith and Reason). You can read it in English here. In the encyclical, Pope John Paul II argues that faith and reason are essential together, like two wings of a bird.
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth- in a word, to know himself- so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” – Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio
Can faith and scientific reason ever contradict each other?
Since the Catholic Christian faith is true and reason is true, they should never conflict. Often people have misconceptions of the faith which makes the faith appear to be false, though. I’ll cover that in the next post.
We don’t need necessarily need “blind” faith to believe in God’s existence, God’s existence can be understood through reason, which I’ll cover in the last post. Specific things about God and Jesus, etc. must be taken by faith in God’s revelation, though.
Here are a few more quotes from the Church on the relationship between faith and reason:
“Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.” – St. Thomas Aquinas
“Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 159
“Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because 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.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 159
In terms of religion, the whole point of this discussion is to show you that believing in God isn’t a “blind” faith based decision but rather an exercise of reason. Believing certain things about God may require faith, but believing in God’s existence does not.
The next post will be about supposed reasons why God has been “disproved” and I’ll debunk them. In the final post I’ll share some reasons to believe in God.