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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Is Science Opposed to Faith?

Robert Barron - Is Science Opposed to Faith?

Robert Barron - Is Science Opposed to Faith?
TOPICS: Science

Peace be with you. Friends, probably most of you know that I spend a lot of time trying to reach out to young people who have disaffiliated from the Church. So I've been studying this issue for a long time. And in study after study, survey after survey, very often the number one reason young people say they disaffiliate from religion is that religion is in conflict with science. And in that conflict, science wins. They have great reverence for science; religion's out of step with it; therefore, religion has to go. The warfare between religion and science is kind of assumed by a lot of young people who disaffiliate today.

And just think of the rhetoric that you'll pick up all over the culture. People just say "Galileo," and right away you think, "Oh, there's obscurantist, oppressive religion standing in the way of the advance of the sciences". Or, from the other side, they'll say, "Look, 90 percent of scientists claim to be nonbelievers," etc. Well, first of all, though this is a sermon for another day, may I say, this idea of the war between religion and science is relatively recent. That's more of a nineteenth-century phenomenon. For the first, oh, roughly three centuries of the natural sciences, most of the great figures, Descartes comes to mind, Galileo himself, Gregor Mendel, so many others, Newton, were all devoutly religious people.

So it's a relatively recent conceit that somehow religion and science are at odds, but it's certainly gotten into the minds of our young people. Well, can I suggest everybody that our story for this great Feast of the Epiphany, the story of the journey of the Magi, is a great place to look to get some light on this problem, which the Bible wouldn't have seen as a problem at all. So let's begin with these figures. They're called "magoi" in the Greek of Matthew's Gospel. What does that mean? Well, we don't know exactly. Astronomer, astrologer, wise man, etc. Usually, we just stay with "the Magi". Well, here's probably the best guess.

In the Chaldean culture of that time, there was a pretty advanced culture of stargazing, and it probably involved, by our standards, a combination of both astronomy and astrology. But wise people, using their analytical reason, would look up into the night sky, and they would measure and they'd calculate the movements of the planets, and the positions of the stars, etc. Again in a very scientific spirit, but also something else. They would have recognized in these beautiful intelligibilities a sign of the intelligence who put them into existence. They would have looked at the stars and planets, to be sure, and they would have delighted in understanding them more fully, but behind it, they would also have been discerning he will and purpose of the divine.

I think if you had said to these Magi, "There's a conflict between religion and science". They wouldn't have known what you were talking about. If they had said, "Hey, there's a tension between what you're doing, looking up at the night sky, and what people of faith are doing," I think they would have just looked at you with puzzlement. No, they saw both/and: looking analytically into the night sky also brought to mind the will and purposes of God. And so, this beautiful image, and we've got it from a thousand Christmas cards, but hold that in your mind, of these wise men, astronomers, call them if you want scientists, who on the basis of their scientific investigation are now journeying to find this newborn King of the Jews.

At the end of their journey, they present him with their gifts. They opened the coffers of their wisdom and riches before him. In other words, their science didn't lead them away from God and the things of God, but precisely toward God and the things of God. Well, see, we Christians understand why this is true, and I'm going to rely here on the great work of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict. Pope Benedict said it's very, very important that in the Gospel of John, Jesus is referred to as the "Logos". "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God". And through that Logos, "all things came to be".

I'm keeping it on purpose there in the original Greek, because I want to give this richer sense of what that word means. We say "Word," in a fair enough translation. But think of it as the logic, the mind, the pattern, the intelligent pattern that was present to God from the beginning, and again, given God's simplicity, was God from the beginning. God is this primal patterning intelligence, listen now, that lies behind all things. So nothing came to be, unless it was touched somehow by the Logos. The world is not dumbly there for Christians, just there in a sort of chaotic, random manner. No, no; it's been spoken into being. Logos can mean tongue too.

When Aristotle referred to the human being as the "zoon logikon," we say the rational animal, fair enough, but what he meant was the animal with a tongue, and that knows how to use that tongue for language, for speech. In the beginning was intelligent speech, and through that intelligent speech, all things came to be. Okay, now let's take another step. What do scientists look for? Now, I mean every scientist up and down the ages, from the ancient philosophers and researchers, up through the modern scientists. They're all looking in some way for Logos. They're looking for some patterned intelligibility in things.

See otherwise, science wouldn't get off the ground. If the world were simply a chaotic, random mess, science wouldn't work because there would be no objective intelligibility that corresponds to an inquiring intelligence. Just think for a second, the way we name the sciences: psycho-logy, logos, the logos about the "psyche," about the psyche. Physio-logy, the logos about the body. All the sciences have that suffix, practically all them, of logos because they have to do with objective intelligibility. Where's that come from? World's not just dumbly there; that's very clear. And so just by a wild cosmic accident, every nook and cranny of the physical world is marked by patterned intelligibility.

Does that strike you as a reasonable position? On the contrary. This very objective intelligibility, which is the ground for all science, leads one to acknowledge, it seems to me, the existence of this Logos, which has spoken all things into being. Now, now, go back to the Magi: good scientists looking up into the night sky, looking at the patterned intelligibilities in the stars and the planets. Where did it lead them? To a gross materialism? "That's all there is: just matter in motion". How many people today say that? It's silliness; it's nonsense. They were quite right in intuiting that these patterned intelligibilities lead them to the great intelligent Logos that has brought all things into being.

And so, beautifully, they go in search of this Word made flesh. What had they heard about in these ancient prophecies? That that Word, that Logos, the Creator God was becoming a King in the form of this little baby. Science led to faith; it was not repugnant to faith. I think of this, go back to my early years. Where did I first learn science? And then philosophy, which I came to love; it became the central study of my young adulthood, and I got my degree in philosophy. Where did I learn all that? At Catholic schools, at Catholic University in Washington, at the Institut Catholique in Paris. The Catholic faith at its best has never stood opposed to reason. No, no; it loves and embraces the sciences, loves and embraces philosophy, loves and embraces all expressions of rationality.

Where did I first study the great novelists and the poets, those who explore the objective intelligibilities within human experience, within the human mind? I learned all that in Catholic schools. Right. Very early on in the tradition, there was a fellow named Tertullian, Church Father, great figure in many ways. But Tertullian said something and he expressed an attitude that the Church found repugnant. Tertullian said, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem"? And what he meant was: What do the speculations of the philosophers of Athens have to do with the revelation given to the Jews?

Well, the Church repudiated that. The Church at its best, from the earliest days, think of Paul himself, all the way through Thomas Aquinas, and up to the present day, the Church at its best has said, "No, Athens and Jerusalem belong together". The questing mind of Athens should not be put to rest. No, no; on the contrary. Allow all of that rich intellectual energy to express itself as fully as possible, because, because, it's always seeking some form of Logos and therefore ultimately is seeking the source of that objective intelligibility. It's seeking the source of all of that patterned intelligibility in the great intelligence of God.

Now, that's the Catholic tradition: faith and reason. John Paul II, it's one of his last encyclicals, called "Fides et Ratio". That wonderful "et": and, and. See, the Magi believed in reason, to be sure, and faith; their reason brought them to faith. I'll close with this: these twin groups, you might say, around Christmas. The shepherds: well, shepherds were very ordinary people. In fact, shepherds were kind of seen as lowlifes. Their testimony wouldn't have been accepted in court; they weren't taken seriously. The angel appeared though to the shepherds. Good. The simplest people come to Christ, and maybe they're the first ones really to hear the message, that's true. But now think of the Magi. Now we're the other extreme from the shepherds.

Now we're not dealing with just the sort of common, ordinary people. We're dealing with the cultural elite; we're dealing with the philosophers and scientists in one of the most advanced cultures of that time. Christ has come to them too. And in fact, their very work leads them to Christ. You know, faith needs science to keep it from becoming superstitious. There's a danger of that. If you just block out reason, then faith can become superstitious. But the sciences need faith, so they don't become self-contained and self-referential. Faith and reason. And a great place to look to find this coming together is in the journey of the Magi. And God bless you.
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