A Catholic-themed opinion blog about various topics, including theology, philosophy, politics and culture, from a Thomistic perspective.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Divorce of Science and Faith

Today, there is a trend that, while not ubiquitous, is very prevalent in many arenas of society. This trend attempts to portray science and scientific inquiry as entirely distinct from and even superior to religious faith and spirituality. It characterizes faith as irrational and science as the only repository of any real, certain truth about reality. Even for those who still possess or at least respect faith, they tend to view it as an entirely private practice, essentially a therapeutic tool not meant to influence one's public life and without any connection to or basis in physical reality. Hence the popularity today of people calling themselves "spiritual but not religious", usually meaning that the latter entirely lacks the former and thus must be abandoned for a genuine spiritual life. 
Sadly, this is not only a philosophical error but a historical one. Proponents of this trend, with and without faith alike, seem tragically ignorant of history even more so than philosophy when it comes to the relationship of science and faith, as well as the spirituality of religion, though that is a different topic. Our modern scientific worldview, which is either explicitly or implicitly accepted by all scientists because it forms the basis of the scientific method, is founded primarily on the worldview of Christianity. Prior to Christianity, most religions viewed nature as pawns on the divine chessboard, with individual deities and spirits moving pieces around as they pleased. Even later religions, such as Islam, largely retained this view of existence. But Christianity, rooted in Judaism and enhanced by the natural philosophy of the Greeks and Romans, as well as uniquely Christian ideas, began the perception of the natural world as controlled by logical, natural laws, without the constant and specific control of God. This worldview was based on the Christian belief in a rational God, a God of law and pattern and truth. Just as our God instituted covenants, assigned times and seasons, and created a teaching body to rationally interpret His Scriptures, He also created consistent laws to govern His Creation. Without this worldview which forms the deepest foundations of modern science, it could not exist as it does today.

As I have observed the way modern scientists think, the way that they approach scientific problems and create scientific theories to explain the evidence they accumulate, I have noticed something that contradicts the aforementioned trend. They not only observe and report facts of nature - they use the logic and reason of the human mind to organize, analyze and explain these observed facts. They do not simply see the moon and say "there is a big rock in the sky". No, they ask a very human question - why? This leads them to not only observe the moon more closely but to attempt to explain what they see. How did the moon come to be as it is, and why? And, how does it affect the Earth and, accordingly, how is it affected by the Earth, the Sun and other astronomical phenomena?

This very basic, very human ability exemplifies a much more fundamental truth of the human condition: we are a part of Creation. While this may seem like a given, it is a truth that reflects deeper truths about ourselves. We are not only in Creation, but of it. We are a reflection of Creation. Every part of us is meant to reflect reality in some way. How could any part of us not be at least loosely based in reality? Even psychological delusions are merely the distortion or displacement of something that is real, and works of fantasy and imagination merely transform what they see in life. We are capable of reason and capable of rationally analyzing nature precisely because nature is itself rational. Our mind is not distinct from nature - every part of it reflects and is based in reality, including our capacities for reason and faith.

People today are severely disjointed in many ways, especially internally. We separate our reason from our faith; we try to blend one thing into another or treat one part of the human person as universally superior to another part. Every part of the human person is good in its original form, even though it may be corrupted and distorted over time, and no part of us is completely fake or false. I would think that materialists could grasp this even better than Christians, since they only believe in the existence of physical reality. How can any part of us exist that is not reflective of reality? But, this would force them to acknowledge the realism of faith, with its basis in Creation and, ultimately, in God, without whom nature could not exist as it does with its laws, its consistency and its fundamental existence.

I believe that for people to be truly happy, they need to return to a holistic approach to life and to themselves as human beings, creatures in God's Creation. Too often, people dismiss parts of themselves that, if faced head-on, might force them to reexamine their lives and their general view of the world. Rather than presuming the truth of the scientific worldview, acting as though laws of nature can create themselves, and rather than having a faith without examination, without question and without life, why can we not embrace both parts of ourselves? As human beings, we are both apart of Creation and made in the image of God. Every single person has built-in faculties that both let them rationally understand and use nature, and to grow closer to God through reason and faith alike, and to then express both of these through love.

I love science very much, a sort of hold-over from my pre-Christian days, and I find it a great tragedy that every time I read or watch anything about science, the author feels it necessary to offer some disparaging remark about God or Christianity, if not religion in general, and then assert his or her own philosophy into the mix. That is not science. Even the so-called "religiously biased" Christian scientists of the Middle Ages taught that for an academic study to be truly objective and factual, it must not mix religion into itself. However, they were not afraid to have a complete view of life, both from scientific and religious perspective, rather than excluding one or the other. They were capable of studying science by itself, and subsequently believing that God is the originator of nature and its laws, neither affecting the validity and objective truth of the other.

Accordingly, both benefit from each other when they are able to live together peacefully. Science gives faith an avenue to understand the beauty and splendor of God's Creation through direct experience of nature as well as rational examination of the astounding intricacy and power of nature. And, to science, faith gives a moral and conceptual background, grounding it ultimately in an understanding of a rational basis for nature, and granting science the purpose and meaning of serving humanity, both academically and practically. When we separate science from faith, we are left with both Nazism and fundamentalism, two sides of the same coin.

For true happiness and for a truly complete understanding and experience of life, we must accept all that we are, not only the parts we find easy or useful. This means realizing that we are at once rational, religious, spiritual, moral, familial/social, and creative creatures. But when the ultimate philosophical basis of science is removed, or the premises of religion confused and distorted, we are left with a disjointed fragmentation of the human mind. We must return to a holism; otherwise we will continue to be plagued by the tragedies of fundamentalism, eugenics, abortion, and the modern divorce of science and faith. I pray that we all may be repaired and thus regain this holism with which we were created and without which we cannot be truly happy and fulfilled.