Faith, Reason and the Sciences

A Short History Lesson in the Church’s Contribution


While many people think of Galileo being unfairly persecuted by the Church, they tend to forget the peculiar circumstances of these events and the fact that he remained Catholic and that his daughter became a nun.

Pop-culture atheists such as Richard Dawkins revel in pointing out the Church’s supposed hatred of science, scientists and free thought, but they come up short when asked for more examples.

In reality, modern science was invented by observant Catholics, a timely topic to consider as the Church observes the Nov. 15 feast day of St. Albert the Great, the 13th-century German Dominican (and mentor of St. Thomas Aquinas), who wrote a compendium of all knowledge in which he explored natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, ethics, economics, politics and metaphysics. Albert is the patron saint of scientists and researchers of the natural sciences.

The Church and Scientists
In the Middle Ages, most, if not all, European scientists were Catholic priests, including Father Nicholas Copernicus, who confirmed the heliocentric theory, which states that Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun.

In addition, Jesuit Msgr. Georges Lemaître, not Albert Einstein, was the one who created the “Big Bang” theory in 1933.

“There is no conflict between religion and science,” he said.

(The term “Big Bang” was recommended by atheist-physicist Fred Hoyle, who opposed Msgr. Lemaître’s theory.)

In addition, more than 40 of the moon’s craters are named after Jesuit astronomers. These were named by the scientists who mapped the moon about 20 years after the Galileo trial.

It is one of the more tenacious “myths” of our epoch — indeed, one would say one of the well-established prejudices — that relations between science and the Church are bad and that faith and science exist, from ages past, in a kind of persistent conflict.

“Belief in God as the Creator is not an obstacle [to science]. Why should belief that the universe has a Creator stand in the way of science? Why should it in any way cause problems for science, if scientists understand their research, their discoveries and the theories they evolve, their comprehension of relationships as ‘studying the book of creation’?” stated Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in Chance or Purpose?

Even Louis Pasteur, “father of bacteriology,” said, “Science brings men nearer to God. The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the Creator’s work.” The French chemist, epidemiologist and microbiologist created the rabies vaccine and the pasteurization process, and he developed the “germ theory of disease.” His research reduced mortality from puerperal fever. He was a devout Catholic and was particularly dedicated to the Rosary.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are” (159).

Of Darwin and Mendel
As to the theory of evolution, despite what atheist-revisionists try to pass off, though Charles Darwin (1809-1882) presented an interesting theory as to the natural development of living creatures from simple forms to more complex ones (which coincidently mirrors nearly exactly the Genesis account), he was incapable of providing the mechanism by which information about an individual animal’s survival is passed onto succeeding generations.

Many generations of atheist-Darwinists blindly stumbled about in the dark, “knowing” that Darwin was right, but not knowing why.

“The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers,” states the Catechism (283).

It adds: “Nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when God’s word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature and all human history are rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time begun” (338).

After Darwin, then came along Abbot Gregor Mendel (1822-1884). When the Benedictine monk meticulously experimented with the inherited characteristics of 29,000 pea plants, he formulated the science of genetics, which lent legitimacy to evolutionary theory.

His research was crucial in the discovery of dominant and recessive genes and traits, genotype and phenotype and the concept of heterozygosity and homozygosity. Thus, the sweetest of ironies: Modern atheists owe their raison d’être to an Austrian Catholic monk, the “father of modern genetics,” and to a Belgian Catholic priest, the creator of the “Big Bang.”

No atheists were involved in the development of these theories, and, in fact, the earliest critics of the Big Bang were exclusively atheists. These grand accomplishments aside, these three priests weren’t the only Christians to impact and build up modern science (see sidebar).

As history attests, Catholics are among the world’s greatest scientific researchers. St. Albert, pray for us!

Angelo Stagnaro
writes from New York.



More Catholic Scientists, In Brief

Franciscan Father Roger Bacon is known as the “father of the modern scientific method.” At the request of Pope Clement IV, Bacon’s writings initiated the field of optics.
Pope John XXI was the only physician/medical researcher to become a pope.
Blessed Raymond Llull is known as the “father of modern information and computational theories.” In 1305, he created the first analog computer.
Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and physicist, is known as the “father of modern hydrostatics.”
Rene Descartes is known as the “father of modern rationalism and critical thinking.”
Pope Sylvester II was a trained scientist who promoted mathematics and astronomy in the Church’s schools.
Bishop Nicole Oresme was a French mathematician who served as bishop of Lisieux. His studies of moving bodies foreshadowed and influenced Nicholas Copernicus and Leonardo da Vinci.
Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio, earned the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Bishop Robert Grosseteste was an English bishop as well as a scholar of mathematics, biology and optics. His critique of the Julian calendar anticipated the reforms under Pope Gregory XIII 300 years later.
Pope Francis was a chemist.