Questions of Faith
One common argument presented against religious people is that faith is completely incompatible with science and the empirical method.
The sentence might go something like this: “I only believe in what we can see, analyse and prove, whereas religion says we should believe ideas based solely on faith. They’re completely contradictory.”
Discussions like these are all too frequent, and although may be phrased in different and more complicated ways, portray the view that religion is anti-science, and that the scientific method alone should be the driving force of all inquiry.
The belief that only science can teach about the external world became known as ‘positivism’ and was very popular in the middle of the 20th Century. This position recognised true only that which could be scientifically verified or that which was capable of logical or mathematical proof. However, most philosophers came to reject this outlook, namely because the position couldn’t be proved empirically, and so was self-contradictory.
The almost ubiquitous rejection of positivism showed that there are discoveries to be made in life about the universe and ourselves that precluded the scientific method.
The philosopher Stephen J Gould, for example, proposed a popular theory about science and religion, referring to them as non-overlapping magisteria. He suggested that science explores facts whereas religion explores values. So, while science might be able to tell us about how gravity works, religion explains concepts like morality and beauty. It’s not that each field are enemies of one another, but that they simply don’t overlap.
In opposition to Gould’s hypothesis, the Church teaches that science and religion go hand in hand with one another – they are friends and should be integrated. This is because science cannot explain fully the true picture of our world, and this struggle can be illuminated by a philosophical and theological perspective.
So, when scientists say the world ‘popped into being’ out of nothing, a different perspective allows us to explore the concept of nothing and whether that scientific claim is coherent.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it best: “Though Faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between Faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses Faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.
“Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.
“The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”
Condensed to one sentence, Catholics believe that God has made the external world accessible to us in all of its complexity, and through reason complimented with faith we can learn more about it and ourselves.