In 2015, the Pew Research Center updated a survey which found that in the United States a majority of the public said science and religion often conflict. Nearly six in 10 adults (59 percent) expressed this view. The share of the public saying science and religion are often in conflict was up modestly from 55 percent in 2009, when Pew Research conducted a similar survey. Among more religiously observant Americans — those who report that they attend religious services on a weekly basis — exactly half (50 percent) shared the view that science and religion frequently conflict.
This survey is reinforced by the observations once made by a professor at the University of Notre Dame, who wrote: “Nothing in the official teaching of Catholicism opposes evolution. Yet when I ask my biology undergraduates whether they feel a conflict between their faith and evolution, about half of every class — 85 percent of whom are Catholic — say yes.”
This view or perception can and does lead to a devaluation and even dismissal of religious belief in the pursuit of the natural and social sciences. Yet, in reality, the alleged conflict between faith and the science need not arise. Faith may be said to be “trans-rational,” but certainly not irrational. In the words of Pope St. John Paul: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”
Today, of course, the very existence of truth is problematic for many, and even science nowadays is not considered to be true in a necessary way. The human intellect has lost confidence in its ability to know unchangeable truth. In the 19th century, the Catholic Church insisted that faith is not irrational, and now she is saying that faith needs to rescue reason from its own self-inflicted wound of skepticism. The pursuit of each according to its respective realm contributes and fosters respect for the integrity of facts and of scientific rigor on the one hand, and a belief, a thirst and love for God on the other.
Apart from the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel, whose experiments marked the beginning of the science of genetics, people are largely ignorant of the fact that the so-called Big Bang theory was the brainchild of a Belgian Catholic priest and physicist, George Lemaitre. Or that Catholic clergy developed our modern calendar in the 16th century; mapped the moon, discovered sunspots and the important physics effect called diffraction in the 17th century; were numbered among the founders of astrophysics in the 19th century; and have made individual major contributions to anatomy, geology, biology and acoustics. And if this is true of clergy, what of the many believers — religious and laity — who have made, and continue to make, a contribution to science?
Given today’s explosion of information and its compartmentalization, religious faith plays an essential role in promoting human flourishing by upholding the priority of the ethical over the technical, the primacy of the personal over things, and the superiority of the spirit over matter. To exclude either faith or science in the rational pursuit of knowledge is to greatly diminish both the human person and the created world.Read Full Article
The Most Rev. Leonard P. Blair is the Archbishop of Hartford.