Dialogue of faith and science can lead way to human dignity


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November 19, 2012

Simply put, faith and science are two basic forms of knowledge available to human beings and there is no contradiction between them. Science aims to know physical beings; faith strives to know spiritual beings – all that transcends nature and is not visible. The human person is the one being that is both spiritual and physical and so is an object of both faith and science.

Pope Benedict's call for a deeper dialogue between faith and science (Page 7) seeks a conversation that is especially urgent in today's society. The dialogue ought, first, to distinguish scientific truth from religious truth in order to eradicate superstition and to preserve human dignity. Second, it needs to bring ethical considerations into contact with science since not everything that can be done should be done.

The first area of dialogue may seem simple. However, some modern philosophies maintain that all knowledge is scientific and that anything to do with the spiritual or religion is superstition. Not only does this view deny the existence of God, it also denies the existence of human reason and will, reducing human beings to complex machines.

Conversely, there is a tendency among some – not just religious believers – to disregard scientific findings that contradict their beliefs. One example is, of course, the belief of some that the first chapters of Genesis are a science textbook. Other beliefs such as astrology try to describe and predict events in the material world with no explanation of the process of cause and effect.

There is a difference in how people assent to the conclusions of science and faith. If the truth of a scientific theory is clearly demonstrated, the human will is forced to give its assent. Spiritual knowledge, in contrast, involves communication between two or more free and intelligent persons. For knowledge to occur, one person must open up to the other. Intimacy can develop when two persons open up to each other. The trust that develops from intimacy can lead to love.

Some scientists have tried to reduce faith and love to biological processes. While faith and love may indeed lead to physiological changes, those changes are not the essence of the thing.

Proper science is no threat to faith. In fact, science assumes that the universe is ordered. If the universe were chaotic, science would be impossible. An ordered universe, however, points to the existence of a being who is the source of that order.

This Being who orders the universe is not the same concept of God in the Old and New testaments, but he can surely fit within that concept. The Judeo-Christian God is not only the God of love, he is also the creator. In the final analysis, science and Christianity are not at odds; they complement one another.