All posts tagged: science and religion

Let’s Not Ignore Scientific Faith

The great project of modern scientific positivism has been to establish all that can be known with absolute certainty—to isolate that knowledge which is purely objective and provable by experiment, and to hold this alone as truth. Michael Polanyi explains this clearly in The Tacit Dimension: “The declared aim of modern science is to establish a strictly detached, objective knowledge. Any falling short of this ideal is accepted only as a temporary imperfection, which we must aim at eliminating” (20). Ideally, this knowledge is not in any way influenced by human personality—despite the fact that it might be discovered and articulated by humans, it stands entirely on its own. Such a project has been and generally continues to be held as unquestionably valid and worth pursuing. And, if academia has begun to reject this positivist project, it still lingers on in government, media, education, and the popular imagination. The seemingly obvious question that often goes unasked is whether such a project was ever even possible. On what basis can it be assumed that science might …

How to Reclaim the Literal Interpretation of the Bible

The science and religion debate can become so convoluted and esoteric, and at times, even heated, that it is easy to forget what a clear and definitive answer the Church has to such questions. This is especially true when it comes to conversations about the supposed conflict between the first two chapters of Genesis and generally accepted scientific theories. On the one hand, is the claim that the biblical creation story is incompatible with the scientific dating of the universe and biological evolution, and thus that the science must be wrong. On the other hand, is the claim that because the biblical creation story and scientific accounts of the universe and humanity are fundamentally at odds, the Bible and Christianity must be wrong. The Catholic response to this question is that this disagreement has no grounds to stand on. Purely from the standpoint of biblical interpretation, the first two chapters of Genesis were never meant to be “scientific” in the modern sense of the term. The biblical creation account states profoundly that God created the …

97 Aphorisms and Apothegms Inspired by Reading John Henry Newman

Pascal is right in much of what says about grace, right in some of what he says about sin, and entirely wrong with regard to what he says about their relationship. The “average man” elevated by self-pronounced realists is a lemming, not only a symptom of the failure to thrive but even to begin. Whether we want it or not a human being is the tensile string between saint and sinner. The “average man” is a modern construct. He arises in an age of capital, when one man wishes to exploit another and feel good about it. The best way of complimenting Adam Smith is to ignore what he says about money, and listen to what he says about the affections. The “average man” is a fiction that institutes the power of number. The mediocre many can be adduced against the few who are excellent.  Lacking in the modern view of the “average man” is the sense of scale. Historical Christianity certainly recognized mediocrity and gave it cover. What distinguishes it from modern or liberal …

Where Do Theology and Cognitive Psychology Intersect?

Both college educators and students are rushing to connect psychological, educational, and neuroscientific findings to learning outcomes. Students study psychological research such as C. Dweck’s academic growth mindset in order to develop their learning trajectories. Professors are immersed in a burgeoning market of academic pedagogy models that stress retention of information in addition to conventional assessment. Three influential examples include: Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, What the Best College Teachers Do, and Small Teaching.[1] These are indeed exciting developments. On the one hand, institutions of higher learning are challenging students as learners to cultivate integrative and appropriative methods for their own academic development and retention. On the other hand, faculty are ever lauded not only for the precise presentation of content, but also for fostering the critical and integrative skills that bridge collegiate learning into life and work. Concerning both, however, as any faculty or student will admit, these goals are much harder to actualize than to theorize. As researchers in the psychology and theology of memory, we wish to suggest how …

Can You Square the Feeding of the 5,000 with Science?

We read the story of the feeding of the five thousand in all four Gospels. In John’s Gospel, it is immediately followed by the Bread of Life Discourse, in which Jesus lays out clearly the doctrine of the Eucharist. His teaching is quite clear: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6: 53-55). From the reaction of the disciples (“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” [6:60]) and Jesus’s response to them (“Does this offend you?” [6:61]), we know that Jesus means what he says—otherwise his teaching would not be so hard to accept. The placement of the feeding of the five thousand in all four Gospels, and directly before the Bread of Life Discourse in John’s Gospel, suggests that there …

I Used to Be a Creationist

I have a confession to make: I used to be a creationist. This probably sounds absurd, especially coming from a student at a university which prides itself on its commitment to faith and reason—a university which was even home to one of the first Catholic defenders of scientific evolution—Fr. John Zahm. It will most likely sound even more absurd when I tell you that I am now making faith and reason my life’s work by studying theology, philosophy, and physics. I have quite clearly come a long way from thinking that science and religion do not work together, and would consider myself the better for it. Nonetheless, I am incredibly grateful for the time that I spent holding the opinion that we have to take the book of Genesis to its literal extremes, and thus that evolution just had to be wrong. It helped me identify one of the central aspects of the science and religion debate: science and religion are not at odds with each other if you recognize that science does not have …

Nourishing the Imagination: Science & Religion

As anyone reading this article is likely to know already, the McGrath Institute for Church Life is dedicated to nourishing the Catholic imagination and renewing the Church. The past three years of my work in the MICL have made the claim that we are in fact serving the Church in this way very easy to believe. Yet, what has escaped my attention until fairly recently is the fundamentally biological nature of the metaphor of nourishment. To nourish is a particular function, more interior and deliberate than merely to feed. To nourish assumes an understanding of nutrition and digestion, as well as organicity, ecology, that is, it assumes a whole biology, and a dynamic and integrated one at that. In his 1844 Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen, Johannes Peter Müller, an eminent German physiologist and comparative anatomist, made a then startling claim about the nature of nutrition and its relationship to human physiology. He claimed, quite simply, that “nutrition is not an object of microscopial research.” Müller saw in the standard fare of the physiological science …

Contemplating the Cosmos: The Building Blocks of Nature, God Included

Protons, neutrons, electrons. Atoms, elements, and chemicals. These are words that you are probably used to hearing in a science class, not in a blog post about how one encounters God. I am a chemist, though, and as strange as it might sound, through these basic building blocks of matter, I find God in my work. In chemistry, we manipulate chemicals to make new compounds, to treat diseases, to improve energy efficiency, and to lessen climate change. We tackle a variety of projects to improve our lives. An individual chemist cannot work on all of these projects during his or her lifetime, and only the most extraordinary chemists make world-changing discoveries that catch the public’s attention. Most of us work on projects that, while significant, remain disguised in technical jargon and are only understood by other scientists. The scientific advances that we have made and the ways in which we now understand nature are amazing. There’s one thing, though, that I’ve always wondered about that seems to go beyond a simple chemical explanation: life. Synthetic …