Devoutly Religious and Critically Scientific…Can You be Both?

“If God exists…then prove it.” For any young Catholic growing in the faith, this was a common statement that would often come up in debates among atheists or other Catholics seeking the truth. For some, it seemed that the explanation for life’s questions could be narrowed down to a scientific formula or understood through extensive analytical research. Is it possible to be both devoutly religious and critically scientific?

Fr. John McCarthy SJ addressed this thought-provoking question with young adults on Wednesday, April 30th at Theology on Tap East held at Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill in Scarborough. Fr. McCarthy opened the discussion by stating that separation of faith and science is not only a widespread belief but is often viewed as conflicting rather than complimentary. He shared that various advocates of atheism strongly consider science as the only means necessary to comprehend the existence of human life and the natural world while they argue that religion serves only to “divide.”

If society were to take a step back in time, knowledge based on facts, observation and experimentation has opened the door to innovative breakthroughs in areas such as medicine or the environment. But is it the only key to discovery? “Science is a way to know the world,” stated Fr. McCarthy “but it has its limitations.”

“Science and religion speak two different languages. Science speaks of how the world works. Religion explains the meaning of life.” He elaborated that the former offers a way of ‘knowing’ through the senses and yet individuals can also ‘know’ through the emotional response to the people, places and things many encounter every day. People can learn about nature, for example, by studying, measuring and observing its physical attributes. At the same time, poetry or an exquisite painting can also help one to understand the beauty of nature that speaks on an emotional level.

Fr. McCarthy explained that this unique way of gaining knowledge can also be applied to human relationships. Just as Adam and Eve ‘knew’ one another through marital intimacy, a husband and wife can strengthen their emotional bond through expressions of love for one another that cannot be achieved by using methodology or inputting data in a machine. Father emphasized that this point was vital in recognizing the presence of God in our lives. “The way we understand human love is the way we understand God.”

God is pure love and it is only by opening one’s heart to His love that a soul can grasp the mystery of His existence. Yes, science is valuable in opening a road of exploration that has unearthed answers to some of the questions humanity has raised over time however the revelation of creation ultimately leads to the Creator. It is a culmination of faith, reason and the heart coming together that provides the basis for our belief in God. As St. Anselm once said, “For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe - that unless I believe I shall not understand.”

— by Larissa Zantua