National Catholic Register

Commentary

Faith in The Age Of Science

BY DONALD DEMARCO

June 29 - July 5, 2008 Issue | Posted 6/24/08 at 1:18 PM

 

The age in that we live is not one of faith. It is an age of science, alternatively called, The Atomic Age, The Space Age, The Computer Age.

In contrast to science, faith seems insubstantial and entirely subjective. The atomic bomb, flights to the moon and the computer — which has become a practical necessity in today’s world — are impressive, solid and impossible to ignore.

Initial impressions, however, no matter how powerful, can be terribly misleading.

Science, on deeper inspection, is both evolutionary and theoretical. It is always evolving and always limited by its theoretical nature.

Physics has come a long way from the time when its leading proponents held that there were but four natural elements — earth, air, fire and water. We now know that planets do not orbit in perfect circles, that the embryo does not contain a homunculus (little man), that there are living organisms not visible to the naked eye, and that the atom is not “uncuttable.”

There are a myriad of theories, to be sure, concerning the origin of life, the nature of consciousness, the size of the universe and the relationship between the mind and the body.

Science may be evolving in the general direction of truth, but due to its theoretical limitations, is akin to baling water from a boat using a leaky bucket. There are always aspects of truth waiting to be discovered.

In retrospect, scientists of the past are comparable with students moving through grade school, ever exchanging erroneous opinions for less erroneous ones.

The earth is no longer flat, the moon does not cause pregnancy, atoms are not solid, and the stars have lost their imperishable essence.

Sir Isaac Newton thought of himself as being “only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

On the other hand, faith, which looks so feeble when contrasted with science, is neither evolutionary nor theoretical.

When we look back at the saints of yore, we find that they were no less solid in their spiritual lives than the saints of the modern era. St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, to take but three examples, were not limited in their personal holiness by the climate of their times.

Scientists who told Louis Pasteur that invisible germs did not exist because they could “see” that they did not exist, truly were victims of their times.

Science is nourished by investigation, theorizing, and experimentation. Faith is nourished by prayer and good works.

While scientists try to lift the veil of Maya through the painstaking application of their scientific method, spiritual souls bind themselves to God’s truth by these twin practices of prayer and good works.

Not everyone can be a scientist. But everyone is called to be a more Godlike person. If God could be found only through the avenue of science, there would be far more atheists and agnostics in the world.

Prayer and good works are a surer way of becoming a more real, solid and substantial human being than science is of securing truth.

Faith certainly co-exists alongside science. But it is a grave mistake to think that faith, properly understood, is purely subjective and unrelated to truth. When Christ says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:06), he is offering a more direct, immediate and practical approach to truth than what the scientist offers.

Science, as we have mentioned above, is truly impressive. But a saint is more impressive.

Our age may have given an exalted place to science because it has not had sufficient encounters with sanctity in the form of a saintly human person. Prayer and good works provide a more direct path to truth, grasped personally rather than intellectually.

Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx all believed that they had given the world a scientific blueprint for better living. Yet their theories, though proclaimed as scientific, are replete with errors and half-truths, and have brought about the nightmares of social Darwinism that opposes altruism, Freudian psychology that suppresses the spirit, and a Marxist socialism that negates both love and spirituality.

Science cannot provide a path to personal holiness. Its purview is much too small for that. But faith is of a different order, and one that can unite us with God.

It is also a grave mistake to reduce faith to mere subjectivity. Prayer, properly understood, is not a soliloquy but a communion. It does not lack an object in truth, since it is linked with God. Good works unite us with our neighbor as well as with God.

There is a reverse side to our present age of science that is aptly described as the Age of Anxiety. Playwright Arthur Miller refers to the modern world as “an air-conditioned nightmare.”

Why? Because science without faith makes us cosmic orphans, and we shudder in fear when we are cognizant of our own littleness and our utter helplessness in the face of death.

Faith in science is misplaced faith. Faith in God, in Christ, nourished through prayer and good works (as well as the sacraments), is what we need as the most viable means of finding truth and fulfilling our destinies as human beings.

Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor at

Holy Apostles College and Seminary in

Cromwell, Connecticut.