Science and faith

Here is an nice summary of the Catholic view of the relation between science and faith.  The author (Robert Royal) nicely frames the issue, and then suggests how Catholic philosophy is leading the synthetic charge.

Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

12 thoughts on “Science and faith”

  1. “[Perhaps] the clearest symptom of the incompatibility of religion and science is the repeated effort to prove otherwise. […] However, [Christian philosophers’] sophisticated writings serve as a smokescreen for the most egregious claims. For example, Peter van Inwagen defends his preference for Christian doctrines because he has an “incommunicable insight”. I confess to having had a few incommunicable insights: as a student, smoking illicit substances. And, of course, psychiatric wards are full of people who profess unshakeable incommunicable insights.” – Peter Slezak, November 19, 2008


  2. Oh, I guess I forgot that on this blog any attempt to consider the philosophy of religion is met with charges that religious people are either deluded, oppressive, on drugs, or insane.


  3. Only by people who continually admit to doing little more in life than taking said drugs and bashing the Great Oppressor known as religion, which only happens to be something no great civilization or culture has existed without, progressively scientific or otherwise.


  4. Haha, it seems that most attempts at ‘reconcilation’ are proffered by those adhering to (dare I say primitive?) traditional religions rather than by ‘scientists’. Perhaps because science (see Dawkins’ Strangeness of Science) can be both humbling and elevating, and with the reassurance of being true to boot. Although…
    .. our experience of reality is subjective.
    It is easy to think (and probably valid-why is this funny? you’ll see why shortly) that scientific knowledge ultimately reduces to trustworthy axioms, because of course we can verify them! And our neighbors can too, and we get the same answer!
    Well, yes and no. ‘yes’ is obvious, but I say ‘no’ because there is the problem of verifying the verifier. Attempting to assign some truth a probability only pretends to answer the question, for there is an assumed confidence in calculating or in knowing the probability. Is this a hopeless regression? Now this leads to questions that seem mundane or childish but what is really unbecoming is to leave them unanswered–We may think we get along fine in the world, but do we really know? Perhaps we can ignore the question–but that is a betrayal of intellect. Ultimately, we have to ask ‘what does betrayal’ mean? Or ‘intellect’? Or ‘or’? Or ‘?’? I seem to be ordering the words in a specific fashion, but what might that fashion correspond to–the spoken word? What makes these arbitrary expressions of the electromagnetic spectrum (sound) and an arbitrary arrangement of matter carry information? Can consciousness exist without language? Ooh, consciousness and language and information… What shall pop out of the rabbit hole next?


  5. I am not really sure what Reader’s post was meant to accomplish, though he did manage to lob a cheap shot at religion (something that is quickly becoming an unfortunate habit of many posters on this blog). If Reader meant to push us back to ‘original’ questions, that is a good thing to do sometimes. But too often such things are obstructionist for the sake of being obstructionist. It made me think of this passage from Plato’s Republic on the uses and abuses of argument:

    Socrates: There is a danger lest they should taste the dear delight too early; for youngsters, as you may have observed, when they first get the taste in their mouths, argue for amusement, and are always contradicting and refuting others in imitation of those who refute them; like puppy-dogs, they rejoice in pulling and tearing at all who come near them.

    Glaucon: Yes, he said, there is nothing which they like better.

    And when they have made many conquests and received defeats at the hands of many, they violently and speedily get into a way of not believing anything which they believed before, and hence, not only they, but philosophy and all that relates to it is apt to have a bad name with the rest of the world.

    Too true, he said.

    But when a man begins to get older, he will no longer be guilty of such insanity; he will imitate the dialectician who is seeking for truth, and not the eristic, who is contradicting for the sake of amusement; and the greater moderation of his character will increase instead of diminishing the honour of the pursuit.


  6. I don’t understand how “the repeated effort to prove [religion and science can mix]” is a symptom of their incompatibility.

    1) Does Slezak think that repeated attempts to link x and y implies that x and y don’t mix? It could just be (as seems to be the case here) that people disagree about whether x and y mix, and so the x-and-y-mixing advocates try to restate their opinions more and more persuasively. If this was the case, then maybe the repeated attempts of x-and-y-mixing detractors could also be symptomatic of their failure to realize that x and y can’t be separated.

    2) Does Slezak think that the truth of a proposition can somehow be discovered by the way we act around it, like we are somehow canaries in the coal mine? Perhaps people act certain ways around true or false propositions (for example, around false propositions, people feel an instinctual desire to prove those propositions). I don’t understand how the truth or falsity of any proposition could be determined by the actions of those who think about it, as if it were a symptom. It seems more reliable (or at least more traditional) to examine the proposition itself and do our best to shove any reactions to the proposition out of our minds.

    I realize that I might not understand the nuances (or even the gist) of Slezak’s argument, and that I should probably read the source before I criticize it like this. I apologize if his argument is better than this short passage seems to be.


  7. First, I think the article is right in its over-all conclusion, that one can still find theoretical space and personal need for God while at the same time being a Darwinian. Darwin himself was pretty nearly an atheist, but that had much more to do with the death of his 10 year old daughter than anything on the Galapagos. One could easily imagine him swinging the other way.

    But, second, I think it is undeniable that big religion is on the retreat, or at least in a period of reorienation. Long ago, it was practically the only available big picture; atheists hadn’t really any compelling or plausible big picture to give. Now they do (says I, anyway). And religion has had to reconfigure itself as the provider of what big science cannot provide — hope, meaning, purpose. But it really can no longer be in the business of competing with what Darwin offers — it’s just embarrassing.


  8. I think I agree with Huenemann, though a few remarks:

    a) Depending on what Huenemann means by ‘retreat’, I don’t think big religion is on the ‘retreat’. In fact, outside of Europe, Christianity (for instance) is growing and in some cases is seeing explosive growth.

    b) I do think religion is re-orienting itself to a world with more competing big pictures. (Though I am not yet convinced that naturalism is a viable big picture since I am not yet sure it can produce an ethics worth anything). It is for this reason that I see the fights about teleology and materialism to be so important – that is the landscape of the contemporary battleground of ideas. That said, those arguments are not the best arguments for the theist anyway. The best arguments appeal to meaning and hope.
    Pope Benedict puts it this way: ‘Next to the saints, the art which the church has produced is the only real apologia [defense] for her history. The church is to transform, improve, humanize the world, but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love? For together beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection.’

    c) Now, some religious people have inserted religion into scientific affairs (‘competed with science’), and this has almost always been a mistake (the exception is the demand that science remain within ethical bounds). More often than not, this leads to embarrassments (as Huenemann points out). Perhaps my perspective is skewed (I am Catholic), but I don’t see much of this silliness (young earth creationism, etc). For my part, I don’t see religion as needing to retreat, because I don’t think religion was ever intended to compete with science in the first place (I think Aquinas would be genuinely amazed by all of this hubbub). It is of no religious significance to me if God created the world 10,000 years ago or 15 billion. I am pretty agnostic on questions of evolution – I think there is something to it, but there are some sticky details, and I am not a scientist so I leave it to the experts. I wish the scientists would return the favor and leave the metaphysics to the philosophers, though.

    Anyway, I agree with Huenemann’s overall take – there remains theoretical space for religiousity while taking science as seriously as one can.

    And thanks, Huenemann, for rejoining us. Finally, a model atheist on the blog – charitable, open, evenly skeptical, and not angry and prone to stupid cheap shots.


  9. There is no reason why one cannot believe in science and religion. I agree with the statement.

    “The natural world is God’s discourse to man. To learn more about the natural world is to learn more about God himself.”

    Dinosaurs some atheists will state “are a damning fact against religion.” I think it really only shows their ignorance towards theology.

    I had the privilege a few years ago to visually document the BYU Earth Science Museum’s dinosaur collection. They have discovered several new dinosaurs, and have the largest collection of bones in North America. Most of it is in crates underneath their football stadium.

    We even made them a cool little interactive tour that allows users to click on the exhibits using hot spots and fun stuff like that.

    I got to play with the T-Rex teeth and raptor claws. I got to say all my stupid Jurassic Park quotes. Sadly, my co-worker had never seen the movie. I was even trusted to handle the oldest intact dinosaur egg ever found. The Paleontologist almost had a stroke while I held it though.

    This great experience pulled the wool off my eyes about the view that religion and science competed against one another.

    Science will sometimes fight with dogma, but it doesn’t fight with God.


  10. Sorry about that. I had no intention of putting a tack on your chair. My comment does probably need revision. This topic may also be over my head.

    Just to help me. I’m not sure I understand.

    God-Of-The-Gaps – This would be a God that people reference to be the cause of phenomena not yet explained by science. As science discovers the reasons behind the phenomena, they would also be diminishing God’s power.

    Trace God – Is a God who’s role is to provide moral guidance.


  11. Vince does a nice job of presenting Levinas in a nutshell. I don’t have much to add, but will try to explain it in a different way in hopes of further unpacking post-metaphysical theology vs metaphysical theology.

    I take it that Levinas and others have taken Nz’s critique of idols to be basically right – the god of metaphysics is dead. God is not a concept, God is not the cherry on the top of a metaphysical sundae (the god of the gaps that plugs the holes of our metaphysical and epistemological theories). Rather, the only way to make sense of God in our lives is through relationship. It is worth noting that this is precisely NOT how God is usually considered in philosophical terms. In fact, Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover is not the sort of thing that can relate to anything at all (God is ‘thought thinking itself’ for Aristotle, whose metaphysics is a theology).

    This is why you hear postmodern philosophers talking about God as ‘beyond being’ or ‘beyond essence’. Taking Kantian transcendental philosophy as their backdrop, the problem of incorporating God into our phenomenal experience is that it invariably reduces the ‘Other’ to the same (the noumenal to the phenomenal, the Other gets reduced to fit my own transcendental intuition and categories of understanding that shape what we call ‘experience’). In other words, God (the Other) never appears and indeed He cannot appear. But yet, there is a trace of something (or Someone) that always recedes from our view. That which recedes is given various names by pomo thinkers (Heidegger, Derrida, Levinas, Buber, Marion, etc) – mystery, face, Thou, Other, ‘gift’ or simply ‘the impossible’.

    Now – much to the dismay of atheists everywhere – just because the God of metaphysics is dead, that hardly puts God-talk to rest. Jean-Luc Marion writes (paraphrase), ‘To say God is beyond Being is not to say God does not exist … it is to say that saying God exists is the least interesting thing we can say about God.’ Heidegger remarked on his desire to write a theology ‘in which the word Being would not appear’. The movement is now phenomenological rather than metaphysical. Gone are the proofs for God’s existence, etc. Rather it is in our own phenomenological experience with otherness (what Levinas calls ‘the face’) that we encounter the trace of the divine. It is in our experience with persons, those non-thingy things that cannot be made absolutely present to us that we find the trace of God. After all, persons are in some sense inexhaustible. Unlike an ordinary object, they resist conceptualization, they resist being made ‘absolutely present’ in a ‘total seeing’. Whatever you might say about a person, however much you might say, there is always much more that is left unsaid. Persons – and God – require a ‘hermeneutics without end’ (Marion). In other words, they are not the objects of knowledge as ordinarily understood. Rather they are that which calls us into relationship and responsibility.

    I should say: I find myself in between these views (metaphysical and post-metaphysical thought). For instance, many who frequent this blog know that I am deeply committed to teleology. A sketch of my ‘middle way’: Calling God the Unmoved Mover does not get God wrong, but it does not get Him right either. To say that God is the Unmoved Mover is to say something true, but in saying that truth one simultaneously covers over other truths about God. Frankly, one covers over more important truths about God – the ethical import of the Divine that Levinas is so keen on highlighting. While it is good and interesting that God is Unmoved Mover, it is much more important that God is love and that my relationship with God is principally one of personal call (not metaphysical understanding). In short, I am trying to work out a ‘Heideggerized Thomism’.


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