Science and the Catholic Faith
Fr Dermott O'Gorman offers a meditation on the Epiphany
It is always interesting to hear the story of someone who has journeyed from atheism to Christianity. One of the most interesting recent such stories is that of Professor Francis Collins. He is one of the world’s most prominent scientists and was the leader of the Human Genome project.
A self-described ‘obnoxious atheist’ in his student days, his study of CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity, his experience of beauty, and finding an explanation for morality, all led him to the conclusion that God must exist and that He has communicated Himself in Jesus Christ. Collins said: “I saw in the very science that I so loved something that I missed, that the universe seemed to cry out for a creator… [it] had a beginning; it follows elegant mathematical laws. Those laws include a half dozen constants that, [if they were different], there would be no possibility of our planet existing.” Collins’ questioning then went on from, as he described, saying that God must be an amazing physicist, to “but does he care about me?” His study went further as he recognised or met a person who not only claimed to know the answer, but to be the answer — Jesus Christ. And so, one day, kneeling on a grassy verge whilst walking in the mountains it all made sense in his heart as he recognised, as St. Paul tells us, that “before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ.”
Our faith requires us to engage both our brains and our hearts, as St. John Paul II put it in his encyclical, Fides et Ratio (On Faith and Reason): “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to contemplation of the truth.” The caricature of our faith spouted by prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins — who erroneously claims that Catholics must see the Genesis creation account as literal — is frustrating. As Collins rightly said, the Book of Genesis was never meant to be a scientific textbook, and thus the God of the Bible is also the God of the Genome. Galileo, Descartes, Mendel, Newton, Darwin, Le Maitre are all alongside Collins — famous scientists who saw not conflict between God and science. And indeed, the great scientists who we celebrate on the feast of the Epiphany saw no conflict. Like Collins’ conversion story, it was their science or astronomy that led them to God, to Christ, to the truth who is referred to as the ‘Word’ in our Gospel which comes from the Greek word logos. They saw in the intelligibility of the stars a sign of intelligence which led them to its source. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI delved into the meaning of the word logos, which he says means the same as ‘mind.’ To say the world comes from the logos means that the world is intelligible. As he says: “even before we make sense of anything, meaning is there, God is there.” The discovery of law in the universe points to a lawgiver, to a supreme mind.
Elvis Presley said of truth: “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.” The Lord Jesus Christ, the humble babe in the crib, holds the truth to our existence. He is indeed the key to the meaning of the universe, not a cultic leader but a cosmic figure. As the St. John so beautifully puts it: “grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ through whom all things came to be.” But truth makes demands and we can deny it or be closed off to it. Wisdom is different from intelligence, just as the street sweeper can be wiser than the astronaut. Wisdom is knowledge of divine things (as St. Augustine said), and openness to such, as the book of Ecclesiasticus tells us she “glories in the presence of the Mighty one.” We should resolve to increase in the wisdom of the things of God, to be able to give account for the hope that is in us to our families, our children, our neighbour. Of course, there are lots of opportunities to do that on the internet and YouTube with websites such as Catholic Answers, Catholic Central, EWTN, Faith Movement, Bishop Robert Barron, and many more. As the wise men were led to the Lord by the star, may we be that star that leads others to the true light which enlightens all people, to the Lord.
Fr. Dermott O’Gorman is a priest of the Archdiocese of Southwark