On his blog and in a recent Catholic Herald piece (9.9.16) Bishop Robert Barron offers some excellent reflections upon a recent Pew survey looking at reasons why young people are leaving Christianity in droves. He well shows how Roman Catholic leaders and teachers are dangerously underestimating this crisis. But he seems to deny what for us is a key cause, the misinterpretation of science. He begins his survey of the survey this way:
‘Many evidently felt that modern science somehow undermines the claims of the faith. One respondent said: “rational thought makes religion go out the window,” and another complained of the “lack of any sort of scientific evidence of a creator.” Well, I’m sure it would come as an enormous surprise to St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, Blessed John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Joseph Ratzinger—all among the most brilliant people Western culture has produced—that religion and reason are somehow incompatible.’
Four of the names who he claims are likely to be very surprised by the 'science undermining religion' claim lived after the 17th century advent of modern science. At least three of them saw major challenges for the Church in the intellectual milieu, at least two explicitly focussing on the influential interpretations of science. They saw a serious needed to develop Christian philosophy (ultimately of science) in order to be able to do what Barron is asking for. Before quoting them on this it’s worth pointing out that Barron is clearly missing this for he goes on:
“And to focus more precisely on the issue of ‘scientific evidence,’ the sciences, ordered by their nature and method to an analysis of empirically verifiable objects and states of affairs within the universe, cannot even in principle address questions regarding God, who is not a being in the world, but rather the reason why the finite realm exists at all … …. There simply cannot be ‘scientific’ evidence or argument that tells one way or the other in regard to God.”
Blessed John Henry Newman noted with trepidation the beginnings of the revolution:
"The assailants of dogmatic truth have got the start of its adherents of whatever Creed; philosophy is completing what criticism has begun; and apprehensions are not unreasonably excited lest we should have a new world to conquer before we have weapons for the warfare." (Introduction to The Development of Christian Doctrine). His Grammar of Assent and Philosophical Notebooks show his attempt to seed the urgently needed philosophical development.
In The Abolition of Man C.S. Lewis put the reactions to the New Science of Bacon, Descartes and their respective successors in an appropriate context. He suggested that the pre-Enlightenment popularity of an “abstract” metaphysics was “an unhealthy neighbourhood and an inauspicious hour” for the advent of “the modern scientific movement”. He called for “a new Natural philosophy”, adding “I hardly know what I am asking for”, though “I also suggest that from science herself the cure might come.” (The Abolition of Man, Fount, pp. 47-48).
Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger) often spoke about this theme. Here he is to participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 10th February, 2006:
“scientific advances have sometimes been so rapid as to make it very difficult to discern whether they are compatible with the truths about man and the world that God has revealed. At times, certain assertions of scientific knowledge have even been opposed to these truths. This may … have made the proclamation and acceptance of the Gospel difficult.… Consequently, every study that aims to deepen the knowledge of the truths discovered by reason is vitally important …We must have no fears about facing this challenge: Jesus Christ is indeed the Lord of all creation and of all history. The believer knows well that "all things were created through him and for him ... and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:16,17).… This commitment is crucially important for the proclamation and transmission of the faith in the contemporary world. … a serious evangelizing effort cannot ignore the questions that arise also from today's scientific and philosophical discoveries ….”
We would give the last word to St. Augustine.
Concerning “the earth, the heavens ... the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones and so forth”, he stated that “it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics which he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. ” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, AD 394 – our emphasis).
The temptation today is stronger and more dangerous than ever.
January - February 2018 2018
Recent Blog Posts
- Blog: 08.01.18“Peace is the harmony of good order. Good order is the membering of man in ready acceptance and honest love.” (Edward Holloway, Catholicism: A New Synthesis, 1)As we begin 2018, the sense of tension in the international order is strong. There are fears of nuclear war given the problem...Read More
- Blog: 30.12.17Fr Chris Findlay-Wilson made the below defence of priestly celibacy in the Catholic Herald (15th Dec., letters):"a fresh witness of true love is desperately needed; that it is love – not sex – that fulfils us as human beings." This is a point often made by Fr Holloway, ...Read More
- Blog: 24.11.17Last Saturday was the 100th anniversary of Agnes Holloway giving birth to Edward.He was born just as Lenin’s revolution began. This was the beginning of changing the poor, Christian country of Russia into the powerful Marxist one. It was predicted by Our Lady of Fatima over the previous six...Read More
- Blog: 13.11.17The Harvey Weinstein affair has unleashed a can of worms. There has been a series of exposures concerning sexual offences or inappropriate sexual behaviour of MPs, celebrities and others. There is no doubt that sexual harassment, carried out mostly by men, deserves condemnation and certainly ther...Read More
- Blog: 08.08.17We are all aware of the horror of the terrorist attacks in recent years and of the senseless attack outside the mosque in Finsbury Park, London. It is inspiring how brave those who work in the emergency services are and how strong the community support has been in all these cases. As Christians, ...Read More
- Blog: 12.01.17