Another Schoenborn reflection on science and religion

Another Schoenborn reflection on science and religion

Submitted by frlarry on

Although Cardinal Schoenborn is not a scientist, he is a legitimate philosopher, with a pretty good grasp on balancing the relationship between science and religion. His remarks in the New York Times were not well understood, but that is because the Times piece could not incorporate their philosophical and religious background. In "Creation and Evolution: To the Debate as It Stands," the Cardinal attempts to put things into a better historical context.

In particular, he says,

It is not true that belief in God the Creator in any way hinders the progress of science! Quite the contrary! How could the belief that the universe has a maker stand in the way of science? Why should it be an impediment to science if it understands its research, its discoveries, its construction of theories, its understanding of connections and relationships as a "study of the book of creation"? Indeed, among natural scientists there are numerous witnesses who make no secret of their faith and openly profess it, but who also expressly see no conflict between faith and science. Again, quite the contrary. The fact that conflicts nonetheless have existed and continue to exist is an issue that would require separate treatment.

Scientists, and indeed all educated people, take the order of the natural world for granted. It was not always so. Primitive religions saw deities operating capriciously behind every natural phenomenon. The Gnostics believed that the world was the product of a malicious god who wished to enslave humanity. It was the Judeo-Christian tradition that liberated man to think of the world as designed by a good and loving creator, and in such a way that the design was discoverable by his creatures.

So where did things go wrong between Christianity and science? It was certainly not always the fault of scientists that they were treated with contempt and suspicion, nor vice versa. It was never Christianity, as such, that motivated attacks on science. It was always human vanity and ambition in combination with human ignorance. Galileo, for example, was protected by Pope Urban VIII and lauded by Cardinal Bellarmine during the controversey with the Inquisition over the Copernican theory. Nearly everyone at that time believed the ancient theory, held even by most Greek philosophers, that the earth was the center of the universe and the sun revolved around it. In a trivial sort of a way, the bible seemed to confirm that belief. As a consequence, the leaders of the Inquisition felt called upon to condemn the Copernican theory and those who propounded it. In that climate, Galileo rightly declared, "The Bible teaches how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." This is today the official position of the Catholic Church. In more detail, it is appropriate to cite paragraphs 283 and 284 of the CCC:

283. 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. With Solomon they can say: "It is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements . . . for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me."121

284. The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin: is the universe governed by chance, blind fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good Being called "God"? And if the world does come from God's wisdom and goodness, why is there evil? Where does it come from? Who is responsible for it? Is there any liberation from it?

It is always possible to pose questions about the proper role of science or religion, reason or faith, that are not answered in the above paragraphs. It will be very helpful to approach such questions with the recognition that faith and reason are both essential to human life.


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