A few months back I blogged on the interplay between Theology, Philosophy and “science.” A reader wrote in the combox a mild rebuke of me, for using the word “Science” in a reductionist sense to mean, merely the physical sciences. He went on to insist that theology and philosophy ARE sciences, older and frankly more developed in many ways, than the natural or physical sciences, (whose fundamental theories still shift dramatically every few decades). Further, theology and philosophy have served as the intellectual foundation for the scientific method and what has come to be called the natural or physical sciences.
I appreciated his rebuke and though I cannot remember exactly where to find it, I have thought a lot about it. Indeed, we have allowed the word “science, ” a word so respected by the modern world, to mean only the physical sciences, and many have tolerated others calling Philosophy and Theology “unscientific.”
Now the word “science” comes from the Latin “Scientia” meaning “knowledge.” For Aristotle scientific knowledge was considered to be a body of reliable knowledge that can be logically and rationally explained. Until the 2oth Century “science” was understood in this broader sense. Hence both Philosophy and Theology involved a body of knowledge that was a tested and reliable way of navigating reality, and can be rationally set forth as reasonable. Both sciences built a vast body of knowledge and a careful discipline of distinctions and delineations that set forth a framework in which to see and know the world. (It will be admitted that, as in any science, there can be rather wacky and strange fringes that developed and were later discarded or critiqued within the discipline. But this is true of the natural sciences too, that have also had their share of strange and exotic theories that were later and largely set aside).
In terms of theology, Faith is a way of knowing. I come to know certain things because God reveals them. Faith is a way of knowing based on a trust that God exists, and is both truthful and accurate in what he says. But the natural sciences also put a kind of faith in the reliability of the senses and what they reveal. By accepting the revelation that comes from God, I come to know many things.
Now therefore we must be insist, the Judeo-Christian theological tradition is a careful, smart and time tested way of knowing that extends in its roots back some 5,000 years. It is no mere whim. Any serious look at the Catholic faith will show forth a theology that is careful, nuanced, thoughtful, time-tested, and well rooted in both Scripture and ancient tradition. Just a five minute glance at the Summa Theologica will show this. One need not agree with the faith or even be a believer in God, but only fair-minded to see that there has been a careful and thoughtful and disciplined reflection over the centuries, and an accumulated body of knowledge that even now continues to deepen.
As a personal testimony I must say that I have come to have a deep reverence for the faith that I did not have as a youth and college student. But entering upon the study of theology I came to discover and respect the careful, thought and method that underlies the Catholic Faith. And I believe what I have been taught not merely because it is taught by authority, but also on account of the evidence I see for its truth and reliability. In the laboratory of my own life I have tested the teachings of the Scriptures and the Catholic faith and found them to be both true and reliable. I also find great credibility in the fact that these teachings stretch back to Christ and the Apostles, and even further into Jewish antiquity, and have been carefully tested by generations, and handed on intact for 2000 years of the Church’s history.
Hence the science of Catholic Theology is a careful, tested, and reliable way of knowing for me and it fully qualifies for the term “science” since it is a body of reliable knowledge that can be logically and rationally explained. To be sure, there are certain mysteries beyond simple explanation, but this is true in the natural sciences as well.
A few final thoughts on this from an excellent article written Matthew Hanley over at The Catholic Thing. What I present here are excerpts. But you are encouraged to read the fuller article by clicking on the link. A few minor thoughts from me are in red.
Science and love don’t ordinarily seem to go together. Love we tend to associate with feeling, attraction, and passion – not exactly the stuff of science, which goes with reason, empiricism, and progress. But love as science is not an unfounded mystical metaphor or eccentricity.
One of the passages in Story of a Soul, the autobiography St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose feast day is today, that has most struck me is when she recounted coming across the words Jesus spoke to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque: “I want to make you read in the book of life, wherein is contained the science of LOVE.” This made quite an impact on Thérèse: “The science of Love, ah, yes, this word resounds sweetly in the ear of my soul, and I desire only this science.” Her famous vocation of love was crystallizing.
Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, also wrote that “love is a science, a knowledge, and we lack it.”
Not long before St. Thérèse’s time, the concept known as positivism, which holds that no sciences exist except those that study the phenomena of the natural world, had begun to gain traction. The French philosopher Auguste Comte [argued] that humanity was entering into an era in which scientific knowledge alone is fit to replace all other forms of knowledge, such as “primitive” theological knowledge or even philosophical knowledge. Yes, here is where the old synthesis began to break down.
The Enlightenment [had] also solidified the idea that science should supersede traditional moral and ethical systems, which could, after all, easily be dismissed as “unscientific.”
Science has enriched our world in important ways. But you don’t have to be a cradle Catholic to perceive that playing the science card – in contemporary bioethical debates, for example – is a manipulative, self-exculpatory means of attempting to secure carte blanche approval for blazing any trail you wish. Soloviev recognized, as too few do today, what was at stake in relegating religious and philosophical knowledge to the periphery where they are not allowed to inform how scientific advances should be interpreted: “Carried to its logical end, the principal of utilitarianism is obviously equivalent to the complete negation of ethics.” Benedict XVI said virtually the exact same thing just last year.
Only the “science of love”, which Benedict described as “the highest form of science,” can protect mankind from the corrosive effects of today’s default (utilitarian) mentality because – as Karol Wojtyla put it in his 1960 book Love and Responsibility – “only love can preclude the use of one person by another.” A magnificent insight.
This type of terminology, I think, ….invites us to revisit just what we mean by science – and by love, which John Paul II called “the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” Exactly, the word “science” cannot and should not be reduced to merely the natural or physical sciences, or merely to the empirical method.
The saints all pursue their own diverse vocations of love by following the “scientific” method Jesus counseled: discite a me — “learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” 
Painting above is of St Thomas Aquinas surrounded by other Doctors of the Chruch
I have posted this video of Fr. Robert Barron before. In it he speaks of the modern error of “scientism” – The view that reality is restricted to what the empirical sciences can explain.