Sunday September 22, 2019
10:44 pm
Bishop Hying

Faith versus science? Compelling questions find answers in the vast mystery of God

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on October 29, 2017

 

      I am currently reading Dan Brown’s new novel, “Origin,” one of his typical page-turner thrillers involving epic mysteries, historical places, nefarious villains and encrypted messages, an entertaining read if you simply take it all as fiction.

      In this new book, a brilliant futurologist who is also an atheist is about to make a dramatic global announcement which he says will trigger the destruction of all religious belief. He is dramatically murdered moments before revealing his secret, and so the novel turns on the race to discover what his huge revelation might be. As I write this, I have not yet finished the book, so we will see where it all ends up.

      I mention this book because the main character raises two fundamental questions which are at the core of our existence, “Where did we come from?” and “Where are we going?” Tellingly, both religion and science seek to answer these mysteries in profoundly different ways. 

      Mainstream science posits that the world and the cosmos are evolving forces of matter and energy; human beings are simply a highly-evolved species on this particular planet. Western religions assert that, however the process of creation has unfolded, God, as the loving and almighty creator, brought everything into being and that the human person is the crown jewel of his handiwork.

      Over the last 20 years, we have witnessed a marked rise in people who embrace atheism and science as the explanation of human origins and destiny, those who see religion as a dark, medieval superstition, evil and violent. The numbers of young people who identify with no religion at all, known as the “nones” or the none-affiliated, have also dramatically increased. 

      Clearly, the narrative of the Bible, the story of Jesus Christ and Christian belief hold less meaning and purpose for a widening number of people around the world, but especially in the West. These trends should trouble us and inspire us to reflect on how we best engage people who profess no religious belief or affiliation.

      I have always enjoyed speaking to atheists or agnostics because, at least, they have taken the question of God seriously enough to have pondered it and come to some conclusions. When I ask them to explain or describe the God they don’t believe in, they often offer a vision of a deity who is cruel, controlling, vindictive and distant. 

      When I say that I, too, would be an atheist if that was my definition of God, we are off to a great conversation. People are often rejecting a distorted caricature of God, Jesus, the Catholic Church and religion in general. If we seek to engage such folks, we need to do our homework and really grasp the essentials of our faith.

      Science can explain the “what” of everything that exists, but it can’t really explain the “why.” As humans, we want to get at the “why.” Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are we here?  Why is there suffering and death?

      Christianity believes that God created the universe, the world and us from nothing, motivated by sheer love to share his life and grace with everything that is. We are here, as children of God, to learn on earth what we hope to do perfectly in heaven: love God and one another with our entire being. 

      Jesus shows us how to do that and gives us the grace to give, serve and love as he does, even unto death. In the mystery of his Passion and cross, God does not take away our suffering, pain and mortality, but rather, he wraps himself in them, transforming the darkness of our pain into a saving meaning that promises mercy, peace and eternal life.

      In the end, every person is faced with a radical existential decision. 

      Do I believe that God created all that exists, that I am made in his image and likeness, that I have an eternal destiny, that my life has a fundamental purpose and ultimately Love is at the heart of the universe?  Or, do I believe that my life is just a collision of inherently meaningless persons, events and experiences, that God does not exist, that it is up to me to create any meaning or purpose in my life and that when I am dead, that’s the end? 

      Obviously, variations of both themes attract adherents, but ultimately religious faith or the rejection of it is a reality that each of us must embrace in some way.

      For us, as Catholics, no contradiction exists between faith and science. Despite the history of the Church’s treatments of Galileo and Copernicus, Catholicism today supports science and applauds its findings. The Pontifical Academy of Science, founded by Pope Pius XI in 1936, aims to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences; the Vatican Observatory conducts astronomical research and educational programs related to our knowledge of space and the universe. 

      If science appears to contradict faith, it simply means we must examine particular questions from both the scientific and religious points of view to reach a deeper and fuller understanding.

      Where did we come from?  Where are we going?  For us, as believers, these compelling questions find answers in the vast mystery of God.  God created us, holds us in being as beloved children and calls us to eternal life with him. 

      Faith, in the end, is both a decision and a leap, but Catholicism insists that such a leap is inherently reasonable, as we study the order, beauty, enormity and complexity of this world and this universe. We can come to intuit, perceive and believe in an intelligent, loving, almighty God by studying the fascinating world around us. 

      As the saying goes, for those who believe, ultimately no explanation is necessary; for those who do not, no explanation is possible.

 

       + Donald J. Hying

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