The Union of Church and Science
As a Catholic, I must admit that my faith had not been well-formed until I reached my twenties. I am 23 now so one could say I have been a revert for about three years now. One of the biggest challenges I see in the church is “Cultural Christians” whose lack of faith formation leads to ultimately leaving or outgrowing the faith. Many have arguments against religion because science and religion seem to not cooperate. Others have been hurt by someone who calls themselves a Christian, talking the talk but not walking the walk: this can harm people’s perceptions and experiences with Christianity. However, I believe that the question “Why am I alive?” is impossible to not ask oneself even to the most rational and science-driven person.
I wanted to know more about the non-beliefs of the non-believers, so I researched. One of the main reasons people don’t believe in God or have a good perception of religion is science. Many Popes have shown that religion and science complement each other, as well as Catholic scientists like The Rev. Gregory Mendel who laid the foundation for genetics science, and The Rev. Georges Lemaître the father of the Big Bang Theory. Science and religion, especially within the Catholic church are not at odds; they are at least the human and empirical way we can explain our faith.
Pew Research conducted telephone surveys in 2018 and 2019; 4% of American adults said they were atheists and 5% said they were agnostics. Within the non-believers, there are agnostics and atheists or now commonly known as “nones”. This recent term refers to those who have no religious affiliation. In another study Pew Research conducted in 2018, they asked “nones” why they don’t identify with a religion. In a sample of 1,300 people, atheists said that the major reason they don’t have a religion is that they don’t believe in God (75%). Agnostics said that the major reason they don’t have a religious affiliation is that they question religious teachings (38%). Those in the “nothing in particular” group also agreed that the second main reason is that they question religious beliefs (25%).
While I would say that there are not many atheists and Christians that engage in serious apologetics. I think that it’s important to know one of the main arguments that many atheist scholars debate against. Now I am not a theologian therefore I will do my best to simplify and summarize these arguments.
The Designer: As Christians, we believe that as we look into nature and its perfection and complexity, it truly must account for a designer (God). A prime example of this created by William Paley is that if one were to find a watch on the ground, one does not think that it just is, it is apparent that somebody made it because of the complexity and the purpose that it has. Like the watch, humans also have a function and complexity that could not have happened by accident but rather by someone and with intent. One of the ways that this is refuted by atheists is that if one is supposed to find purpose in everything that was created by God then this can become subjective. If one starts to make up the purpose of things then God is not needed if he is the supposed creator of things and the one who gives them purpose. Another point that is brought up is that if God created humans perfectly from the beginning of time then why does evolution show that it was because of random mutation and natural selection.
Many atheist scholars mainly use the argument that science does not line up with what the bible says. Especially in regards to the point about the body, many would say that people were not perfect from the beginning rather over a period we came to be what we are now(Evolution). In another study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2015 U.S adults were asked about religion and science. 59% of U.S adults said that generally, they think that science and religion conflict. The study showed that those who are religiously unaffiliated are “more likely to think that science and religion are often in conflict with 76% expressing this view.”
This is interesting because some Catholics (61%) believe that science does not conflict with their own religious beliefs. 78% of white mainline Protestants also say that science does not conflict with their own religious beliefs. However, white evangelicals 40% or 4 in 10 say that science does conflict. When specifically asked about evolution 73% of white Catholics agreed that humans evolved and only 21% thought we have existed in our present form since the beginning of time and 59% of Hispanic Catholics also believe in evolution. 71% of white mainline Protestants agree with Evolution while 23% believed we have been like this since the beginning of time. Pew Research noted,
“people’s sense that there generally is a conflict between religion and science seems to have less to do with their own religious beliefs than it does with their perception of other people’s beliefs.”
The Galileo Myth
So where did this big separation between church and science start? probably at the Galileo myth. In high school, we were taught that Galileo, “inventor of the telescope”(which is not true he just improved it) had proposed that the sun was the center of the solar system. However, the Catholic Church condemned the theory because it was against scripture and thus anti-christian. This showed that science and religion are at odds however, that was not the real story. Galileo who was a Catholic himself had a friendship with Pope Urban IIIX who backed him up in his research. The problem came when Galileo wanted to teach a theory as fact without sufficient evidence. David Bosworth professor at the Catholic University of America says,
“The reality is that in Galileo’s time there were plenty of scientists on both sides of the question; of whether the world was as Copernicus said it was or as Ptolemy said it was. They were the first Sun at the center of the (solar) system and there wasn’t enough evidence at the time to know for which was true.”
Long story short he was then told to not teach this theory as a fact which angered him a lot he then proceeded to attack the church and even the scientists at the time. Still, this did not stop him as he continued to teach this theory as a fact in which he was sent to trial and put on house arrest for the rest of his life.
How did the legend come to be? Well, Bosworth says it came about in the early modern era with the enlightenment. People like Voltaire wanted to make the church look bad and present the church and Christianity as antithetical to reason and science. Later on in 1992 Pope John Paul II actually apologized for the verdict on Galileo and many theologians and such said he Galileo was falsely condemned. While the situation was rather complicated and looked more like a personal dispute than one of science the complete twisting of events that were created did create a big misconception about the church and science that many people still believe today.
Still, many people don’t know that the Bible should not be interpreted literally and that of course it’s not a science textbook. Rather the Bible is a book that looks into the heart of God, and why he matters to us and we matter to him. In 2011 Gallup asked Americans if the Bible is the literal word of God 3 in 10 said that it is. While the placement of the question was a bit off since the Bible is the word of God (this is a whole other topic) it’s just that not every single word should be taken in a literal way. 65% of Catholics said it is the inspired word of God while 21% it is the literal word. 46% of Protestant/Christians said that it is the inspired word of God and 41% it is the literal word of God, word by word it should be taken literally.
The union of Church and Science
Looking at this evidence I hope this helps Christians understand and dive more in-depth with their religion and relationship with God. While I don’t think that my writing is compelling enough to convert anybody, I hope that this can be a basis for someone who is atheist or agnostic to truly understand what it is they oppose or don’t believe. Like Pope Benedict XVI said,
“The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God […] does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the ‘project’ of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary — rather than mutually exclusive — realities”
Breaking in the Habit. (2016, March 21). The Galileo Myth. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wxddfx-qX1c&t=562s
Fastenberg, D. (2010, June 17). Top 10 National Apologies. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1997272_1997273_1997285,00.html
Jones, J. M. (2011, July 8). In U.S., 3 in 10 Say They Take the Bible Literally. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/148427/say-bible-literally.aspx
Lipka, M. (2016, August 24). Why some Americans left religion behind. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/24/why-americas-nones-left-religion-behind/
Lipka, M. (2019, December 06). 10 facts about atheists. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/12/06/10-facts-about-atheists/
Suran, M. (2010, August). The separation of church and science. Science and religion offer different worldviews, but are they opposite or complementary? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2920436/
TodayIFoundOut. (2018, January 29). Galileo and Why He was Really Convicted of Heresy. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_d9OkDLd-iw
What U.S. Religious Groups Think About Science Issues. (2015, October 22). Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/10/22/science-and-religion/
Why Americas nones dont identify with a religion. (2018, August 8). Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/08/why-americas-nones-dont-identify-with-a-religion/