Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New "Science and Faith" Foundation

Monsignor Georges Lemaître, priest and physicist
and Albert Einstein, 1933

Religion and science are two approaches to the truths of the universe that should not be set against each other. There is nothing inherent in science that opposes religion, and nothing in true religion that opposes science.

Unfortunately, representatives of certain factions of each discipline have done their best to set the two against each other.

Science and religion seek to answer two different questions of the universe.  Imagine that someone throws a rock at you.  You ask, "who threw the rock at me?"  I answer by giving the force in Newtons that the rock hit you, and explain that I calculated this by multiplying the mass of the rock times its rate of acceleration.  You would say, "Hey, I asked who hit me, not how the rock hit me!"  -- "Oh, well it was the guy on that grassy knoll who threw the rock!"

The question, "Who threw the rock at me?" is a religious question.  All of the religions of the world are, to some extent, concerned with supernatural explanations of the events of the world with respect to a person who caused it.  Thus Zeus is not lightning itself, but the god (person) who sends the lightning bolts to earth.

The question, "How was the rock thrown at me?" or "How did the lightning bolt come to earth?" seeks a scientific explanation involving Newton's Second Law of Motion or the relationship between positive and negative charges in the atmosphere.  "But," the agnostic replies, "now that we have a scientific explanation, we don't need the religious one."

That response commits a logical fallacy known as begging the question, in other words, assuming what you're trying to prove, that is, the agnostic is assuming that there is no need for a god in trying to prove there is no need for one.

The story above explains that a scientific explanation does not replace a religious one.  The fact that we can explain the mechanics of how the world works does not imply that there is not some person or persons causing those events.  Just as it would be absurd for us to do that in our day-to-day life when we get hit by rocks, it is absurd to conclude that there is no god, or no need for a god, because we understand the broader mechanics of the natural world.

Unlike religious fundamentalists, the Catholic Church has always embraced scientific studies. Many people point to one case in the 2000-year history of the Church - that of Galileo - to disprove my point.  That is a topic for another post, but suffice it to say that one incident does not cancel out two millenia of progress.

As Zenit reports, the support of science continues to the modern day:

Benedict XVI established a new "Science and Faith" Foundation, which will be under the guidance of the Pontifical Council for Culture and several pontifical universities.
......
 Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, promoted the foundation. In doing so, he was seconding the requests of several Roman pontifical universities. The foundation will give continuity to the "Science, Theology and Ontological Quest Project," known by its English acronym as the STOQ Project.
This Project, which resulted from the studies of the Galileo Galilei Commission, was created by John Paul II in 2003. During its existence it has promoted dialogue between theology, philosophy and the natural sciences, through cultural study, research and public activities. It has been supported by various institutions, including the John Templeton Foundation.
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