Is there a conflict between Faith and science?

by Frank Muller

I am grateful for you all who support us here at “Is it right or is it easy?” Your emails, your comments, your kind words are a great source of encouragement. This musing is stimulated by a question from a university student some years ago and it still resonates to this day.

The question posited an assumption that Faith and science are in conflict. I answered in short, “I agree”. Faith without reason is not a reasonable Faith. However, I disagree that Faith and Science are in conflict. In fact, Faith and Science are one in the same as they both pursue the Truth recognizing that in the moment, we do not possess the whole Truth.

Faith is the journey to the ordered metaphysical truths behind the meaning of existence. Science is the journey to the ordered physical truths of existence. They not only do not contradict, but they in fact also support and reinforce one another as they explore both the Creator and the created.

It is true I conceded that there are those who claim faith in the Creator yet adhere to defending physical truths that appear to conflict with certain passages of Scripture. For example, there are some who claim the Earth is only 5000 years old. That is clearly not true and is not reasonable for anyone to believe.

So, let’s first discuss what the history of the Church and Science actually is so as not to proffer premise-based arguments whose premise upon the weight of the evidence indicates that not only is the Church not opposed to science but in fact it can be clearly determined that in Western Civilization the Church built what we know of as the scientific community and the university system we enjoy today.

A Catholic History of the Fake Conflict Between Science and Religion | Church Life Journal | University of Notre Dame

As you guys know, I think that philosophy drives culture and once bad philosophy is introduced the impact is played out over centuries. Thus, many people today believe certain distortions and false assertions from the past without critical examination of their source and underpinnings.

One of those topics may be the distorted history that secularists notably beginning in the 18th century began to promulgate in support of certain humanistic and enlightened philosophies.

During that enlightenment was born some of the great half-truths which permeate our culture to this day and that many accept as wholly true without any skepticism or effort to test the voracity of these assertions.

Above is a link to a university of Notre Dame article that outlines the beginning of these falsehoods and a correction of them notably about science and the Catholic Church.

The confluence of Enlightenment philosophies with Protestant anti Catholic biases created a backdrop that sought to diminish the standing of the Church. One of the most distorted episodes involves Galilei Galileo. The Church did not in fact stop Galileo’s research, it was the patron of it.

The epicenter for much of science was the Catholic Church for centuries (and continues to this day both at the Church and its’ Universities and schools) as the Church has held that Faith and Reason are not opposed to one another.

What the Church opposed with regards to Galileo was his teaching a “theory” as proven that at the time had not been validated through the peer review process of the scientific method nor any physical testing of the laws asserted. There are many “theories” that later turn out to be untrue just as there are many theories that science through the centuries validates.

For example, Einstein’s general theories of relativity were not validated by physical science until long after his death and some of his theories have only been validated within the last five years. Science attaches the word “theory” in front of a hypothesis because it has not been physically validated though it may have a theoretical and mathematical proof of its’ possibility.

The Church like any institution wants to clearly communicate what is speculative and what is hypothetical and what is theoretical and ultimately what is true. In the scientific world view at that time most scientists disagreed with Galileo (of course he was right) just as today in scientific journals we can observe the scientific community subjecting theorems to rigorous academic review before positing as a physical truth or law.

Like any hypothesis formulated it takes decades (and sometimes centuries) for science to test and validate the hypothesis in the real physical world.

Galileo, in his zeal and conviction, rejected this process and promulgated his theory as fact (which of course we know now was true but does not excuse the recklessness).

This same process occurs today where we see all sorts of scientists bypass peer reviewed testing  protocols to “publish” their hypothesis as facts.

In fact, this recklessness now permeates marketing as experts (or actors in white medical jackets) espouse facts without challenge (at best in extremely fine print).

Galileo was a great Catholic scientist but that does not give anyone the right to label a hypothesis as Truth, nor ignoring our duty to be careful in our influencing of others before the facts are in. It is also certainly true that certain members of the Church should have been more charitable to Galileo and should have sought to try to understand his teachings and why they may be true. However, impatience should not be the response by Galileo and lack of charity and kindness should not have been the response of some members of the Church.

Those errors of a metaphysical kind that relate to matters of Faith. So much dysfunction occurs not because of cold hard science but because of lack of love, morals, virtues and sacrifice.

What should not be lost is the fact that Galileo worked for the Church, his research paid for by the Church, his sponsor was the Church. Last time I checked, my employer retains title to the Company’s intellectual property. It is theirs, not mine, because they paid me for it.

Einstein’s theory of light waves being bended and of black holes was not peer reviewed and validated by actual observation until WAY after his death and Einstein himself never promulgated them as inerrant truths at the time. That was an example of his great humility and his belief in the two-part process of scientific inquiry. First, the development of a hypothesis which can lead to a theory. Second, conducting physical experiments to prove or disprove that theory.

At the heart of this missive is a call that Science without Faith leads to a loss of meaning. Faith without Science can lead to a loss of reason. Our education systems must be returned to the teachings of how to know what good is and how to live it and how to explore the created world and determine its’ ordering laws and principals.

When we separate the ordered creation of Faith and Science into Faith or Science then we are going against the very order of the Universe, and this can only end in sadness versus joy.

So, it is incumbent upon us all to seek facts  (both that confirms and denies our reasoning) and to carefully examine the roots of things that are often centuries in the past.

Peace be with us all.

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4 thoughts on “Is there a conflict between Faith and science?

    1. Jim, Eric Metaxas is an insightful author and I concur in your recommendation. What is interesting is how quickly the scientific community is embracing the reasoning behind a Creator that exists outside time and space and matter. Ironically and perhaps sadly, it is the average person on the street that is embracing the idea of “none” whilst still claiming some notion of spirituality. The good news all Truth leads to the same place so let us pray for us all that we continue our search for Truth in good humor and kindness. Peace.

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