One of the errors of religious fundamentalism is an attempt to live a life of faith, apart from and in contradiction to reason. The teaching of the First Vatican Council on faith and reason contradicts this type of religious fundamentalism. So does the teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II in Fides et Ratio (“Faith and Reason”).
We are made in the image of God, more so than the other species of life, because of three important gifts: reason, free will, and the ability to love in cooperation with grace. Faith is greater than reason, but reason is needed to understand the teachings of faith and apply them to our lives. Reason is subordinate to faith, especially because the reason of fallen sinners is rather prone to error. But reason is not the slave of faith. These are two holy gifts from God, each with their own holy role in our lives.
So when we are faced with some theories of science, derived from human reason and its inquiry into created things, we should not be quick to dismiss this knowledge. Science can err. Every generation of scientists finds substantial errors in the ideas of the previous generation of scientists. But every new generation of scientists tends toward the error of assuming that they, at last, are error-free in all they believe to be true.
On the other hand, the ideas of our faith are not, each and all, infallible truths of Divine Revelation. The Church has many non-infallible teachings. And the understanding of each believer of any doctrine, infallible or non-infallible, is also subject to error. You can misunderstand a truth that is in itself free from error. So we should not assume, when faith and science are in conflict, that science must have erred.
Faithful Catholics should not dismiss the theory of evolution, which has much support for its main principles. We must take exception, though, when the question is the creation of the human race. At some point, God intervened to create humanity. We are not the result of mere chance or of unguided biological principles. God guides all creation. He chose to develop the species of life via evolution, under His providence. But at some point He intervened miraculously to create the first two human persons: Adam and Eve.
My book Adam and Eve versus Evolution proposes an explanation for the creation of humanity that accepts much of the theory of evolution, but allows for the intervention of God as well.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis accepts biological evolution for the lower species of life (n. 18). But he notes that the creation of humanity could not possibly be from evolution alone:
“Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems. Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself. Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology. The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God”
God must have intervened miraculously. So we need not and should not reject the entire theory of evolution. But we also must not reject the direct action of God, as taught by our faith.
Science currently teaches that the world is warming, and that human activity is at least partly to blame for this change in the climate. Science also informs us that, if global warming continues, substantial harm may occur. There is nothing contrary to faith or morals in this scientific understanding. Not every point in the subject of climate change is proven by science. But we must not treat global warming as if it were mere conjecture, or a disproven idea.
It is reprehensible that certain socio-political forces have distorted the science of climate change, exaggerating its evidence and effects, and using these for political gain. If a scientist has a different theory, he should not be persecuted by anyone for arguing his point of view. But as believers, we should not assume that any particular scientific idea is a dogma that cannot be revised, nor the mere result of socio-political sophistry.
My thoughts on global warming and the political controversy are in this post. I don’t find global warming to be contrary in any way to faith. I take a moderate view on the subject: the world is warming, but it is not the biggest problem faced by society today.
The Big Bang
Pope Francis spoke on the Big Bang theory recently: “The Big Bang, which is today posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creation; rather, it requires it” [Source]
The Big Bang theory was proposed by a Jesuit priest, Georges Lemaître. He saw the Big Bang as part of God’s work of creation. God created the initial dense hot starting point for the universe, and then its explosion began a long process whereby that creation unfolded. The providence of God guided this unfolding. But the starting point of creation was the miracle whereby God created something out of nothing.
This theory is entirely compatible with our faith in God as Creator. Catholics are not required by any Church teaching to be Creationists, nor to believe that the universe or the earth were created literally in 7 days. If reason proposes a much longer time frame for the work of creation, and faith possesses no contrary teaching, why should we object?
Modern science currently proposes, as a well-accepted theory, that most of the universe is comprised of dark matter. But science has been unable to directly detect any dark matter, despite years of searching with cutting edge technology. I don’t believe dark matter exists.
Here is a quote from New Scientist magazine on the subject:
“WE HAVE been aware of the need for dark matter since the 1930s. Without this stuff, we can’t make sense of the rotation of galactic clusters, or how galaxies formed in the first place. And yet, to date, we have found nothing. Even CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, our best and by far most expensive tool for finding it, has so far drawn a blank. How much longer can we keep looking?”
Several reputable scientific opinions have proposed alternative theories, which explain the same phenomena that dark matter explains, but without the need for this elusive substance: Wikipedia article. I favor the “modified gravity” alternative theory. We have not understood all the complexities in the principle of gravity.
My point here is that a reasonable believer should give science the respect it deserves. We should treat scientific knowledge as true knowledge, but not as if it were infallible revealed truth. Scientific theories, even when well-supported, are subject to revision and improvement. We can disagree with science based on faith or reason. But we should not try to live by faith alone.
Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.