Faith and Science

God Vs. Science, a Memorial Forum

Last February’s campus forum “God vs. Science—Are they really that different?” was the brainchild of Saint Mary’s student Katie Springer. When Springer died in a car accident last year, her friend Savannah Pronovost vowed to make the event happen.

“After Katie passed away it seemed appropriate to dedicate it to her because she really believed in it,” says Pronovost of what is now known as the Katie Springer Forum. “It was what she stood for—that God and science are interrelated, that there is no separation between them.”

Pronovost met Springer through the Innervarsity Christian Fellowship. After Springer’s death, members of that group joined with other students from the Physics Club and the Science Club to plan the forum.

True to its intent to foster dialogue between science and religion, panelists included faculty members from mathematics, biology, physics and religious studies.

Dean of Science Judd Case said support for such a diverse conversation at Saint Mary’s is deeply rooted in the Catholic ethos that nourishes a student’s spiritual as well as intellectual growth. Secular schools, said Case, rely on reason alone to explore the mystery of existence. “Conversely, at many faith-based schools, the truth is known to arise from a single source, the bible, and the reason/science portion of the educational process is relegated to an applied endeavor meant to gain technical expertise for future employment,” he said.

Plans are underway for another forum next February and the students hope to make it an annual event.

For More Information:

The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, an affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, California —
When Science Meets Religion by Ian G. Barbour (HarperSanFrancisco, 2000).
Science & Theology: The New Consonance by Ted Peters (Editor), (Westview Press, 1998).
Belief in God in an Age of Science by John Polkinghorne (Yale University Press, 1998).
Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution by Kenneth R. Miller (HarperCollins 1999).


Full Of Sound And Fury But Signifying Nothing

Lawrence Cory

The current furor over mandates to teach intelligent design is the latest recurrence of the pseudocontroversy over evolution in the schools. Some, as religionists, assert that evolution is godless; others, in the name of science, would reject creation. Both agree that these two positions are mutually incompatible and adversarial. The foremost evolutionist of recent time, Theodosisus Dobzhansky, in a speech declared, “I am an evolutionist and a creationist.” I concur wholeheartedly with Dobzhansky.

In considering religion vis-a-vis science, all agree that religion is based on faith, while science is based on evidence (facts) and reason. However, in a deeper sense, generally unrealized even by most of its practitioners, science has a cryptic (though no less real) basis of faith. The principles that constitute science arise as guesses (dignified by the term hypotheses). These intellectual constructs are then reexamined and tested in the light of new facts and on the occurrence or nonoccurrence of the phenomena that are predicted by the hypothesis in question. Facts, then, are the ultimate basis of judgment. Facts, as the term is used in science, consist of sense observations of phenomena. However, it is not proven that sense experiences (facts) convey inerrant information in the apprehension of reality. Though unproved, however, belief that facts do accurately portray some valid aspect of reality is a necessary (at least implied) belief of the scientist. That there remain vast areas of overt uncertainty in science is well shown by works such as those by Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) and Karl Popper, who averred of science that “our generalizations must remain tentative forever” (The Logic of Scientific Discovery).

Religion and science proceed independently of each other, each on its own set of foundational beliefs. Each has its own internal competence, but no competence to use its own methods of intellectual procedure to judge the integrity of the other. Evolution is a very complex set of theoretical concepts based on the methods of science concerning operations of the physical universe and its phenomena. This is not the area of competence of religion. Science, on the other hand, finds no need to use the concept of a creator; this, however, confers no justification to assert that no such being exists.

Concerning the world of life, the Bible presents an account of its occurring as the result of the action of a creator, a faith-based religious assertion. Science, on the other hand, is incompetent to judge this statement, but is competent to describe the processes of the living world, including evolution. It is quite consistent to believe in the existence of the universe through creation, and to find that one of the processes in this universe is evolution. Evolution, then, would not be an antagonist of creation, but one of its consequences.

Lawrence Cory has been a professor of biology at Saint Mary’s College since 1952.


Science, God and The Quest For Truth

Gerard M. Capriulo

Science or religion, religion or science, which can give us better insight into creation and the nature of the universe? Which speaks with authority? Which is right and which is wrong? How do I choose? The answer for me as a Catholic scientist is that I don’t need to choose. The arguments pitting one against the other are false arguments, often meant to mislead and obfuscate.

Modern colleges and their quest for truth, are built upon the methodologies and traditions of the natural sciences. The conflict between unrestricted study and religious beliefs are seen by many to obstruct academic freedom and to hinder scientific inquiry. Yet, for Catholics, this conflict is without substance. In his Lessons of the Galileo Case, and his encyclical On Faith and Reason, Pope John Paul II pointed out that “it is a duty for theologians to keep themselves regularly informed of scientific advances in order to examine, if such be necessary, whether or not there are reasons for taking them into account in their reflections or for introducing change in their teachings”. The pope asserted that “there is a distinction but not an opposition between the knowledge found in revelation and that found in experimental sciences.” In essence, John Paul was pointing out that truth can’t contradict Truth. That human reason, when followed with pure intentions and proper methodology, reveals truths that must be embraced by the Church and its faithful. A similar sentiment was also argued by one of the foremost evolutionary biologists, Harvard’s (post mortem) Stephen Jay Gould, who highlighted that religion and science exist as partners, side by side, as two non-overlapping magisteria, that complement each other, but seek different aspects of truth.

Most modern universities hold that only rational truth is meaningful, that the university is the instrument of rational inquiry, and that there is no place for faith in the academy. Yet, there are at least three categories of truth to consider:

  1. The truth of factual claim. This is the truth of science and reason. It is open indifferently to any witnesses trained to seek it out.
  2. The signatured truth of art. This truth is based on the personal insights, emotions and evaluation of the personalized, individual artist.
  3. The revealed Truth of presence. Truth God knows but that is somewhat or completely obscure to the talents of human search and capacity to know. This revealed Truth is witnessed Truth that takes root due to faith. It is often non-demonstrable via pathways of scientific inquiry and reason. In this Truth, meaning and purpose are revealed in the person of Jesus, the Truth, the Way and the Life, in whom all is fulfilled. This is the personal-presence-based Truth of God. This Truth encompasses the mystery of existence and salvation.

So, the quest for the Truth requires different pathways for the whole to be grasped, i.e. rational truth of science, signatured truth of art and the revealed Truth of faith-filled witnessing, and a Catholic scientist should embrace all of them, as part of their arsenal. In other words, reason and revelation must work together as Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria. This is exactly what Pope John Paul II calls for in Faith and Reason. Catholics scientists have a special concern for truth revealed and rational. Each subject of study, whatever it is, must be freely engaged in, studied and known, in its own context. The chemist studying catalytic reactions or the biologist studying dna, need no religion for his/her work to successfully proceed. Scientific inquiry, of any kind, is grounded in the reality of the world and the work. Yet, creation adds a moral dimension to the scientific endeavor. Reason and scholarship are not salvational. Knowledge for its own sake is wonderful, and valuable, but for Christians, all human endeavors start under the shadow of the Cross. A Catholic scientist should never compromise the strict demands of intellectual pursuit, but should frame his/her work in terms of ultimate value.

Gerard M. Capriulo is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Biology at Saint Mary’s College.


Science and Religion

Ronald P. Olowin

Saint Mary’s College provides an unusual opportunity to see in action the interdisciplinary dialog that is occurring between scientists and theologians today. Seeking that dialogue genuinely contributes to the emerging field of “science and religion,” replacing the myth of a protracted warfare between the two.

Saint Mary’s students participate in some of the most fascinating and relevant features of the human intellectual quest: exploring the terrain of the natural sciences and religion, and the little-explored region between them. These ideas were formerly thought to be unbridgeable and so far apart that there could be no intellectual traffic between them. But here, because of our Catholic, Lasallian and Liberal Arts traditions, we are motivated by a multifaceted mandate to contribute to that venture in a number of ways.

At Saint Mary’s, we include a value-based and cultural context to the discussion. Our Seminar experience gives us the tools to examine the methods of inquiry used in the sciences and in theology—to have an “examined life” as well as an “examined faith.” We see the justification of beliefs in both fields and appreciate the distinctive role of religious experience in seeking truth. At Saint Mary’s we explore the relationships between particular theological doctrines and scientific theories: Creation and the Big Bang; Divine Action and Chaos Theory, Revelation and Information Theory; Human Freedom and Neuro-Physiology, just to name a few.

Yet, this quest for truth may call for a reformulation of some of our most cherished doctrines—about creation, providence, and human nature, for example. At the same time, we recognize that science raises many questions which it is not able itself to answer—about ultimate origins (e.g., “Why is there something rather than nothing?”), ethics and the meaning of human life. Science and technology have given us increasing understanding of our environment, and even the ability to alter our genetic make-up—but it does not guarantee we will use that knowledge wisely as we face an uncertain future on an endangered planet.

The bottom line is that the dialog between science and theology is an exploration into the nature and function of human understanding as well as about the world we live in. We are literally the universe reflecting on itself; something to be celebrated and marveled at, an engaging mystery open to our deepest sense of inquiry.

Ronald P. Olowin is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He is also a visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley and a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, also at Berkeley.