SCIENCE & CHRISTIANITY – from a Catholic scientist’s perspective
Elizabeth Suk-Hang LAM encourages us to view christianity and science as two sides of the same coin rather than two different entities.
While many may have placed science and religion on two extreme polarities, as a Catholic scientist, or a scientific Catholic, I have always seen them as complementary rather than contradictory. As one who has been brought up by a pair of loving parents with education of reasons and rationales, the grace of the Lord has trained me to be a PhD chemist/scientist. So, whenever I’ve heard people putting science and religion on different polarities, I’d always respond with a smile. I’m not an expert in theology, nor an expert in every aspect of science, but I would like to draw from my own experience why science and christianity (as I am a Catholic) are not opposite ends but rather, go hand-in-hand in our truth-seeking process.
One of the biggest similarities between science and christianity is that both strive to seek the truth.1 In other words, instead of trying to disprove one another, both have a common goal. As Albert Einstein put it, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”.
Science and christianity are both complementary in our quest to find and understand what the truth is. While science builds understanding based on observations in the physical world, christianity deepens it through the human race’s experience of divine love. Both of them neither come out from nothing nor from pure imagination. Both of them are built upon a basis, and interpolate/extrapolate using our current intellect. Both are not rigid doctrines: advancement in technology and scientific understanding may overflow old theories and hypothesis – it is like quantum physics contrasting classical mechanics; and the relationship between man and God deepens as human experience of divine love intensifies.
Another similarity is that there are still huge perplexities in the understanding of both science and christianity. Where do we come from? What was out there before the Big Bang? Is string theory true? There are always so many questions when we trace back to the very beginning. In such uncertainties, scientists would set up postulates – a proposed theory that is accepted until it has been rebuked by proofs or evidence stating otherwise. This could be faith in science. It is not a blind faith, but is based on proofs and evidence to develop into them. In christianity on the other hand, there are always unanswered questions regarding God, and the divine world. The analogy of scientists in the church is perhaps the religious fathers, who have studied and researched history, to develop christian doctrines based on spirituality, observations and a bunch of solid studies.
The acceptance of this unrevealed reality draws both scientists and christians to a common ground – humility, to accept that we are limited so we must learn and grow. And in both science and christianity, we are seeking to grow in the truth.
Perhaps one might argue, that science does not prove that God exists, while in christianity we believe in the existence of God. So, what/who is the God in Christianity? This God is perhaps not the God who is now being commonly illustrated by people in the world. God is not the existence of a supreme being who is an item in the world or above the world. God is also not a distant object who has wound things up and gone into retirement.2 Instead, in the book of Exodus, God tells Moses, “I am who I am.” One might say ‘this does not illustrate anything’! But according to St. Thomas Aquinas, God’s nature is to ‘be’. 3 He is not the one being among many, nor the one contingent among many. He is the being. This is perhaps why we can experience God even when we are still. (Psalm 46:10). We need not learn to experience Him, or do anything to get a taste of God. Because by definition, God is the sheer act of being itself.
The Bible is not a scientific book that is composed by factual history but is one that contains inspirational insights. In Genesis, God creates the world from nothing. He does not impose His will on some rival power nor on His creation. But rather, through a sheerly generous, non-violent act of love, God gives rise to all things. And the creatures, as the bible describes, are a relationship to God.2
The worm transitions to a butterfly, tiny seeds grow into giant trees and little babies become mature adults. The world continues to evolve and we continue to grow in God’s nourishment. St. Thomas Aquinas says, God is still in continual creation. He is still at work and He is still creating. Our deepest centre was created by God and so therefore we are all interconnected by our bonding with God. A God who is provident and not distant.
It is divine love and grace which opened my eyes to appreciate the beauty of nature. And it is through this beauty that I have been immersed deeply in divine love. Polkinghorne, J. C. (2007) Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship. (2007) Yale University Press.
2 Bishop Barron, R. Word on Fire. Accessed by: https://www.wordonfire.org/study-programs/catholicism/
3 Humphries, T. L. (2019) The Oxford Handbook of Catholic Theology. Ed. Ayres, L. Volpe, M. A. Oxford University Press.
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