Faith and Reason, the Church and Science

Do faith and the Catholic Church in particular have anything to offer reason and science?  Some people think that they contradict one another, and that one cannot be committed both to science and be a faithful believer.  Actually, “there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason,” and there is no conflict between faith and true science (CCC 159). Moreover, the Church has historically actively supported the sciences, and many Catholic faithful have led the way in astronomy, cosmology, physics, chemistry, genetics, mathematics, and even the scientific method itself.

Christian faith, reason and science are all rooted in truth and need one another.  Perhaps the most apt point of departure to understand this is the opening of the Gospel of John, which speaks of Jesus as “the Word.” This is also translated as the incarnate “Logos,” who is the rational, ordering principle of the universe. Thus, our “faith presupposes reason [and] human reason loses nothing by opening itself to the content of faith,” affirmed Pope Benedict XVI. Rather, reason “enlightened by faith finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and spiritual realities” (Angelus of January 28, 2007). And Pope Francis adds, “Faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. . . By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation” (Lumen Fidei, 34).

Tending to consider only what is material and measurable, reason and science need this transcendence which faith opens for them.  As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith further explained in a landmark document on bioethics issued thirty years ago this year: “Science and technology are valuable resources for man when placed at his service and when they promote his integral development for the benefit of all; but they cannot of themselves show the meaning of existence and of human progress. . . . Thus science and technology require, for their own intrinsic meaning, an unconditional respect for the fundamental criteria of the moral law: that is to say, they must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights and his true and integral good according to the design and will of God” (Donum Vitae, 2).

Science by itself shows what we can do, but it does not answer the question of what we ought to do.  Thus, part of our task in the New Evangelization is fostering a culture which couples reason and science with a respect for revealed faith which speaks to the full truth of humanity and creation, and provides the transcendent ethical and moral direction to decide from all we can do, what we ought to do.

As Pope Francis counsels, “Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its [faith] compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well” (Laudato Si’, 199).