Sunday, September 4, 2016

"I left the Catholic Church because of science"




A sociological study was released last week that I’ve been reading.  The study looked at people who were raised in a religion but now don’t practice it anymore.

Interestingly a very small % left over doctrine – things like contraception, teachings on marriage between a man and a woman, abortion, etc.

By far the largest category said they left the Faith they were raised in because of science.

One sample response from the study, “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.”

This study confirms, once again, that many see a great contest taking place in our world between science and religion, particularly science and Catholicism.  Of course people point here to the Galileo controversy as proof that the Church hates science and hopes to wipe it out.  Of course what most don’t realize is that it was a personal rift between the Pope and Galileo that caused the controversy, nor do many know that, scientifically speaking, we now know that both the Church AND Galileo were wrong, nor can anyone point to any OTHER instance of the Church coming after a scientist…but none the less there we have it…the Church hates science and Galileo is proof of it.

Maybe you know people who are like the majority in the study – people who say “I left my Catholic Faith behind because I believe in what I can measure and test and study – I believe in the observable.”  Maybe part of YOU wrestles with that?  I know at times growing up Catholic I wrestled with that question

And so as I was reading through some of this report, it came across my Twitter feed that Pope Francis addressed scientists this week.  I’m sure this address of the Holy Father was lined up months ago, but for me the timing was providential.

One of the things Pope Francis said was “Openness to the Grace of God, an openness which comes through Faith, does not weaken human science, but rather leads it to move forwards”

His point is one that has been made many times – Our Catholic Faith does not COMPETE with science.  Science, when done without an agenda, seeks to know what is true.  Faith, when pursued without an agenda, also seeks to know what is true. 

Of course a problem arises here: Faith and science can both be done WITH an agenda.  The Catholic Faith has been practiced with an agenda and a pretext for advancing personal interests.  We can also hopefully recognize that sometimes science is practiced with an agenda and a bias as well.  I am reading a book right now on Cyberpsychology, and it amazes me how quickly the author switches back and forth between science and personal opinion, but in the mind of the author – she views her opinions as science, and that is very dangerous.

Pope Francis also addressed this challenge with scientists this week saying “Every scientist needs to be watchful for the toxins which poison the mind’s pursuit of truth and certainty, and admit that every scientist has their own history, their own way of being and thinking, their own background, their own beliefs which can spill into their work.

Here I think we get some help from our readings. The first reading today tells us: “scarcely do we guess the things on earth” – this is a beautiful and true admission – THERE’S SO MUCH WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT WHAT WE SEE ON EARTH!  That is not a taunt to science, it is simply stating something very true.  There’s a lot in our world that we can’t explain just with science.  I love science shows, I loved studying math, I love sociological studies, I love studying psychology, physics and electricity still boggle my mind but I love trying to understand it.  Biology and the study of plants is so exciting to me, as a person who hikes and spends my free time outdoors.  I’m still completely humbled/amazed thankful for the science that led to my brother being able to survive cancer and the chemotherapy ---- I love science and the study of the observable.  It has given us so much!  Water purification, the ability to connect with people all over the world, surgery, healing, the ability to increase the productivity of our land 1,000 times more productive than land was a few hundred years ago.  The list goes on.  While saying that we love science, we still should be able, at the end of listing all that great stuff, say exactly what our first reading says – scarcely do we guess the things on earth!  There’s so much we still don’t understand, that we will never be able to observe.

Are all the things we see in the world – war, violence, abuse, terrorism, slavery, bullying, suicide, greed, destruction of the environment, aborting children and even killing them after they’re born…is it all explainable by chemistry?  Is it all explainable through psychology?  Is it all explainable by the theory of Relativity?  And the other side of that coin – is all the goodness that we see, the acts of kindness, the sacrifices people make for others, the charity, the love..can Mother Teresa, who is canonized a saint this weekend – can all the goodness we see be explained using electrons, photons, or behavioral psychology or a brain study?

Pope Francis answered this question yet again this week when he reminded scientists: “the sciences alone, however, are not sufficient to understand the mystery contained within each person”.  We all can admit that, I think, with just a wee bit of humility.  There’s a lot going on in the world that we will never be able to explain no matter how far science progresses.  The first reading notes that the wisdom that God gives through the Spirit completes the picture of what we see when we look around the world.  The things we learn about the world through our Faith fill in the gaps, the rather LARGE gaps, of all the things that we can’t measure nor study in a test tube.

Scarcely do we understand the things on Earth – this raises a great point as well.  What is your estimate for the things of the world that science CAN explain?  Again, if we think about all the things we experience in a day – how much of it does science explain?  I think the word from the reading is very accurate – Scarcely do we understand.

Some say, of course, “well, science hasn’t given us an answer to everything just yet, but it will eventually.”  But here it is really important to note something – this statement is a complete act of Faith and is as unscientific as saying there are three persons in one God.  To say that science will eventually explain everything is completely unscientific, because science HASN’T explained everything yet, so that person is putting their hope in something that no one has ever observed, thus committing the very crime they accuse the person of Faith of – believing something can be true that hasn’t been observed.




As a person who loves and is amazed by science, biology, math, physics, astronomy, psychology, oceanography, etc. my experience has been one in which the study of science has been the exact opposite of a THREAT to my Faith.  The more I’ve learned about science, the more I observe trees growing, the more I observe children growing in the womb through the power of ultrasounds, the more I learn about the universe, and the stars and the northern lights and the human body the CLOSER it has brought me to my Catholic Faith and to God – science has deepened my Faith, not drawn me away from it.

As St. John Paul II noted, Faith and Science are two wings by which we come to know the Truth.  May all those who see a conflict between the study of the observable and the pursuit of the Truth through Faith once again recognize that for all those pursuing the truth of the world, studying the observable truths of our world shouldn’t lead us away from the Faith.  Faith and science, if both are pursued in honesty and humility, help us see and appreciate the entirety of what we see when we look around our lives.


May we never lose sight of the infinite number of miracles that we see each day.