Monday, May 11, 2009

The Challenge of Science

During the first week in March the Vatican hosted a five day conference of theologians, philosophers and scientists to acknowledge the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. (Did you know that Charles Darwin was a member of the Church of England, and that he considered becoming a priest before he got interested in science?) The conference general focus was to affirm that there can be no real conflict between religion and science. Ditto. No one has to choose between science and faith. How much science is there in the Bible? None. To look for science in the Bible is like looking for the recipe for melanzana alla parmigiana in a book on architecture. A book on architecture is not a cook book. The Bible is not a science book. It is a book of faith---a book that tells us about the faith experience of people through the ages and invites us to share their experience.

The early Fathers of the Church were saying this centuries ago, even the “all-time greats” like Augustine. Origen, the third century theologian, wrote that to take the story of creation in the Bible literally would be “absurd”. He questioned how there could be light and dark before the sun and the moon and the stars were created; how there could be plants without the sun; how could it be that God took a daily stroll in the Garden of Eden, or that God on one of his strolls could not find Adam and Eve, when they had hid themselves.

The challenge to religion from science and technology is not going to get any less challenging. It is going to get more challenging Our young people especially need to understand the complementary relationship between religion and science. Should evolution be taught in our schools? Of course, it should be taught. Evolution is the core component of human knowledge. Indeed, evolution is the key to understanding what being human means, and even what it means to be Christian. Should creationism be taught in schools? Not as part of science courses, but it could be included in a humanities course.

When we reflect on all this more deeply, the implications of evolution on our Christian faith is a lot more fundamental than the issue of how things came to be. Evolution requires us to be more open about the traditional teachings of the Church, starting with the very meaning of Redemption. Question? Are our clergy and spiritual leaders prepared to re-conceive and re-define and re-direct the teachings of the Church in view of the ongoing challenge from science and technology?

People of faith should celebrate the challenge of science and technology. We should celebrate what religion and science together contribute to our understanding of God’s creation, and particularly this earth, our island home. Those who fear this challenge, or fear the advancement of human knowledge, limit their faith to a God way too small. We believe that God reveals himself in Jesus the Christ, in Sacred Scripture and in the Breaking of the Bread. We should celebrate that God also reveals himself in his creation “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament reveals his handiwork.” (Psalm 19) We should celebrate religion and science together in a God-proclaimed cosmic enterprise. We should celebrate that the more we understand about God’s creation, its expanse, its power, its mysteries, the more we can come to know, or at least glimpse, the awesome glory of God from whom it all comes.

(Rev.) Russell G. Ruffino, S.T.L., Ph.D.

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