Category Archives: Science

Science & Faith

science-and-faith-fania-simon copy(Recently published online at Homiletic & Pastoral Review)

One of the most vexing issues facing ministers in the Church is the raging debate in our media and schools over evolution, and its implications for those of us who believe that God created “the heavens and the earth.” At the heart of this vexation lies a fundamental issue: The nature of sacred doctrine and how it relates to the disciplines of science. There probably isn’t a better thinker to turn to for this issue than St. Thomas Aquinas.  At the very beginning of his Summa Theologiae, he lays the foundation for the study of sacred doctrine and its relationship to the rest of the sciences. We will begin with a careful look at Aquinas’ starting point and then see how it might be applied to some scientific platforms which have seemed to conflict with sacred doctrine. Continue reading

Does Evolution disprove the reality of the One, Creator God?



My article “Science & Faith” has been published at the Homiletic & Pastoral Review.  Here is an excerpt:

One of the most vexing issues facing ministers in the Church is the raging debate in our media and schools over evolution, and its implications for those of us who believe that God created “the heavens and the earth.” At the heart of this vexation lies a fundamental issue: The nature of sacred doctrine and how it relates to the disciplines of science. There probably isn’t a better thinker to turn to for this issue than St. Thomas Aquinas.  At the very beginning of his Summa Theologiae, he lays the foundation for the study of sacred doctrine and its relationship to the rest of the sciences. We will begin with a careful look at Aquinas’ starting point and then see how it might be applied to some scientific platforms which have seemed to conflict with sacred doctrine.

I essentially argue for the Thomistic position, which really gave birth to the scientific method, that science and faith do not conflict.

Sacred doctrine, then, is a science in the sense that it is a rational reflection upon the principles received through revelation. It’s not a science in the sense that the Trinity was discovered as a result of experimentation in a laboratory.  The Real Presence isn’t proposed as a scientific theory, or law, as the result of studying a consecrated host under a microscope. The doctrine of the Real Presence is based on Sacred Scripture, wherein Jesus declared: “This is my body, this is my blood.” Sacred doctrine is the science that takes revelation as it’s principle, proceeding to explain what this means for us who are communicants.

How does this science of sacred doctrine differ from the other sciences? As already mentioned, the object, or thing studied in sacred doctrine, is something beyond the reach of the natural sciences. The natural sciences deal with matter as it is available to us through our senses. Yet, God is not available to our senses. Since knowledge of God is, in part, beyond the reach of sense experience and reason, God has decided to reveal it to us through sacred scripture and doctrine. Thus, our knowledge is supplemented by sacred scripture so that we may know what is necessary for salvation.

Read the entire article and let me know what you think!


Bill O’Reily and Intelligent Design

oreily-dawkinsAfter watching Bill O’Reily take Richard Dawkins to task over Dawkins’ new book, The Magic of Reality, I’m convinced that O’Reily has a legitimate point but seems ill-equipped to argue it.

Granted, O’Reily has probably tackled one of the most complex issues of the day to try and talk about with some coherence in a framework of about 5 minutes at the most so what can we really expect? I think a much better job of it could be done, nevertheless, so I offer a few observations on how it could be done.

The real issue with Dawkins is his blind faith in a 19th century view of reality and his evangelical zeal in spreading it at the expense of all other views. The real issue with this faith is that it has already been superseded by modern science for one thing… and it’s also dependent upon the suppression of a major segment of human knowledge.

In short, not only is Dawkins’ world view anti-science… it’s also anti-human. Modern science has moved beyond the 19th century conceptualization of “matter” and Dawkins has not kept up. His world-view is really the flip-side of that coin known as “fundamentalism” in that they both share the 19th century understanding of science. That world-view was indebted to Rene Descartes and his bifurcation of reality into the world of extension and the world of reason… the world of matter and the world of spirit. This left a plethora of problems not only for science but for theology as well. These problems have manifested themselves in the horrendous “intelligent design” debates that we’re witnessing these days. (No, Aquinas did NOT subscribe to what we know today as the “Intelligent Design” movement”)

Colin Tudge, of The Independent does a very good job of it in his review of Dawkins’ book. Just a snippet:

All in all, what consciousness is is perhaps the most burning topic in modern science. The general conclusion so far is that the Dawkins-style concept of “reality” just won’t do. This crude materialism belongs at best to the 19th century.

The rest of his review can be read here

O’Reily let Dawkins lead him by the nose and he came across as  completely incompetent. The stakes in this debate between religion and science are just too high to do a toss-off 5 minute treatment of it that leaves his viewers more in the dark the they were to begin with. I hope he does his research a bit more thoroughly before attempting it again.

THIS is the go-to guy for the Intelligent Design debate and faith: Dr. Francisco Ayala

Stephen Hawking dabbles in theology

hawkingLast week it was widely reported that Stephen Hawking, arguably the world’s pre-eminent physicist, made the claim that there is no such thing as heaven and that it’s just a fairy-tale.  As he put it,

I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark. Continue reading

Christ the Tiger

tiger(Apologies to Thomas Howard, who wrote the book Christ the Tiger. I love that book but am more than likely going beyond what he said under that title… but maybe I’ll ask him to make sure.)

I’ve just finished watching a video (linked to at “Irtiqa: A Science & Religion Blog“) of Richard Feynman discussing the role of doubt and uncertainty in Science and Religion. It’s a fascinating video… he explains his conviction that doubt and uncertainty lie at the heart of scientific inquiry. He also explains how his scientific understanding impacts his beliefs. He thinks religion tends to be too “localized” in the sense that religions tend to believe that what they say applies to all of reality… or in his words: “One aspect of God came to the Earth, mind you… and look at what’s out there! It isn’t in proportion.”

I think I understand his point and agree with it, to some extent. I think Thomas Howard was saying somewhat the same thing in his book Christ the Tiger when he argued for the mystery of reality being conveyed to us through sacraments, or symbols. He identified Christ as the tiger, and quotes from William Blake’s poem The Tyger to characterize the mystery that is Christ.

I am convinced that it’s a mistake to confuse the symbols we use with the reality we mean to convey with those symbols, even though it is through those symbols that we touch, and are touched, by reality. I would apply this understanding of sacrament to Feynman’s insight into the vastness of what is out there.  We really do have no idea what the nature of reality is like.  We have hints, but it would be the height of hubris to say we have a firm grasp on reality.  It truly is a mystery and that’s why we use symbols to convey reality.  The fact that we do use symbols becomes problematic, however, when we are trying to convey a reality that we understand to be universal, because symbols are not universal. Symbols are very local… they do not translate well across cultures, let alone across planets and universes. Therefore, our grasp of reality tends to only make sense within a certain local context, a context characterized by a shared symbolic system… a common culture.

This can be overstated though, and often is. I think it’s generally acknowledged that “culture” is not set in stone, in the sense that cultures are permeable and malleable.  I live in Southern California and we are certainly a mix here… asians, hispanic, german, irish, etc… and the melding is constant. This is true also within specific cultures. All cultures can trace it’s roots to cultures outside of itself. So cultures do mix and mingle symbols. The symbol of “tiger”, for instance, as a symbol of Christ was chosen by Howard because of the relevance he saw in the poem by Blake. In asian cultures, the tiger serves as a symbol akin to the symbol of the lion in western cultures: a king of the animal kingdom. It is also true that some symbols simply do get lost… and it’s also true that some symbols in a culture cannot be lost without losing something crucial to that culture.

So where does this leave us with our understanding that Christ transcends culture and is the Lord of all? It seems to get tricky when we are faced with the variety of cultures on this planet.  What about the variety of life-forms if and when we come across them?

I myself am convinced that for anything to make sense to us at all, we seem to be able to keep some sense of what our symbols convey to us, yet at the same time are able to be open to new understandings and new knowledge that breaks into us from outside our symbol system (or conceptual constructs) of what is real. This is so because we do have a hint of reality conveyed to us in our symbols so therefore are not totally faced with a reality that is so alien to us that we can’t make some sense of it. I may be wrong about this, but I think we are able to handle surprises no matter how large of a shock they may be. It’s not completely a matter of faith for me here… I do think our conceptual constructs arise out of our interaction with a reality we are a part of so they probably are trustworthy to some extent. The phenomenon of self-correcton seems to confirm this for me.

So I would agree with Feynman that our religions tend to be localized… too provincial, when it comes to understand our relationship with reality. However, I might disagree with him if he thinks that we are unable to be open enough in our religious sensibilities to include new insights and knowledge into our religious understanding. I think that our symbols can grow as our reality grows… and I think we will have some sense of the familiar within the shock of the new. This is not without it’s challenges, though… as evidenced by the trauma the Church went through upon discovering the Earth was not the center of the universe and the trauma religions are now going through upon learning that human beings evolve and share a common ancestor with apes. Overcoming provincialism is an ongoing apostolic work…


Is There Such a Thing as Brain Death?

BrainIn 2005, there was some debate over the issue of what, exactly, is the Catholic teaching on the subject of “brain death”.  I was caught up in it because my employer at the time, Ignatius Press, was (and still is) the publisher of the magazine the Catholic World Report. An article that appeared in the issue of April 2005 expressed some views that seemed to me to leave readers unclear about what the teachings of the Church are on the matter.  John M. Haas has written an excellent article on the topic and does a lot to clear up the confusion. I wasn’t managing editor at the time the article appeared which Dr. Haas references, but was managing editor of their other magazine, the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Management of CWR was added to my plate that same year.

I am very happy to provide a link to this piece and offer my heartfelt thanks for his work. Please read “Catholic teaching regarding the legitimacy of neurological criteria for determining death“, by John M. Haas.

The Duality of the “Intelligent Design” Argument

descartes-dualismThere is an excellent post at Panda’s Thumb by Jack Scanlan, entitled “Does intelligent design have a dualistic assumption, not a theistic one?“.  I think Jack has made a very astute observation. I suppose I think this because I agree with what he is saying… that the so called “Intelligent Design” argument is actually based upon the philosophical position of dualism, which is the vew that all of reality is divided up into that which is material and that which is immaterial.  This philosophy is ONE philosophy among many that can serve as a foundation for a theist. A theist is someone who holds the view that there is such a thing as God. It is possible, and there are plenty of examples to support this, that an atheist can be a philosophical dualist.  That’s why, as Jack points out, there are proponents of the Intelligent Design view who are atheists.

I think this is a very critical insight, because I am a theist but I do NOT subscribe to the viewpoint being advanced by proponents of “Intelligent Design.”  There are many theists from a wide variety of religious traditions that do not agree with the Intelligent Design movement.  To be a theist, in other words, does not mean that you are also a dualist, philosophically.

What this means, as Jack concludes, is that the real work against the Intelligent Design view will be addressing the root issue of dualism.

ADDENDUM: One philosopher who is working to address the problem of dualism by reconceptualizing matter is Jaegwon Kim. His Wiki entry is here and his webpage is here.

Natural Disasters and Faith in God

tectonics-pangea-animationTo place the current natural disasters in perspective, it might help to recall that the Earth is approximately 4.6 billion years old. The vast majority of this time has seen cataclysmic changes in geology that make the current natural disasters we have experienced seem like a baby’s hiccup. Not to sound callous or unmoved by recent events, especially the horrific developments in Japan after their earthquake and tsunami… but what I hope to do is provide some perspective on natural events like this and thereby hopefully provide some sense of comfort as we all face them. I say “comfort” because natural disasters like the current one in Japan leaves a lot of us believers wondering why God, a loving God that cares about us, allows such things to happen. Continue reading

Do you have a soul?

GraveSoulWhether or not you eat soul food or whether or not you listen to soul music, you probably find it quite offensive or disturbing to hear someone suggest to you that you don’t really have a soul. The first response among most people, whether they are religious or not, is one of amazement that someone would even suggest this. Among some people who are atheists, such as John Horgan, a science journalist who writes for Scientific American, the suggestion that they might not have free will, which has historically been understood as a power of the soul, is just as offensive.

Continue reading

New Atheists?

627px-Crossbuster_symbol_svgThere is a lot of noise coming from people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett, to the effect that religion does more harm than good and therefore should be eradicated from the face of the Earth (Witness a recent debate on the goodness or badness of religion between Hitchens and Tony Blair). The media has labeled these voices as a “movement”, a “New Atheism” movement.  I’ve looked closely at the various arguments being advanced by the three I mention and, to be frank, I don’t see what it is about their messages that would justify labeling it as “New Atheism”.  For the most part there is nothing new in what they offer in their brand of atheism.  Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett  are simply regurgitating arguments that have been made numerous times by a wide variety of atheists.

Continue reading