“Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.”
–Pope St. John Paul II, Letter to Rev. George Coyne,S.J., Director of the Vatican Observatory.
INTRODUCTION: VENTING MY SPLEEN
I need to vent my spleen. Why? I’ve been reading anti-science articles in a number of blogs and web postings. Were these written by those who had engaged in science, done research, or at the very least, were knowledgeable in the history and philosophy of science, I could regard them with more respect. The articles maintain to one degree or another that the scientific enterprise is incompatible with Catholic teaching. They conflate the intellectual discipline of science with “scientism.”
I will grant that there are scientists (and most of these are also ignorant of the history and philosophy of science) who advocate “scientism,” the doctrine that science explains everything one needs to know about the world. As I’ve explained in many articles, I do NOT subscribe to this view. (See these articles: “Faith as a Scientist, Faith as a Catholic;”“Why? Questions God can answer but science can’t;”“God, Beauty and Symmetry in Science;”“Which is real—science or God?” amongst others.)
Now I haven’t meant this post to be a shameless exercise in self-promotion, although it seems to have turned out that way. :>( What I must emphasize is that there are many scientists who are faithful Catholics and many famous scientists who believe in God. Indeed, if you look at eminent scientists who were priests (for example, LeMaitre and Mendel) you’ll see that Catholic doctrine is not an obstacle to doing great science.
THE HYPOCRISY OF ANTI-SCIENCE CATHOLICS
When I first thought about this article, I was tempted to call anti-science Catholics Luddites. The original Luddites were British weavers who, in the early 19th century, destroyed machinery that was taking their livelihood away. Nowadays the term refers to those against new technology. Accordingly, it would probably be a misnomer to apply the term to these anti-science Catholic bloggers. Clearly they use computers and, I would guess, smartphones with GPS, amongst other technological goodies.
The image to the left (from Wikimedia Commons) depicts the satellite constellation that enables GPS, presumably used by anti-science bloggers. It requires corrections based on special and general relativity theory if positions are to be accurate (i.e. not be in error by several miles—see this fine Youtube video).
And, God forbid, should any of them fall prey to disease—including current pandemic threats— I would imagine that they would be willing to use the tools of modern medicine, which involve scanners, genetic analysis and immunotherapy.
There seems to be a contradiction. These anti-science catholics believe in technology, but not in the theories on which that technology is based. They’re cafeteria scientism advocates, picking and choosing which scientific propositions are credible.
The general public listens to public preachers of scientism, Bill Nye and the like (who have not been practicing scientists) and, ignorant of how science actually works, believe these advocates. So the public also fails to understand what science truly tells us about ourselves and the world.
THE PROBLEM AND THE SOLUTION
Here’s the problem: the public, these anti-science writers and many scientists themselves, don’t know what science is all about. Education could solve this problem. And by education, I don’t mean teaching how to calculate the trajectory of a cannon ball or how to balance chemical equations. To use Fr. Jaki’s apt phrase, I mean demonstrating “The Limits of a Limitless Science.” . This would be done by teaching the history of science, to show that science demands experimental confirmation of theories, that science is mutable (unlike Catholic dogma and doctrine): theories like the caloric theory of heat or the ether as the medium for the propagation of light, or Newtonian mechanics have been superseded by new theories and these new theories are supported by new empirical evidence, experiments or observations.
So, here’s another shameless plug to explain this in more detail: “Why Catholics Should Learn about Science.” But if you’re on a crusade I guess it’s ok to be shameless. Will this crusade be successful? I’m not sure. I’ve been at it for several years, and I’m now in my 10th decade, although I hope psalm 92 (KJV) applies: “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing.” (One of those adjectives certainly applies to me; I’ll let the reader guess which.)
I hope that those who believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis will learn what science really says about evolution, both of the universe and of man. And with that knowledge they will understand that science is a gift from God, to help us comprehend the wonder of ourselves and our world:
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Psalm 139:14 (KJV)
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Psalm 19:1 (KJV)
I was surprised to see the featured image, originally chosen by me for an article about the evolution of the universe, used as a featured image for an article about scientism. The image depicts the creation of the elements from nuclear reactions in giant stars and their spread through the universe when the stars go Nova. And that sequence of element formation depends on an improbable process, the “Triple Alpha Process,” enabled by God, the Intelligent Designer. This essential component of cosmological evolution is totally the opposite of scientism.