Catholics: don’t be afraid of reason and science – here’s why

Catholics: don’t be afraid of reason and science – here’s why

The perceived tension between science and religion is a misunderstanding of the relationship between faith and reason writes Dr Andrew Meeszaros

The alleged incompatibility between a scientific worldview and a religious one has been a major and consistent factor in the rise of the ‘nones’, or those with no religious affiliation. Because religion seems to contradict the methods and conclusions of science, increased education – especially immersion into STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) – seems to coincide with a decrease in religious commitment. At the heart of this perceived tension is a misunderstanding of the relationship between faith and reason.

The Catholic worldview embraces both faith and reason, for they can never contradict. They are, as St John Paull II taught, “like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” While the Catholic intellectual tradition has long defended the mutual vitality of faith and reason, a key and authoritative moment in the Church’s teaching on these two gifts came at the First Vatican Council in 1870, whose 150th anniversary was overshadowed by the pandemic.

While Vatican I is often remembered for its definition of papal infallibility, this council also promulgated the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dei Filius, a seminal, under-appreciated, and all too often ignored text. It was in this great document that the Church affirmed not only that God is the creator and sustainer of all that exists, but also that God can be known by us through reason as well as by revelation; that divine revelation offers us truths that surpass what reason can deliver to us; that faith is a supernatural gift of God whose exercise is reasonable; that reason, philosophy, and science have a rightful and noble place in the human’s search for truth; that there can be no discrepancy between faith and reason, and that they also mutually support each other.

Most intellectual ills within the Church and without, both in 1870 and today, can be traced either to subordinating faith to reason, or to relegating reason to the margins. Back then, they called these errors ‘rationalism’ and ‘fideism’. Today, we still find both, whether in the Catholic who reinterprets or waters down the faith in order for it to become more palatable or ‘reasonable,’ (i.e., rationalism) or the catechist who in his or her communication of the faith, shrinks away from using reason and all too quickly declares, “It’s just a matter of faith” (i.e., fideism).

To help Catholics appreciate and benefit from the teaching of Dei Filius, St Patrick’s College Maynooth will host an online symposium to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Vatican I. Spread over three different afternoon sessions on three consecutive days (22-24 April) the symposium will consist of invited scholars presenting and offering commentary on the key issues of the text. The goal of the symposium will be to offer all those interested (including students, scholars, religious, priests, lay pastoral workers, etc.) an opportunity to immerse themselves in an important, but much-neglected, text that explains the foundations of the Catholic faith.

Registration is free by clicking here.

Dr Andrew Meeszaros lectures in theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.