Faith in Science

This article is a follow up to the one I wrote last month about Faith and Science.

As I wrote there, while modern people have a strange notion that scientific truth and religious truth are in conflict, the reality is that they are not. However, this cultural perception is so strong that it leads some young people to leave the Church. In his article “Young People Leaving the Church Because of ‘Science’ “ Christopher M Grany points out a 2017 study from St. Mary’s Press of Minnesota and Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate that a number of younger Catholics are leaving the Church. While this is not necessarily new information, what was fascinating was the significant percentage of respondents who pointed to science as a reason for their loss of faith.

There could be a great many factors to this. I suspect also that for many that using “science” as a reason for leaving is a fig leaf for other more personal and moral reasons. But leaving that aside, let us take this at face value.

One thing that I have noted as a teacher is a very strange notion that science will eventually overcome faith and make it obsolete. As Scott Neidich wrote in his article “Denying the Resurrection: An Atheist’s deconstruction of Historical Arguments for Jesus,” the author claims “ Science explains that which is previously unexplained, and one day will answer questions we don’t have an answer to.“ In other words, take anything that we can only possibly attributed to God, like miracles. The modern notion is that a miracle has a scientific explanation, but we have not reached the level of sophistication yet to explain it. A similar line is said in the first Thor movie where they say magic is just science we don’t yet understand. However, the modern notion holds that one day we science will peel back the curtain and remove all superstition and religion.

When St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologiae, he tried to answer every possible question about the faith. When doing so, he would always come up with at least 3 of the best arguments for his beliefs and refute them. Even non-believers tend to agree that St. Thomas did not give “straw-men” or weak versions of his opponents arguments, but only gave the opposing side the strongest arguments possible. And as I wrote, he always have at least 3 objections to his own position.

Except for one place: the question of God.

On the question on whether or not God exists, St. Thomas only gives 2 objections. This is not because he is afraid of the other arguments. It is because he can only find two arguments against God’s existence that are worth considering. You may believe that he is wrong about this. But St. Thomas was not inclined to side-step difficult arguments.

The reason why I am bringing this up is that one of those objections touches on this modern misconception that science. St. Thomas says that one of the only strong arguments against the existence of God is the belief that science will one day explain away those things that can only currently be explained by religious faith. St. Thomas writes:

“For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.” (Summa Theologiae I.2. q2 a3 obj. 2)

In other words all that is miraculous could eventually find a cause in the natural world, thus making God an unnecessary hypothesis to explain anything. And from this point of view it is thought that scientific fact will one day overcome and eliminate faith and belief.

However, there is an enormous logical flaw with this way of thinking.

The idea that science will one day overcome belief is itself a belief.

No created being knows the future. Scientific reasoning works very well because it explains how things in the natural world have behaved and are currently behaving. If every time I let go of my pencil it drops to the floor, it is rational to believe that it will do so in the future. We call this inductive logic, where we add up evidence to give a probable conclusion. The thing is that all of the natural sciences are based on inductive logic. Everything begins with the way things are. It makes us better able to predict the way things will be, but it does not prove it to be so.

This is especially true in something like the question of what truth science will uncover. To say that science will one day explain this or that unexplained phenomena is not itself a scientific conclusion. It is not something that has been demonstrated by science. All science has demonstrated is what has happened, what is currently happening, and what will probably happen. But the idea that science will overcome belief is something that science has proven.

In other words, the statement that science will one day answer all questions is not a statement of science.

It is a statement of belief.

The person says this believes that one day science will overcome all mysteries.

I am not here to argue whether or not this belief is true or false. But what I am going to point out is that those who say that science will overcome faith because science is stronger than faith are not making a scientific assertion, but rather an assertion of their own faith in science.

I don’t think that pointing this out to those who hold this position will magically realign their world-view. But it is an important step in understanding that if they hold that science will disprove religion, then they too walk by faith and not by sight.

They don’t hold to science apart from faith.

They have faith in science.

Copyright 2020, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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