National Catholic Register


The Straw Man Massacre: God and Science

BY Dan Burke

| Posted 10/3/11 at 12:52 PM


With a sweat-beaded face and an urgent tone, the pastor slams his Bible down and denounces the evils of science: Whether it be Godless geological studies that claim the Earth is older than 6,000 years or evolutionary theories that dethrone the Creator God, modern science is a threat to the Christian faith!

In response, a “new atheism” has emerged. Holding high the banner of this evangelical anti-theism, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins use modern science and their characteristically British rhetorical skills to mock, expose and systematically dismiss these fundamentalist Christian arguments. Armed with a literal biblical interpretation on one side and a myopic view of scientific evidence on the other, the battle lines are drawn, the culture wars spawned, and before you even have a chance to think, you are asked to join a side.

And the Church says, “Wait.”

These two fundamentalist camps do hold a mutual and presupposed belief: Faith and reason are competitive. If you hold to faith, you must discard the intellect. If you hold to the intellect, you must discard the faith.

For those who are not familiar, a straw man fallacy is when one person mischaracterizes his opponent’s conclusion and attacks a more vulnerable version of their argument. Like a knight jousting against a straw dummy, the strategically neutered version loses its vitality and is easily overcome. The debate between Christian fundamentalists and the “new anti-theists” has engulfed our present culture and is presented in books, debates, documentaries, and even mainstream media. Yet, as Catholics are bombarded by this argument, we realize that not only is one side mischaracterizing the other, but the entire debate mischaracterizes the dialogue of faith and reason, of God’s self-revelation and science. The problem is that as straw man after straw man is subsequently offered and dismantled, it leaves observers — and much of our culture — with nothing but dry husks of the issues at hand. The true dialogue between faith and the sciences is not furthered, but is only further mischaracterized.

As Catholics, we hold to a harmony of faith and reason — a harmony between God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ and the Creator’s discernible mark upon creation. However, it is one thing to say Catholic theology and modern science can complement one another; it is another thing to understand how they do. To this colossal task, we turn to a colossal intellect.

Jesuit Father Robert J. Spitzer is the former president of Gonzaga University, founder of the Magis Institute, and author of the work New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Late Twentieth Century Physics and Philosophy. The deftness of Father Spitzer’s mind is wonderfully evident as he integrates 20th-century science with philosophy in service of theology. With the brilliance to boil principles down for the everyday reader, Father Spitzer attacks the heart of our present culture’s pseudo-faith-and-science debate: faith and science are not a threat to one another. Father Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to participate in the true dialogue of faith and science.

EWTN’s literary program Bookmark is delighted to host Father Spitzer and discuss the role his book plays in the dialogue between faith and science. The show will air on Oct. 9.  The Register invites you to move beyond the straw men, and delve deep into the mystery of God and his Creation.

More Resources
Fr. Spitzer’s Magis Institute
EWTN’s Bookmark
Spitzer is a Genius
Men Behind the Magis Institute
Spitzer on Philosophy, Modern Physics and the Search for God