A False Dichotomy of Science and Faith
Catholic parents often find themselves at a loss when it comes to science education. Society’s clear message is that one can either be reasonable or religious, but certainly not both. Our culture sets us up with an impossible choice between fidelity and rationality. Some Christians attempt to patch the hole of this false dichotomy by diluting science with a hefty dose of Scripture, but the Catholic Church shows us another way. We can wonder at a world full of wonders.
Science, as I explain to my classes in the first week of school, is a methodical way of looking at the world. It is the process of seeking natural explanations for natural phenomena. As scientists, wonder is expressed as an inquiry and the scientist experiences a certain restlessness until that question is answer. The query “Why does the sun rise and set?” eventually led to discoveries about the rotation of the Earth, its orbit around the sun and its position in the universe. Questions, even those that seem absurd or obvious, can lead to remarkable revelation. Louis Pasteur, father of immunology (and a devout Catholic), observed, “To know how to wonder and question is the first step of the mind toward discovery.”
A Catholic Philosophy of Science
The Church recognizes and blesses the restlessness of a scientist just as She encourages all those who seek Truth. From the Catholic perspective, the truths of Faith and the truths of science can never conflict because they have as their source the same God and author of all Creation. Faith, rather than hindering the scientist, frees his pursuits and in a sense, makes them an act of worship. The Catholic scientist studies the natural world and finds in it all that is true, good, and beautiful.
Nurturing a Love for Science
What can we as Catholic parents and educators do to nurture a love for science?
- Encourage exploration of the natural world. A parent emailed me in the fall with pictures of her son putting the information he had learned in my biology class into practice during hunting season. The deer was a comprehensive lesson in anatomy and physiology! Our natural inclination is to say “no” to mess, but there is no substitute for hands-on learning in the sciences.
- Permit questions. The Church assures us that no conflict can exist between Faith and science because they have as their source the same God. My students, especially the high schoolers, have a knack for asking tough questions like “If evolutionary theory is true, how should we read the Genesis stories?” and “Could the world really have begun with a ‘big bang’?” Resist the urge to give elementary solutions and encourage your child to follow an educated line of scientific research and inquiry in search of answers.
- Give thanks, in private prayer and in front of your children, for the beauty of the created world. If we have the humility to “become like little children” everything from the dew on a blade of grass to a blazing sunset at the close of the day will inspire in us awe and a holy fear of the Lord. As Chesterton says, “The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.”