Editorial: Faith and science

Last August, a study issued by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate noted that many young people are leaving the Church today because of a perceived incompatibility between faith and science. Said one young respondent: “I realized that religion is in complete contradiction with the rational and scientific world, and to continue to subscribe to a religion would be hypocritical.”

For a young person to make so declarative a statement regarding faith and science — and still more, have such a belief result in the abandonment of religion altogether — shows the critical nature of the work of the Society of Catholic Scientists, which held its first conference April 21-23 in Chicago.

The group’s goals include witnessing “to the harmony between the vocation of scientist and the life of faith”; being a “forum for reflection upon and discussion of questions concerning the relation of science and the Catholic faith”; and serving “as a resource for Catholic educators, pastors and lay people, and for journalists and members of the general public who have questions about the significance of scientific theories and discoveries and about the relation of science and faith.”

Notably, the conference was held on the same day as the worldwide “March for Science,” which sought to champion and defend science and scientific integrity, as well as encourage policymakers to respect evidence-based policy that would support the common good. But no championing of science can be complete without taking into consideration a moral framework established by natural law. It’s proven scientific fact, for example, that life begins at conception. But if that’s true, then it must follow that science should respect embryos as human beings, not use them as sources of experimentation; and that science should reject the manipulation of genetics and the human body, regardless of perceived benefits.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this distinction clear when it states that scientific research “can never conflict with the faith” as long as “it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws” (No. 159). Furthermore, in an address to young people in 2011, Pope Benedict XVI describes the consequences of separating science from faith. “If, in fact, man forgets in his work that he is a collaborator of God, he can do violence to creation and cause untold damage that always has negative consequences, also on human beings, as we have unfortunately seen on various occasions,” he said. This is where efforts like the secular-based March for Science fall short, and why groups like the Society of Catholic Scientists are important players in the scientific conversation today.

While most Catholics are not trained scientists, we are not limited in our ability to respect and care for our human and worldwide ecology. As we approach the two-year anniversary of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ work on creation, next month, it would be helpful to reflect again on the pope’s call “to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development.” This can most effectively be expressed in our family life, our prayer life, our spending habits and in our parish communities. It can also be expressed in our seeking of the common good, which includes a respect for the human person, the overall welfare of society, distributive justice and a “solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (Nos. 157-158). It’s this shared sense of seeking truth and serving the common good that show most clearly that faith and science belong together.

Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor