Faith and Science: Not in Conflict, But Complementary

To live by faith or to live by reason? To trust science or to trust religion? Sometimes it seems like you have to choose between the two. Actually, you don’t. From scientists to priests, from saints of old to professors at modern universities, Catholics have understood how to embrace the truth through the lenses of both faith and science.

“We pray together, we do science together and we have no sense of conflict, there is no problem,” Fr. Paul Mueller, a Jesuit and a researcher at the Vatican Observatory, explained on an episode of The Miracle Hunter radio show.

Leo XIII refounded the Vatican Observatory in 1891 to study astronomy and demonstrate that a Catholic worldview encompasses both faith and science. In fact, papal-supported astronomy is a tradition going back to the reform of the Gregorian calendar in the 1500s. Today run by the Jesuits, the priest-scientists who live and work the Observatory have both priestly duties and research roles.

For Fr. Mueller, faith and science are two paths to the truth, each shedding light on the Christian life in their own ways.

“Some of the most important things in our lives, we believe not because science says so. Science can’t say so. It’s outside the realm of science to say whether or not your wife or your husband loves you,” he also said. “Science doesn’t talk about the ultimate questions that are most important to us in life, questions of love, the good, the true and the beautiful. You can get a good handle on some of the truth from science, but not all of it.”

Answers to the heart’s deepest, most profound questions, such as the meaning of life, come from faith.

But the question, “Why are we here?” is also closely related to the question of “How did we get here?” Unfortunately, in today’s culture, the study of creation only seems to further alienate science and religion from each other. But not among Catholic scientists.

Dr. Michael Dennin, professor of physics and astronomy at UC Irvine, addressed this issue on an episode of The Miracle Hunter.
“The common thing you hear in the press and the public debate is always about creation and evolution,” Dr. Dennin said. “It really comes down to recognizing that most of the people who are having that debate are simply debating their assumptions. And neither of those groups has what I consider the traditional classic and Orthodox Catholic view, which is, the world is more than just physical reality. There is God, there is a reality that transcends physical reality. Physical reality obeys physical laws.”

Reason and science delve into the physical laws of reality, while faith and religion explore transcendental realities.

Also discussing creation a recent episode of The Miracle Hunter, Dr. Gerard Verschuuren, author of In the Beginning and biologist-philosopher who has worked at several European and American universities, explained how the discoveries of science regarding the physical realities of the Earth’s existence are not incompatible with the belief’s of the Catholic faith.

He addressed the question of the age of the universe, which scientists usually calculate to be 4.5 billion years, including a few billion to form the Earth. It’s not a figure that necessarily coincides with the biblical creation stories.

“First of all, when you talk about Genesis, we have to specify which part of Genesis,” he said, because there are two creation stories in the first book of the Bible. “Chapter one is usually the creation account that talks about seven creation days. And it’s hard to say that the seven days were literally days…The Book of Genesis is not a science book. It has a much better message than science.”

According to Dr. Verschuuren the science of the physical laws of the Earth’s existence and the message of the Bible both coincide in one fact—the world as we know it is a miracle, a direct act of God.

“The interesting part is that this planet Earth has become our home,” he said. “That is definitely a miracle. It is very unique in many, many ways. First of all, the earth must have an orbit around the sun closer to a circle than an elongated ellipse, otherwise we would have problems half of the year. It must be a volcanic planet so it can generate the right kinds of gases. It needs the right luminosity of the sun. If it were two times greater, we would be like Venus with a dense atmosphere, and life would not be possible here. We also need a magnetic field to deflect the harmful rays of the sun. It must have a good balance of land and water, and that is only possible on a planet with plate tectonics, where parts of certain continents slide under another part, and only that way we can have a good balance of land and water. And the Book of Genesis talks about that God separated the land from the water. That is vital for our survival.”

Even as a scientist, Dr. Verschuuren finds it easier to attribute the existence of the world to the intelligent, loving act of a Creator than to the probability of large numbers, the currently popular scientific explanation for the world’s existence.
For scientists of faith, their belief in a loving Creator motivates them to understand the world God created. Science and faith can be deeply linked, as Fr. John Kartje, an astrophysicist and president and rector of The University of Saint Mary of the Lake, and also a past guest on The Miracle Hunter, explained.

“For the person of faith, for the believer, the world around you is the fruit of the intersection of that creating God and the manifestation of his love. And so of course, it makes perfect sense to say that my faith really should only be deepened as it is further informed by my study and learning about the world. I mean, all you have to do is read one page of the Summa to see how fascinated St. Thomas was with just the actual perceived world that surrounded him,” he said.

Faith and science aren’t in conflict. They are complementary.

Tune in to hear discussions on the topic of miracles each week on The Miracle Hunter, Sundays at 11am ET / 8am PT on Relevant Radio®.