Letters to the Editor
|FAITH Magazine November-December 2008|
CATHOLIC IGNORANCE OF SCIENCE
Dear Father Editor
John Farrell’s article (Has the Church Missed the Import of Science? July ‘08) makes some good points, but in the United States there is a much bigger issue and I do not believe there is much hope of fixing it. Look to the sources of Catholic educators. Generally speaking, new college graduates will make substantially higher salaries in industry than in K-12 education, be it public, private, or parochial. Thus, there is an economic driving force opposing American science education in general. Individuals holding a B.S. in a scientific field (biology, chemistry) might make a decent wage, so defined by the ability to support a family, if they can obtain a permanent job in a public high school. However, such individuals will take a substantial pay cut to doso.
The problem is compounded in Catholic educational systems, which pay substantially less than public schools. Insofar as most Catholic schools operate on a shoestring budget, they can’t afford to hire the best scientists fresh from a B. S. program. The situation is so dire that it is essentially impossible to support a family on the salaries offered by Catholic schools. A faithful married Catholic teacher will immediately be put to the test, since Catholic school salaries are insufficient for the support of children. Thus, Catholic educational administrators take who they can get: (a) graduates who are unable to get better - paying jobs in industry or at public high schools, or (b) spouses of individuals who are the primary breadwinners of their families.
To make matters even worse, those who have experience working in Catholic schools are often at a disadvantage when compared to other applicants for well - paying public school positions.
It often comes down to snobbery: some administrators believe that applicants coming from Catholic schools simply were not “good enough“ to get a job in a better paying public school to begin with. Thus, working in a Catholic school may even terminate the career aspirations of a college graduate who wants to teach.
Although there are certainly many excellent and devoted science educators in Catholic K-12 education, these factors inevitably lead to a situation whereby Catholic schools simply cannot attract the best scientific educators in the long term. Moreover, this directly impacts the formation of priests, who are almost exclusively products of Catholic educational systems. As discussed by Mr. Farrell, priests are educated in seminaries that have no scientific education component. Thus, virtually all priests and bishops have a scientific education that comes exclusively from their science-poor Catholic high schools. How can a science-ignorant laity produce a science-astute or even science-literate priesthood? Science has not been part of many of their experiences in school or in life, so theimportance of science may be lost on many of them.
By contrast, Catholics educated in public schools have the best chance of obtaining a good science education. After all, they have the best science teachers that educator – salaries can buy. However, the public school experience essentially guarantees that they will be secularised. A science-astute but faithless Catholic is unlikely to become a priest.
In summary, I don’t see much reason to hope. Most bishops and priests won’t seem to see the issues raised by Mr Farrell as important. Moreover, monetary restrictions would prevent them from addressing these issues even if they did care. As school taxes rise, those monetary restrictions will only get worse.
Professor of Chemical Engineering
Dear Father Editor
I am a seminarian in Australia and find your magazine very informative, especially regarding sacramental theology.
In this regard, I have some questions at which I was hoping your magazine might look. I have been reading two Orthodox theologians, Fr Schmemann and Archbishop Zizioulas. Is it possible for you to examine the sacramental theology of the former in his work “For the Life of the World” (especially in the two supplementary essays that are published with it regarding secularism and symbolism) and the theory of the person in the latter’s theology?
I am having difficulty in understanding what the Latin Church would say to these positions, if in fact they are in disagreement as is supposed by these authors.
Corpus Christi College
EDITORIAL COMMENT: We forwarded this query to Fr Paul McPartlan Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. who made this response:
“The two topics raised are rich and complex. I would refer Mr Santamaria to my book, The Eucharist Makes the Church (1993; new edition, 2006), for a discussion of Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ idea of personhood, and to my forthcoming article, ‘Who is the Church?’ in the next issue of the journal Ecclesiology 4(2008), pp.1-18, for some thoughts on Schmemann’s sacramental theology. In both cases, it is not necessarily the position of Catholic theology as such that these eminent Orthodox theologians would query, but rather certain scholastic approaches. As I indicate in both of these places, there is much to be gained from what Zizioulas and Schmemann, respectively, have to say.”
Dear Father Editor
John Farrell (July ‘08) does well to highlight the worrying ignorance of scientific culture within the Church. As he points out, since the Belgian Jesuit George Lemaitre pioneered the big bang theory in the early 1930s, “it’s almost as though, with the rise of more secular geniuses … the Church has become discouraged and dropped out of the race, as it were, content to sit on the sidelines and absorb what it can from purely superficial accounts. Given the Church’s crucial role in the foundation of the university system and the birth of natural philosophy in the high Middle Ages, this seems tragic.”
If “tragic” seems too strong a word, consider how many young, western-educated Catholics have drifted away from the faith, believing that “science has made religion irrelevant” and that the Church has no answer to their questions on life, the universe and everything. While the leadership of the Church continues to miss the boat it is hard to see the way forward.
Fr Holloway’s piece from 1950 and published in the same issue has indeed proved prescient in noting that “the case for Christianity is being lost by the default of the defendants”. We should expect the “decline of Christian belief” to continue apace until the new vision outlined in your editorial gains some academic and cultural, not to say ecclesiastical, clout. Is it too much to hope that one day a priest inspired by this vision will lead a diocese, or perhaps even become a cardinal? Think what that would do to inject new life into our moribund catechetical system.
I came to London as a young Catholic in the early 1980s – when belief in God was coming under attack not only from the secular establishment, which has always been philosophically materialist, but from the “fittest” members (in a Darwinian sense) of an increasingly materialistic and self-satisfied society. Surrounded by people who were indifferent or hostile to my beliefs, I found myself desperately searching for a presentation of the faith that was both orthodox and, in the best and truest sense, progressive – one that remained faithful to the Church’s Tradition but that recognised the need for our understanding of that Tradition to undergo a gradual and continuous development, in Newman’s sense of the word. By God’s providence, I found what I was looking for in the Faithmovement, through its talks, conferences, retreats and publications (including, of course, this magazine).
Today, some 25 years later, the Large Hadron Collider at Cern has just been switched on, prompting fears in some quarters that the collisions it produces could generate a mini black hole that could swallow the earth. In response, some wag wrote a letter, published in the Guardian newspaper of the day on which I write, saying: “what an honour it is to have a letter printed in the final edition of the Guardian.”
Well, let’s hope that the world lasts long enough for the new-look Faith magazine to inspire a new generation of Catholics (and non-Catholics) through a synthesis of faith and reason that points ever more clearly to the beauty and wisdom of God’s self-revelation. I have no doubt that results from Cern (assuming anyone’s left to interpret them) will, in due course, reinforce our understanding of that revelation.
Keep up the good work!
PROVISIONALITY OF SCIENCE
Dear Father Editor In the July/August edition of Faith magazine dealing largely with science and the lack of it in the Church’s approach I was struck by Fr Holloway’s paragraph on page six captioned ‘An Unscientific Church’ referring to the intolerance of young and virile minds of such a Church.
The findings of science are only provisional being based on observations which are subject to revision as we change our point of view. To base the faith on that would have dangerous consequences not least of which would be the downgrading of God’s revelation through His Son Jesus Christ.
The young minds you refer to have a well known syndrome going by the name: my world is the only real world.
Dear Father Editor
When looking in the Bible for evidence about how God created the world we tend to limit ourselves to the first chapters of Genesis and thereafter look for spiritual meanings only. We thus miss some very interesting zoological and geological hints elsewhere.
For example, in Ps. 90:13, Ps.73:13, Jer.51:34 and Mal.1:3 (Douay and KJV) “dragons” are mentioned as if part of the normal environment of the Israelites. In Ps.44:19 there is a “place of dragons”. Altogether there are 20 references to these creatures in the O.T. and there is nothing in their contexts to indicate that they are just mythical evil beasts. I suggest that they are dinosaurs and living only about 5,000 years ago! Where do we get the idea and shape of dragons anyway?
In Job 40:10-19 God confronts Job with what was presumably the most powerful animal on earth, the “Behemoth”, and this time supplies some details. “His strength is in his loins and his force in the navel of his belly”, “He setteth up his tail like a cedar”. Elephants and hippos have minuscule tails so what else could it be but one of those huge dinosaurs of which we have so many skeletons, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, for example, fits the description.
There follow details of the “Leviathan” whose “teeth are terrible round about” and “His scales like shields.” This is no whale surely but could only be some sort of giant marine dinosaur. Remember those legendary sea monsters? Today the Mediterranean has no such monsters. Was Jonah swallowed by a dinosaur?
One brief geological reference: in Ps. 113 we read (at the time of the Exodus) “The mountains skipped like rams and the hills like lambs of the flock”. What’s going on here exactly? Something which is much more than an earthquake and a bit over the top for poetic licence.
All this confirms me in the belief that the creation and development of the earth was not all that long ago and took place not by gradual evolution over billions of years but rapidly by a succession of catastrophic upheavals. Learned comment on this would be much appreciated
Dear Father Editor
I note from the July issue of Faith that you are still proposing the need for ‘A New Synthesis’.
In my opinion the cornerstone of such a synthesis should be to think of The Fall and Original Sin as a catastrophe which occurred in a realm transcendent to space and time. Genesis is then a myth story of a transcendental event, embracing all space-time with all matter and energy, and spirit, and not of an historical event due to the sin of our first parents within space-time on planet Earth, by Adam and Eve in Eden.
Creation, matter and spirit, is therefore always in its true reality transcendental, from all eternity, and is due to one great original divine transcendental thought and act. One might say there is a transcendental Unity Law of Control and Direction, a ‘World-Soul’, which is fully alive and free to choose to accept or to reject the divine will for being.
All of this was already presented by the Great Russian mystic and theologian, V. Soloviev, before the end of the 19th century.
Professor John Rooney
The above three letters on science and religion illustrate some of the challenges and misunderstandings that can easily arise with this important topic. First, it is not our proposal in any sense to “base the faith” on science. The doctrines of Catholic Faith do not change, but we can and must show how what is revealed integrates and illuminates what we discover of the world through observation and reason. Theologians in every age have done this, not just our own – St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas most notably – drawing on the scientific-philosophical insights of their own time. We must now do it in our time.
Although we will always be refining our understanding of the universe, this does not make science arbitrary and wholly untrustworthy. The basic insights into the atomic nature of matter and the genetic foundation of life, for example, are established beyond reasonable doubt and form the basis of almost all our modern technology and medicine. To deny or dismiss such insights in the way we present Catholicism to the modern world undermines the credibility of the Church and the message she preaches. However we must be clear about what we do and don’t mean by a synthesis of science and religion.
On the one hand we do not think that Scripture can be turned into a naïve palaeontology that is incompatible with the evidence of observation and common sense – man could not exist in the traumatic upheavals of primitive geological formation on earth, nor indeed could he co-exist environmentally with dinosaurs. On the other hand we cannot accept a synthesis that contradicts fundamental Catholic doctrine. To say that “creation” is eternally transcendent and consists in a “World Soul” is actually pantheism, making good and evil part of the very Being of Godhead which is in process of becoming fully itself through the historic odyssey of Self alienation and return. This is indeed the thinking of Victor Soloviev, and ultimately Karl Rahner, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and others.
What we advocate in this magazine does not alter or accommodate the faith to scientific theory, but if anything the very opposite. We are showing how genuine scientific insight relates most coherently to Christian revelation. Far from downgrading the revelation of the Father in His Eternal Son made flesh, we can show that Christ is the crowning Wisdom who makes sense of every lesser wisdom and of all orders of creation, including the material order which is also made for his glory.