Who Says Theology Isn’t Science? A Reflection on the Reductionist Definition of the Word, "Science"

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.” [1]

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.

Dumb Luck or Design? A Meditation on the Existence of Order

What with Stephen Hawking’s show “Curiosity” on full display, I too would like to express my curiosity about something in the Universe. And that something, is “order.” We are told by scientists that the universe seems to have exploded into being almost 14 billion years ago. And this explosion is still flying outward at almost 100 million miles an hour at the edges. The sparks and embers, and gas clouds of this fiery explosion are visible in the universe all about us. Fine, seems plausible enough and the evidence seems substantial.

But explosions do not usually lead to order, they more usually lead to chaos and disorder. Yet, as we observe the created world, we observe extensive order, galaxies, planetary systems, and the like. And, here on earth there is on display an extensive and exquisite amount of order all the way from the macro world of geophysical forces and weather, to micro world of the cell and atom. Order is evident everywhere, and not just within isolated systems, but also among and between them, as they act together in a marvelous harmony and unity of purpose. Consider how every cell and atom of your body, ordered systems in themselves, act together in harmony, forming ever more complex and ordered systems, to ultimately be the complex and ordered system that is you.

How such order? It is a great curiosity to me, if we were to keep God, or at least some controlling intelligence, out of the picture, how such order has come about, not just once by chance, but repeatedly.

Shazam! What if I were to tell you, that a tornado recently went through junk yard. As you can imagine there was a horrible amount of junk whirling around in the air. But here’s where the story really gets interesting. It seems that the tornado swirled that junk together just right because as the wind died down all those banana peals, cans, broken pieces of pottery, stuffing from old mattresses springs, car parts etc all swirled together into a fully functioning 747 jumbo jet airliner with a filled fuel tank and fully equipped cockpit. There was even a logo emblazoned on the tail fin: “Tall Tales Airlines.”

“Ah,” you say, ” The story’s touching but it sounds like a lie!” And sure enough, it is a tall tale. But how different is it really from what some atheists, and also certain evolutionists want us to believe about creation? I say some evolutionists because there are some forms of evolution that a Catholic may accept. For example a mitigated form of evolution that holds that things have evolved but God has guided the process.

But what many atheists and evolutionists want you to accept is that evolution, in fact everything that happened after the big bang is a chance happening, that evolution is “blind,” and that no intelligence guides it. It just happened by a chance coming together of certain forces and processes that has produced everything we see including ourselves. It all just happened on its own. Now if that seems plausible to you, then I have a 747 to sell you.

And this world, even our own bodies, are far more complex than a 747 Jumbo liner. And just as a mindless tornado can’t likely whip out a fully functioning 747 neither would a mindless explosion produce a fully functioning and orderly universe or even a fully functioning human person.

The existence of these orderly and complex systems surely bespeaks an intelligent designer. If you landed on a planet in some distant galaxy and found in the sand a functioning watch it is not “unreasonable” to conclude that some one with intelligence designed and made this for a purpose. You may not see any life on the planet now, but at some point there was intelligent life either living here or that visited here. But the point is that you would be on good grounds to conclude that the watch pointed to an intelligent designer.

Now I know that Science can’t formally call this designer “God.” We who believe do that. But it does not seem unreasonable to me that, within its own discipline, science can at least theorize an intelligence, a designer, is indicated by the evidence. At least scientists could allow the theory to coexist with other proposed explanations of the order and design we obviously encounter. The stubborn refusal by many in the scientific world to do this seems more ideological than scientific. And they hold it with the kind of “religious” zeal they claim to be above. They call us the fanatics but I wonder who really is more fanatical. Who really is ignoring the evidence here? To a large extent I think that it takes more “faith” to “believe” that all this happened by chance or due to blind evolution than simply to believe that an intelligent designer set all this forth.

I’d like to give two examples from creation to illustrate just how intricate and multi-layered creation is and then pose the ask the question “Dumb Luck or Design?”

MAGNIFICENCE OF LIFE– Consider the awesomeness of the human body. Its chemistry is just as extraordinarily well tuned as is the physics of the cosmos. Our world on both sides of the divide that separates life from lifelessness is filled with wonder. Each human cell has a double helix library of three billion base pairs providing fifty thousand genes. These three billion base pairs and fifty thousand genes somehow engineer 100 trillion neural connections in the brain—-enough points of information to store all the data and information contained in a fifty-million-volume encyclopedia. And then after that, these fifty thousand genes set forth a million fibers in the optic nerves, retinae having ten million pixels per centimeter, some ten billion in all, ten thousand taste buds, ten million nerve endings for smell, cells that exude a chemical come-on to lure an embryo’s lengthening neurons from spinal cord to target cell, each one of the millions of target cells attracting the proper nerve from the particular needed function. And all this three-dimensional structure arises somehow from the linear, one-dimensional information contained along the DNA helix. Dumb Luck or Design?

RARE EARTH ! The earth on which we live and which, by God’s grace sustains our life is surely miraculous. Consider the following facts. The life support system we call the solar system has just the correct distribution of large and medium sized planets to have swept clean most of the space through which Earth must travel. There are thus few asteroids anywhere near our path! Further, large gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, “catch” comets in their gravitational fields and keep these comets from targeting earth. Our star, the Sun, is just the right size to consume its supply of hydrogen and produce energy at a rate that provided the time and conditions for life to form. Our orbit through space, at 93 million miles from the Sun, departs from a true circle by only 3 percent. Were it as elliptical as is the orbit of Mars, the next planet out, we would alternate between baking when closer to the Sun and freezing when distant. Earth contains just enough internal radioactivity to maintain its iron core in a molten state. This produces the magnetic umbrella that deflects an otherwise lethal dose of solar radiation. The volcanic activity driven by this internal heating is just adequate to have released previously stored subterranean waters into our biosphere, making them available for life processes, but not so much volcanism as to shroud our planet in dust. Earth’s gravity is strong enough to hold the needed gases of our atmosphere but weak enough to allow lighter noxious gases to escape into space. All this is balanced at just the correct distance from our star so that our biosphere is warm enough to maintain water in its liquid, life-supporting, state, but not so warm that it evaporates away into space. A just-right Earth with just the needed gravity, radioactivity, magnetic field, and volcanic activity to support life is located at just the correct distance from the Sun to nurture the inception and development of life…all the ingredients come together in just the way. Dumb Luck or Design?

When Your Only Tool is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail – Why physical science is not enough and why we need the full range of disciplines and branches of knowledge.

We have had numerous discussions here on the blog on the interrelationship of faith and the physical sciences. We live in a time of reductionist thinking wherein many reduce reality to the physically measurable. Theology and other disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, even history according to some, cannot be a part of what we know. Some go even further to deny absolutely the existence of anything beyond matter. Here are things emblematic of our times: reductionist, materialist, and a kind of idolatry of the merely physical sciences.

Indeed the very word “science” has come to mean for many, merely the physical sciences. But, traditionally, theology and philosophy were (and still are, according to many) considered to be sciences. They are sciences for they follow a method, or methods, they include peer review and are subjected to the laboratory of human experience and tested by  time. Of their nature they do not usually include physical measurements, for they engage what is largely beyond the physically measurable. But until recently they were included among the sciences and had a pride of place in university settings.

And while many derisively dismiss philosophy and theology as sciences, the fact is they they do deal with what we all experience on a daily basis. For there are many non material things that humans beings actually and really experience that require study and explanation, synthesis, and discernment.

I was recently given a link to an article by my brother, John, which describes our modern tendencies and problems with reductionism, materialism and scientism. It is by Dr. Jeff Mirus over at Catholicculture.org. I want to present excerpts of a much longer article he wrote and make some comments of my own. Dr. Mirus’ original text is in black, bold, italic. My comments are in red, plain text. The full article is here: The Hammer and the Nail

[O]ne of the great problems we face in understanding human dignity is that by the materialistic, empirical or purely scientific account, both our self-understanding and our freedom are illusions. These terms require some explanation, and the explanation will reveal a tremendous blind spot in our culture’s view of knowledge.

The term materialistic is plain enough. If we insist that there is nothing in the wide world but matter, then we have to admit something that will risk our sanity, namely that it is only an illusion that we can somehow stand outside ourselves and reflect on our being (intellect) or that we can direct our lives according to freely made choices (will). These things [according to materialism] must be illusions because they are abilities which transcend what matter can produce. But to accept this is to deny our own perception of ourselves.

In other words, it is our experience, that we have a spiritual aspect about ourselves. We can consider things which are non-material and concepts such as  justice, love, mercy, sincerity, beauty, moral rectitude, and so forth. Further we have a sense of “I,” that “I” exist, a capacity of introspection and a well defined understanding that I am distinct from things and others around me. Yet again, there are longings for things beyond the physical world such as unity, acceptance, transcendence,  fulfillment, and that ultimate sense of meaning beyond who we simply are, here and now. Clearly, as a theologian I attribute these human longings as pointing to the ultimate longing for God. But, even to the unbeliever, the spiritual insights and thoughts of the human person are empirically evident. These insights are “empirical” in the sense that they rooted in real and actual experience, what we truly experience within our very self. They are also things we are able to verify as existing in other human beings.

For the materialist, these sorts of experiences, these empirical data, must be treated either as an illusion (as our author suggests) or as emanations of brain chemistry not yet fully understood. There is the modern reductionist tendency to explain everything based on physical causation. I remember years ago an a secular and materialist attempt to explain the rather peculiar human experience of consciousness. The author titled his work: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind [1] A reductionist and materialist theory, to be sure!

But the point is that we all experience these sorts of non physical things in our psyche and, as our author goes on to develop, there is a rather twisted and contorted attempt to either dismiss such experiences as of any account or to redefine “empirical” are referring only to physical matter.

In our culture, empiricism is closely tied to what is physically measurable. But spiritual things are, by definition, immeasurable. Therefore, a [modern] empirical account of reality omits the spiritual, and a culture which comes to believe that the only possible solid knowledge is empirical knowledge necessarily either ignores the spiritual or denies it altogether.

Again, it is the MODERN notion that empirical equals physically measurable. For it is clear that very real things are not always physically measurable. For example, we cannot physically measure the degree to which we love someone, long for something, experience sorrow over some situation etc. Yet, these are real, and in a very real way, they are empirical, for they are observable, or shall we say, something we all clearly experience.

Some may argue for brain mapping etc. but here too is a reductionist attempt to reduce non-physical things to the purely physical. For even if there is an aspect of the brain, or central nervous system that is engaged by these human experiences, the answer as to why these non-material aspects are experienced by us, remains something that science is ill-equipped to explain. Justice is not a material thing, it does not go out for a walk or sit down to breakfast. Neither do longing, acceptance, serenity or humor go out to beach together for vacation. These things are real, but they are not material.

This brings us to the idea of a purely scientific account of man, in the modern sense of science, meaning not simply a branch of knowledge, but knowledge acquired by an experimental or empirical method. The scientific approach to knowledge is not wrong in itself, but it is only one approach, and it is necessarily partial. [Exactly, we are not anti-science, to be so would be foolish. But we do accept that science has limits].

Sadly, the modern world suffers from a dearth of other approaches. In particular, it suffers from the absence of a different sort of science, a different approach to knowledge, the approach of theology. Because of the materialistic and empirical biases of our culture, theology is no longer taken seriously as a branch of human knowledge. What was once considered the queen of the sciences, has been gradually eliminated from higher education. This gives rise to a very curious phenomenon: Whenever one branch of study is consistently absent, other branches of study will encroach upon its territory. [Pay attention, what follows is very important].

In his brilliant work The Idea of a University, Cardinal Blessed John Henry Newman argues that, as a university is by definition devoted to the full range of disciplines or branches of knowledge, it is a mistake and a distortion to exclude theology. Every branch of knowledge, Newman rightly notes, is tempered and improved by all the other branches, [YES!] as each branch has its own tools and methods, and each learns a certain care and modesty in its conclusions, [YES!] more accurately discerning their application and scope, in relation to what is discovered by other tools and instruments in other regions of investigation. Thus, when one branch of knowledge is left out or, worse, barred from the university or from “sophisticated” discourse generally, others encroach upon its domain, reaching conclusions which are unwarranted and, indeed, unattainable by their own proper methods.

And herein lie a lot of modern problems and distortions. We have become well aware of how science encroaches on faith in recent years. Science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God per se, that is not its field. And yet, in our times scientists make claims that God does not exist. But their statements are not scientific statements when they speak like this. They are making theological and philosophical claims, for physical science, by definition cannot measure the non-physical or render scientifically based conclusion on the existence or non-existence of the spiritual. Most scientists are not trained in the disciplines of theology and philosophy and are are no more qualified to opine on such matters than “some dude” at the local bar. Yet, as our author goes on to observe:

Thus, on every side, we find well-known scientists, lionized by our cultural elites, writing briefs for atheism, pronouncing that evolutionary biology proves the non-existence of God. [Exactly. But of course biology cannot prove the non-existence of a spiritual being].

And to be fair, some on the religious side have tried to exclude too many aspects of physical science, which has a legitimate and necessary role in human knowledge. In the last century, an often fundamentalist hostility to science has been evident among some Christians who see the Scriptures especially, as a scientific account of creation, rather than a theological account which, while having scientific aspects, also uses analogy, metaphor, poetry and speaks in a general, rather than a consistently specific manner. Further, they see Scripture as a “sole source” of revealed truth. From the Catholic point of view, God’s “Book of Scripture” does not contradict His “Book of Creation.” Both are revelation, and both speak truth to us, and the truth does not ultimately contradict itself.  While there are certain scientific theories that at times come into apparent conflict with Scripture or dogmatic theology, and must be rejected or distinguished, this does not mean that science itself is wrong as a discipline. Neither does it mean that on-going discussions cannot help both disciplines (theology and physical science) to come to a deeper understanding of the one truth. The fact is, I generally find that a lot of scientific discoveries confirm my faith and encourage a sense of wonder and awe. If grace builds on nature, as we teach, then understanding nature is of benefit to us spiritually.

Physical Science too benefits from theology and philosophy by acknowledging that many of its processes of deduction and method are descended from theological and philosophical methodology. Philosophy especially is able to help science reveal possible flaws in reasoning, and also help science to stay within its own defined scope. And that scope is the material, the physical world. But physical science does well to maintain humility and to accept that that there may be things beyond its scope which it is not able to render an account of, one way or the other. If not, the physical sciences fall into the error of scientism. Scientism is the error which reduces everything to matter and insists that nothing exists outside the system which physical science can measure, a conclusion that can, in no way, be proved, scientifically.

In the end, perhaps the problem is best expressed in a very popular aphorism: When your only tool is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. The only trouble is, everything is not a nail. The human person perceives that instinctively, but in our culture we lack the tools to explicate the momentous truths which follow from such an irreducible fact.

Yes, I am convinced that this is going to have to be our way back. Basic human experience. And that experience, if we are honest, shouts to us the existence of the spiritual and the transcendent.

Even physical science rests on the mystic and metaphysical notion that reality is “intelligible.” For intelligibility bespeaks meaning and asks questions about purpose, direction and points, ultimately outside the physical (to the metaphysical) to the question, why? Intelligibility presumes also the great mystery of a  questioning soul. For why do we seek to understand at all? The animals, who are physically very like us, do not seem to ask such questions or probe deeper relations. Intelligibility also presumes that there is actual meaning and purpose to be found. Still further it presumes that “I” exist at all, to discern it, and that my mind is not engaged by illusions and shadows. Why does anything exist at all and what does it mean to exist? How do we define it and by what means do we discover it?

These are deeper questions than they may seem. Reality has a mystical dimension that artists, poetics, writers, philosophers and theologians have pondered for centuries, long before there ever was a scientific method, (developed, by the way, in the largely Catholic and Christian universities of the West, and respectful of the Judeo-Christian insights of natural law and the Wisdom tradition).

We have to continue to engage the modern world in the understanding that things run deeper and more wonderfully than we can physically describe. Deep down most people know and experience this truth. Life has more meaning than just the physical. A beloved spouse is not just another body, they are a person with all the mystery that entails. A kiss is not just two lips meeting, it is two souls sharing the breath of mystical life. A house is not just a physical structure, it is a home with all the non-material meaning that includes. My longings are not just the firing of brain synapses and serotonin, but the sigh of my soul for completion and fulfillment, for something infinite, for something (some ONE) other, for God.

Dr. Mirus is right, life is more than a nail and we need more than a hammer to understand it. Deep down we know this, and this is where we must engage the modern person. We ought to remain respectful of physical science and the wonders it has offered us, yet we must also demand more: a deeper vision that respects the full human experience. There’s more to life.

Please pardon a little science humor and accept my full admission that we also have some real geeks in theology too!

Stephen Hawking Should Stick to Science and Stop Theologizing. And We Should be Very Sober about One of His Very Dangerous Philosophical Assumptions

CBS News seems to have confused Stephen Hawking with a Theologian or spiritual guide. For recently they focused on an interview published in the Guardian wherein Hawking calls heaven a fairy tale for those afraid of the dark.

Well, first of all Mr. Hawking, I am not afraid of the dark. Secondly, you should stick to science and stop trying to psychoanalyze believers. And as for CBS News and the Guardian, please note that Mr. Hawking is a scientist. He is no more qualified to opine on life after death or make psychoanalytic pronouncements than some random person on the street. Smarts in one area doesn’t make him an expert in all areas. Perhaps CBS News would like to interview me on string theory? Of course Mr Hawking and many others might object that I wasn’t exactly the best “go-to guy” on this topic. And that would be true. Asking Mr. Hawking to opine on heavenly matters and the psychological makeup of believers is in the same vein as trotting out Hollywood stars to testify before congress as “experts” on global warming, or some other highly technical matter. Mr Hawking’s opinion on believers or the afterlife is of no more value than anyone else. He is entitled to his opinions on this matter, but it doesn’t deserve to be in headlines and is no more true because he is smart in other areas.

Further, I hope you will note a VERY DARK philosophical assumption he makes at the end of the article. Beware, for he is an influential man.

Let’s look at excerpts from the CBS article. These are excerpts of the longer article which you can read HERE. The original article excerpts are in bold italic typeface. My remarks are in normal red typeface.

Physicist Stephen Hawking believes there is no afterlife (so what?), and that the concept of heaven is a “fairy story” for people who fear death. While he is entitled to his opinion, he has never met me and is not able to know why I believe in life after death. Further he is not a trained sociologist or psychotherapist. He cannot really know the motivations of everyone who believes. Frankly he is also showing himself a poor scientist here. For a good scientist looks for real data and knows that large scale phenomenon (like, say, faith?) are not usually explained by simplistic, single source causes. There are usually a variety of causes and influences at work. For example, when a leaf falls from a tree there is surely gravity, but also wind resistance, and the presence of obstacles that influence its descent.

Mr. Hawking is also condescending and (heaven forfend!), judgmental. For what if I were to say Mr. Hawking does not believe in an afterlife because he fears judgment, or because the existence of God is “inconvenient” to his vision and chosen moral life. You would likely say I should not talk like that, and that I had no real way of knowing that. Exactly. And Mr. Hawking has no business making judgments about my motives either. He doesn’t have a clue as to why I believe in heaven. I don’t fear death any more than he does. I believe in an afterlife because some one I trust, (God and the Church) have revealed it to me and taught me of it.

In an interview published in the Guardian, Hawking – author of the bestselling “A Brief History of Time” – said that when the brain ceases to function, that’s it. This is not a scientific statement, it is philosophical belief on his part. It cannot be verified scientifically, one way or the other, that existence ceases when the brain stops functioning. He is entitled to his belief, but that is what it is. This is not a scientifically verifiable statement. That a renowned scientist is speaking in this way may give the impression that this is science, but it is not. He has moved beyond science and is now in the realm of philosophy.

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” he told the Guardian’s Ian Sample. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” Reducing the human person to a brain or computer, or to merely our physical components, is also philosophy, not science. It is true, science can only deal with the material, for that is its realm. But to say that physical matter is all there is, or that there is nothing outside of what science can measure, is not a scientific statement, it is a philosophical one.

Consider if a blind person insisted that there was no such thing as light, concluding this merely because he could not measure it with his senses. But of course for him to assert the non-existence of something merely because he cannot measure it, is both arrogant and wrong. Science too would be wrong to conclude in some absolute sense that there is no soul, or nothing beyond the material, merely because science cannot measure it with its own tools. There are just some limits to science, just as there are some limits for a blind person. Science is not bad because it cannot go beyond the material, any more than a blind person  is bad because he cannot see. But what IS bad is to insist there is nothing beyond merely what I can sense, or measure. Not only is it bad, it isn’t science, for science cannot prove the non-existence of non material things. It just isn’t set up to do that. To say that nothing exists beyond the material is a philosophy, it is not science.

We have already discussed Mr. Hawking’s incapacity to psychoanalyze believers as afraid of the dark. Indeed his caricature of us is dripping with arrogance and thinly veiled superiority. Would I be psychoanalyzing him if I suggested that his superstar status has gone to his head? I guess I would. I withdraw the remark, your honor!

Hawking, 69, who has survived for nearly five decades with a motor neurone disease that doctors believed would kill him while he was still in his early 20s, said he does not fear death. He also said that having lived with the prospect of death from his incurable illness has ultimately led him to enjoy life more. He has dealt with his disease heroically

…Hawking rejects an afterlife and emphasizes the need for people to realize their full potential on Earth. It is an old and tattered claim that belief in heaven somehow limits our concern for this world. The Christian world is replete with examples of those who have powerfully cared for and impacted the people of this world and the world itself. Indeed, Mr. Hawking might reflect of the debt he owes to belief and to the Church for things like the great universities of Europe, the scientific method, the existence of hospitals and modern medicine. Faith doesn’t just make people “other-worldly” it also gives them hope and insists, in its truest form, for great love for the people of this world and for all God has created.

When asked what is the value of knowing why are we here, Hawking replied, “The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can’t solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.” This is so limiting. It is also philosophy, not science to say this. Mr Hawking is entitled to have a philosophy, but when he says the world is “governed by science” and then goes on to philosophize, that looks pretty silly and contradictory. Further, Mr. Hawking, if you ask me, is edging dangerously close to eugenics in what he says here. What exactly assigning a “higher value” to certain societies looks like as a practical matter is uncertain in what he says, but I sense a growing darkness here, not light. Margaret Sanger and Adolph Hitler may well be smiling as he says this. BEWARE!

Hawking said that our existence is down to pure chance, (Again, philosophy here, not science, Mr Hawking cannot prove this statement scientifically) and that one’s goal should be to “seek the greatest value of our action.”

Well there it is. I will say, not only is Mr. Hawking a poor theologian and psychotherapist, he is also engaging in a very dark and dangerous philosophy in applying once again (as did Sanger and Hitler along with others) a natural selection to societies (races?). Watch out, Mr Hawking is influential, we may be in for some very dark days ahead.

How say you?

Here’s Fr. Barron’s take on Stephen Hawking’s last foray into philosophy and metaphysics some months ago:

Scientism is not Science – Toward a Christian Admiration for True Science

In this essay I want to show forth a Christian admiration for science and distinguish it from the error of scientism. In so doing I pray your patience as I first lay a groundwork in the wisdom tradition of the scriptures and the Natural Law approach of the Church.

Context –In daily Masses we have begun reading from the Book of Sirach. Sirach  is also called, in older Bibles,  the Book of Ecclesiasticus (not the same as Ecclesiastes). St. Cyprian and the Latin Fathers termed it the Liber Ecclesiasticus(or Church Book) since it was widely read in the Church at liturgies and also extensively used in the early instruction of catechumens. In more recent years it has gone by the name  Sirach.  It is so named after  its author,  Jesus Ben Sira, who collected and edited the wise sayings in the Second Century BC.

God’s wisdom in creation– The Book is part of the “Wisdom Tradition” in the Scriptures. Other Books in this tradition include Proverbs, Wisdom and Ecclesiastes. The Wisdom Tradition contains an important insight. Namely, that creation enshrines within it the law and wisdom of God who created it. As such it is intelligible and revelatory. Let me allow and excerpt from the Sirach speak:

All wisdom comes from the LORD and with him it remains forever, and is before all time….He has poured her forth upon all his works,  upon every living thing according to his bounty; he has lavished her upon his friends. ….When at the first God created his works and, as he made them, assigned their tasks, He ordered for all time what they were to do and their domains from generation to generation. (Sirach 1:1, 10, 16:24-25)

Creation is Revelation – Note therefore,  that in making things, God has also poured forth his wisdom upon the work of his hands. He has ordered creation and set forth a law within it. The Wisdom Tradition insists that we are able to discern something of God’s existence, his law, his will and his purpose in what he has made. Creation is thus revelation, revealing to us the One who made it, and manifesting something of the will and purpose of the One who made it. It is for us to discern God’s wisdom which speaks to us from the created order.

In the New Testament,  the Johannine tradition takes up the theme of the Wisdom Tradition and explains how everything God has made he made through his Word (Jesus) and that this Word is impressed on all creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)

Now the Greek term translated here as “Word” is  Logos. As we have just seen the ancient Jews, particularly those who collected the Wisdom Tradition, understood that the created world has a Logike (a kind of Logic) based on the fact that God made it through his Logos (Word). John takes up this theme and teaches that when God spoke creation into existence through his Word (Logos) his Logos (Jesus) sets things forth with a Logike (logic) that is discernible and could be studied to make one wise in the ways (the logic) of God. Creation thus manifests Jesus, for he is the Word through whom the Father spoke everything into existence. In the Catholic Tradition we have come to call this scriptural teaching, Natural Law. In effect we can discern a logic, or  rationality, to what God has made and come to know of God and his will for us.

To summarize: God speaks to us in what he has made,  and we can discern that God has placed order and purpose in creation. There are laws and rationally demonstrable principles at work in all that is.

St Athanasius sets forth the Wisdom/Logos tradition as the early Church understood it:

An impress of Wisdom has been created in us and in all his works…..The likeness of Wisdom has been stamped upon creatures in order that the world may recognize in it the Word who was its maker and through the Word come to know the Father. This is Paul’s teaching: What can be known about God is clear to them, for God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature has been there for the mind to perceive in things that have been made….So there is a wisdom in created things, as the son of Sirach too bears witness: The Lord has poured it out upon all his works, to be with men as his gift, and with wisdom he has abundantly equipped those who love him….and in the light of this wisdom the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. – (Discourse “Against the Arians” by St Athanasius).

This is an exuberant and confident appreciation of the created world and the Catholic Christian rejoices in coming to know more of the created world for, in so doing, he comes to know more of God.

Problems emerge – And yet this exuberant vision  has suffered setbacks in the wider western culture as secularism, and scientism have dealt successive blows.

Secularism tends to see the created world as a closed system which cannot speak to anything outside itself. Secularism tends to exclude anything mystical in creation that points beyond or outside the closed system. It is more than simply an agnostic notion that we simply cannot know of things beyond, it is an antagonism to any reality beyond the here and now. And, in the more militant agnosticism and atheism common in current times, there is downright hostility to any requirements that the spiritual realm or anything outside the secular system might propose.

Scientism is an ideologically unbalanced form of science. It insists that if something cannot physically measured or observed it is not real; it does not exist at all. In its proper form, science is right to state its limits. It uses an empirical method, it limits itself to what is physically measurable and properly states that it is not equipped to pronounce on matters beyond its discipline. Again, this is wholly proper. But scientism strays into philosophy and theology by making claims it cannot measure or verify. Scientism says that if something is not physically manifest, it does not exist. That is a philosophical claim, not a scientific one. Those guilty of scientism also often make theological claims in insisting that there is no God. This claim cannot be proved, measured or verified using scientific methods. As such, scientism strays beyond the discipline of proper science. In so doing, scientism creates a toxic climate for a proper dialogue between faith and science.

True Science is a Joy –  Both faith and science have their proper role and proper place and, when these are respected,  a Catholic ought rightly rejoice in the findings of proper science.  The result is,  most often, an  increase in wonder and awe. I never cease to be amazed at the intricacy and magnificence of creation. Science, as never before, shows things hidden since the foundation of the world and now revealed for our wonderment. Science has marvelously demonstrated to me the order and design running through all things. As a man of faith I see the logike (logic) and wisdom of God on display through science that thank God for this wonderful gift of modern science given to us. As such, I rejoice in science.

But scientism is an ugly and fraudulent claimant to the scientific mantle. Cloaking itself in scientific mantle it wanders where no true scientist would go. It makes claims that true scientists would not make. It asserts that nothing exists beyond the material and empirically observable, which is not a claim true science can verify or refute. Scientism distorts true science and adulterates it. It poisons the climate and makes dialogue more difficult. It manifests hostility to religion and faith, something which no true scientist needs to have.

A truly Catholic perspective is to rejoice in science. Our tradition enshrines the understanding that creation is revelation and the more we can know of this creation, the more we can know of God, the more we can know of his Logos, Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank God for true science,  it is, for the believer another path to God.

But woe to scientism, which disregards as real or existent anything outside itself,  or outside the physical and material.  True science properly states its own limits. But scientism reduces everything to its own self and thus mistakes its limits for the bounds of reality.

In this Video Fr. Barron speaks of the error of scientism

How about a Little Humility

When I was a little kid the science books said that the universe was in a steady state and had existed forever. There were some theories about the universe actually expanding but these were not accepted by most who declared the steady state universe to be a matter of “settled” science. Though evidence had been building through the 20th Century for an expanding universe (red shift etc.) and the “Big Bang” that started everything,  many ridiculed the Big Bang Theory with slogans like “Big Bust” and “Big Boom.” Discoveries in the mid sixties (e.g. background microwave radiation) shifted the debate and the Big Bang Theory won the day. But the fact is, in my own lifetime cosmology (How we understand the universe) has undergone a seismic shift. The science was not so settled after all.

When I was in High School the scientific world was all abuzz with climate change. But in the 1970s “climate change” referred to the fact that a new ice age was coming. It was held that man made pollution would so block the sun’s rays, that by the year 2000 the ice caps would be advancing and winters in the north would become increasingly frigid and summers shorter. The usual calamities were predicted: widespread hunger since growing seasons would shorten, extinctions etc. By the dreaded year, 2000,  many the same climatologists were predicting global warming and the same catastrophic consequences but now postponed to 2050 or beyond. These climatologists demand that we accept that their conclusions are “settled science.” Another seismic shift in my own lifetime and pardon me if I am a bit less certain than is demanded of me.

Science has brought us many blessings, but it would seem humility is not among those blessings. We do well to rediscover words like theory, possibility, assumption, premise, thesis, supposition and the like.

I am not attacking science here. True science is comfortable with the fact that, as evidence changes, so do theories. Likewise, our capacity to measure changes and generally gets better. This brings forth new data and shifts theories, sometimes in significant ways. This is part of the scientific method wherein data and evidence are accepted and interpreted in an on-going way so that theories grow and sometimes change.

But we are living in a world increasingly dominated by advocacy science. The “cause” too often eclipses the science.  Funding too has become a pernicious influence and whole scientific disciplines start to follow the money more than the data. “Popular” and politically savvy theories get funded, unpopular less politically correct ones do not. Popular media also influences science more than it should.  Some scientists get the interview, others do not and thus pop science often eclipses the truer and careful laboratory science.

Through it all, there are still wonderful scientists and great things happening in science. And the best of it is restoring a  lot of humility to the equation. Quantum theory is bewildering to be sure but it is showing the limits of our current understanding. Physics is bumping up against metaphysics, science is rubbing shoulders with philosophy, the material world seems to be pointing beyond itself.

This is not an essay in radical skepticism. There ARE many things we do know. But there are so many more that we do not know. We are not even sure how something as basic as gravity works. What we know amounts to a period at the end of a sentence in one book in the Library of Congress. And there are a LOT of books in the Library of Congress. Scripture says of the created world, Beyond these, many things lie hid; only a few of Gods’ works have we seen. (Sirach 43:34). It is humility that is necessary in the great pursuit of science.

In theology too humility is essential. Here,  as in science,  there are many things we know by faith and are certain about, things which God himself has revealed. But many other things are mysterious to us and we dare not ever think we have God or even the mystery of our own life fully figured out. God is “Other” and cannot be reduced to our thoughts or words. And thus we speak with clarity about what has certainly been revealed. But we also reverence the mystery of what is beyond our understanding with humility. To hand on what has been revealed intact and to insist upon it is not the arrogance that some claim. Rather it is the humility of accepting what God has revealed intact without selectively choosing what merely appeals to us. But even as we speak of what we surely know by God’s revelation, we are always humbly aware of what we do not know.

In the Book of Proverbs there is an important reminder: Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Prov 26:12) 

By the way, double click on the picture above and you’ll get a better look at how beautiful it really is. It also illustrates how the huge mountains on this planet are tiny compared to the vast universe. So too our knowledge compared to what can be known.

Here is a good video that shows a consistent lack of humility in the many prognosticators of our day. It is a very cleverly done video.

Wonder and Awe File: On the Magnificence and”Minificence”of Creation

I know,  I made the word up: “minificence.” I’ll define in a moment. But I want to ponder with you for a moment the awesome mystery of size and numbers as we look out and as we look in.

Outer Space: As we look out on to God’s Universe we cannot even fathom how huge, how magnificent, is the size of the universe. We cannot comprehend such size.

Inner Space: But what is equally amazing is how vast a universe exists, hid from our unaided eyes, in what we might call “inner space,”  that tiny, almost invisible world of microbiology. In just a drop of pond water may exist hundreds of thousands of bacteria and microorganisms, a veritable universe unto itself. Indeed, in every human body exists trillions of microorganisms in a kind of microbial fauna. Eighty different types of microorganisms live in the mouth alone. Every square centimeter of human bowel contains as many as ten billion organisms. Every square centimeter of skin contains 10 million individual bacteria. Even on our eyelashes are  colonies of helpful bacteria and microorganisms that help keep harmful bacteria away. These massively numbered civilizations, universes really, of microorganisms, are only known recently with the invention of powerful microscopes. And to the micro-world of microorganisms, our bodies must seem as massive as the universe of outer space seems to us. If a microorganism could think, it would look upon our mere tiny bodies as a vast universe to large to really comprehend. Instead of trillions of stars, there are trillions of microorganisms. And to a microbe on eyelash,  a bacteria on the toe exists millions of light years away.

Minificence and Magnificence! If outer space is magnificent (from the Latin magnus meaning large or great) then inner space is (according to me) minificent (from the Latin minimus meaning small or tiny). The abundance of life in these “small” worlds is unimaginable. To the microorganisms which accompany me I am a universe too vast to comprehend. But I am but one man and there are over six billion human beings on this planet. And I, even we collectively,  am not large at all. I am an infinitesimally small speck, on a slightly larger but still tiny speck of dust rotating around a fiery spark called the sun  in a galaxy of over 200 billion other fiery sparks (or stars). And this is just one galaxy and there are over 125 billion other galaxies in the known universe so large that it would take over 100 million light years to cross it.

Time for wonder and awe! We’ve moved from inner space to outer space in a matter of moments but we really cannot comprehend numbers like these. It’s time for wonder and awe. God does all this with a simple word, and it is so. He knows the depths of our souls, the tiniest forms of life that cling to us. Every hair of our head is numbered and known to him. He knows the farthest fringes of the universe. He made the stars and calls them by name. Ah the Lord: He who dismisses the light, and it departs, calls it, and it obeys him trembling; Before whom the stars at their posts shine and rejoice;  When he calls them, they answer, “Here we are!” shining with joy for their Maker. (Baruch 3:33-35). One of the great hymns says: O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder; Consider all the works Thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee; How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Do not forget to meditate on God’s wonders. It is a great antidote to pride. God has done unspeakable and marvelous things. And more is unseen than seen. The book of Sirach says: Beyond these, many things lie hid; only a few of his works have we seen. (Sirach 43:34)

Are You”Scientifically Illiterate!?”Someone Thinks You Are.

I recently heard an interview with Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum two authors of a book published this past August entitled Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future. In the book they claim most Americans are scientifically illiterate. They try to explore why many Americans are skeptical of what the authors term “good science” and why we seem to accept what they call “bad science.”  I would like to add a dimension to the conversation that they did not cover, namely, how science has edged over into the religious world by demanding a kind of faith. This movement beyond the proper boundaries of science has caused the public not to be “illiterate” so much as skeptical.  Allow me to begin by stating some basic premises.

  1. Science it seems to me is fundamentally about what is material and measurable. It is true that there are some areas on the cutting edge of science such as quantum that defy simply measurement, but most fundamentally science is about what we can physically measure, observe and quantify. The realm of science is the material world. Further, the scientific method and peer review remain essential components of the world of science. Now I say all this with respect. I think sometimes we ask too much of science. When a scientist will not postulate a personal God or does not accept biblical texts as raw data,  he does not lack faith necessarily, he is staying within his realm. To ask him to affirm some theological point or to use scripture in his reasoning is asking too much. The world of science is circumscribed by the material and the measurable. Many things of faith are not material or measurable. This does not make them less true but does place them outside the realm of what science can speak of.
  2. Faith on the other hand has a broader realm. As believers we not only accept the measurable and the material but also the spiritual and the authority of revealed truth. We are free to accept science into our world in a way that science is not free to accept us into theirs. Since it is a Catholic instinct that all truth is one and that truth cannot contradict truth, we can with some confidence joyfully accept the truth which science uncovers as affirming what we already believe. As we shall see this has to be done with some discernment for not all which is called science is settled or demonstrably true.
  3. But we have limits too. Although we are able to accept much of science into our world it also remains true that our faith imposes some limits. This is particularly true today since science not only measures the material world, it has enabled us to exert a significant amount of control over the material world. But simply because we can control does not mean we always should. Our moral tradition imposes limits on what we as Catholic Christians can accept insofar as controlling the material goes. Most recently the biggest area of tension is in the area of bioethics to include things such as embryonic stem cell research, abortifacients, cloning etc. Here there are tensions between the scientific world and the world of faith.
  4. But let’s be clear the Church is not and should not be intrisically “anti-science.” We ought to respect science and it’s boundaries and insist on proper limits when necessary. Some may argue that in the past when the Church has had more power we may have transgressed into the world of science inappropriately. While I do not think that every charge against the Church in this regard is true or fair, it seems clear enough that there were some regrettable moments of overstepping in our past. Yet it remains true that the Church has also been the patron of science. Through our universities and hospitals Catholics have well shown respect for science. Priests and religious have been among noted scientists.

But I want to propose that it is often science that oversteps its boundaries today and that this is what has led to what the authors above call “scientific illiteracy.” Some basic departures from the limits of science and the increasing demand that we simply put faith in what scientists say are very evident today and have led to a more general cynicism and skepticism on the part of the public toward scientific claims. What our authors call “illiteracy” may be rooted in doubt that science is all that pure anymore.

  1. “Settled Science” exaggeration– Some in the scientific world often request a kind of faith on the part of the public that what they claim is proved beyond doubt and is settled science. But the fact is, even so-called settled science changes a lot. I am only 48 and recall that when I was a young child being taught that the universe was in a steady state. But in the 1960s this basic scientific presumption yielded to the current expanding universe theory wherein the universe is expanding outward at a rather remarkable rate. When this theory was first proposed many scientists balked at the notion for it unsettled many notions of the universe. But rather sweepingly this theory has now gained almost universal acceptance. The proof for this dynamic expansion is the red shift indicating movement in the stars away from us. While it seems unlikely that we will go back to some other theory it always remains possible that the theory of the universe may shift to something else if new data becomes available. What was considered settled science wasn’t all that settled after all. Further, when I was in High School we were gravely informed by our teachers and the media that we were heading for a new ice age. By the year 2000 we should expect a major expansion of the ice caps and increasingly frigid winters in the north. Well 20 years later we were being told that global warming threatened everything. But which is or was the settled science? Cooling or warming (More on this later). The Theory of Evolution is often called settled science but it is just a theory and  the fact is that the fossil record raises serious questions about the theory as it is currently proposed. The fossil record shows that species appear and disappear suddenly and do not just morph into each other.  And we were all told without any doubt that there were nine planets in our solar system. Oops looks like that isn’t so sure either. When is s a planet not a planet? When it’s a planetoid of course! All sorts of other little examples come to mind: coffee is good,  coffee is bad. A glass of red wine is good, not it’s not. This causes cancer, well no it actually doesn’t and is in fact good because it has anti-oxidants (whatever they are). Now there may in fact be some things we can call settled science but the fact is that some scientists often demand a faith of the general public that is beyond what science should ask. Science steps out of its boundaries when it starts asking for a faith that certain things are settled when in fact they are not, or may realistically change. Many theories have come and gone and the public is not illiterate or stupid to remain less than enthusiastic about the latest claims of science. The latest findings may in fact be only that, the latest findings.
  2. Advocacy Science– As stated above science is about the material and the measurable. In it’s purest form science has deep reverence for data and the scientific method demands that theories be tested and the results be replicable. Intense peer review, testing, checking and analyzing of data, examining alternative explanations and so forth are all essential parts of science. But in recent years there has been a noticeable shift away from the careful world of true science on the part of some scientists. The media plays a big role in this. Also, grabbing up limited funding often requires that scientists behave more like salesmen. Publicity brings in bigger dollars for research so some scientist have left the careful world of scientific precision and taken up an edgy, provocative style that often exaggerates and goes beyond what the data actually say. They manifest a kind a religious fervor that may be appropriate for religion but not for science. Again this is not true of all or even most scientists, but there are enough engaged in this sort of hyperbole that the public again becomes suspicious that we are dealing with pure science here. When science steps out of the lab and begins to aggressively advocate for public policy shifts, funding priorities, taxes etc. it has left the scientific world and entered politics. It is unrealistic for scientists who walk into the political world and begin to advocate to expect the public to take their white coat so seriously any more. When science becomes about money and public policy and less about data it has left the world of pure science and cannot demand that it be treated as pure, objective, unbiased and just about the data. There is almost a religious proselytizing evident in some. The most obvious example of all this is the global warming (climate change) controversy. Many have suspected for years that this was not pure science but rather advocacy science, more about money and politics than about real science. Recent and persistent revelations about the data having been manipulated, a lack of peer review, poor source data and even the destruction of data lend great credibility to these charges. The chief proponent of this theory and Director of Climate Research at the East Anglia University, Phil Jones has stepped aside over this scandal. Things like this go a long way to show that the general public may not be “illiterate” in terms of science but is in fact skeptical. When science demands faith and that the public make major changes but does not level with us as to the theoretical nature of its propositions it has strayed beyond science.
  3. There’s more to life than Science– This final critique is not directed at science per se but at our culture. There has been a tendency in our culture to emphasize the material and the measurable. But there are many things in life that cannot be measured or quantified. Justice, mercy and compassion are very real but they cannot be reduced to mere math. Love, joy, serenity, all real but not produced to a test tube or able to be put on a chalk  board. The existence of God who many know to be very real cannot be found under a microscope and God cannot be reduced to a computer algorithm. But there are some in our culture who so exalt science and materialism that anything outside their world “isn’t real.” Therefore for some who see only science as revelatory, faith is unreal and it is fantasy. It can’t be “proven” using the scientific method etc. Here too is a failure to recognize the limits of science. As I have said I see this as more of a cultural issue than of science per se. This sneering at faith and things outside pure science is a source for many in the public who are skeptical of science to some extent. Most people know that life is not just mechanistic, that everything can’t simply be quantified. A scientist may declare that drinking coffee is bad  but everyone doesn’t stop drinking coffee. Why, because they are illiterate? Not necessarily. Life has trade-offs. Coffee is about more than biology. It’s about relaxing, its about a small euphoria, it’s about socializing, its about taste, flavor, aroma, it’s about a lot of things.

So maybe we are not so illiterate after all. Surely it is helpful if we learn more of what science has to teach. But science is only one part of life. It is exists in the world of the material and measurable and we human beings live in the wider world, the world of faith, the world of love, the world  of wonder, the world that accepts some trade-offs and that life is not about one thing or view but about many. As Christians we ought to joyfully accept what science can offer us but also realize its limits. We should respect the limits that science has, that it cannot and should not theologize. But it is not wrong to ask science to respect its own limits too. And when it does stray into politics or faith and makes demands that we accept on faith as settled things that are not settled, or when our culture idolizes science as the only thing, we are not illiterate to tune out or to object. We are insisting on proper boundaries and that science not try to become religion or politics.

This old film from the Moody Bible Institute is a pretty good example of one way faith and science can work together. For the believer science helps us to develop the gifts of wonder and awe. God has done marvelous things. Science helps us to see just how marvelous as this film shows.