Wednesday, June 3, 2009

True Science

Natural science and the Catholic faith have two different ends, although they are not mutually exclusive. One is to understand the physical world, God's creation, and the other is to know God directly. St. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval doctor of the Church whose best works treat the relationship between science and faith, says in his Summa Theologica Iª q. 1 a. 5 s. c., in response to the question "Whether sacred doctrine is nobler than other sciences?", that "Other sciences [e.g., the natural sciences] are called the handmaidens of this one [i.e., theology, sacred doctrine]: 'Wisdom sent her maids to invite to the tower' (Prov. 9:3)."

Although sciences besides the study of sacred doctrine are subordinate to the Catholic faith, this in no way relegates them. Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius X were very pro-science; they saw how the errors of modernism not only threatened the Catholic faith but also threatened true science, too. They condemned these two propositions, respectively: Catholicism is compatible with modern civilization (Syllabus of Errors, 80.) and Catholicism is incompatible with true science (Lamentabili Sane, 65.); hence, modern civilization and true science are incompatible.

But why are modern civilization and true science incompatible? Firstly, modern civilization is opposed to the Church. The huge popularity of anti-Catholic entertainment attests to this:
Is there anything science can't do? Evidently not. Here is Brown at his wackiest (p. 658): "Science has come to save us from our sickness, hunger, and pain! Behold science-the new God of endless miracles, omnipotent and benevolent! Ignore the weapons and the chaos." It's even an elixir for personal problems: "Forget the fractured loneliness and endless peril. Science is here!"

The fact is that Catholicism promoted science & astronomy: Science would not have progressed as it has. "For the last fifty years," says professor Thomas E. Woods, Jr., "virtually all historians of science...have concluded that the Scientific Revolution was indebted to the Church." Sociologist Rodney Stark argues that the reason why science arose in Europe, and nowhere else, is because of Catholicism. "It is instructive that China, Islam, India, ancient Greece, and Rome all had a highly developed alchemy. But only in Europe did alchemy develop into chemistry. By the same token, many societies developed elaborate systems of astrology, but only in Europe did astrology lead to astronomy".

The Catholic role in pioneering astronomy is not questioned. J.L. Heilborn of the University of California at Berkeley writes that "The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial aid and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment than any other, and, probably, all other institutions." The Jesuits scientific achievements alone, reached every corner of the earth.

What was it about Catholicism that made it so science-friendly, and why did science take root in Europe and not some place else? Stark knows why: "Because Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being, and the universe as his personal creation. The natural world was thus understood to have a rational, lawful, stable structure, waiting (indeed, inviting) human comprehension."

Joseph Dias

Secondly, many believe modern science is more universal than the Church and try to arrive at a purer religion that everyone, regardless of their beliefs, can understand and accept. Pope Pius X condemns this as "broad and liberal Protestantism" (Lamentabili Sane, 65.).

Lastly, modern civilization asserts there is no absolute, objective truth and reality: relativism. Modernism and relativism are big issues impeding some from coming to the Catholic faith, as encyclicals like Pope St. Pius X's Pascendi Dominici Gregis and Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis show. The Berkeley philosopher John Searle proves very well, and solely in philosophical terms, the irrationality of relativism in his "Refutation of Relativism" paper. The argument basically runs thus: "You can't even state relativism without denying it." Resulting from relativism is the notion that all the world's religions can coexist, i.e., syncretism, which is atheistic. It assumes the gods of the various religions do not exist in reality because if they all did exist, and because there are contradictions between the gods of different religions, there would be a contradiction in reality. Consequently, there would not be one truth but chaos, contradicting half-truths, and irrationality. Reality, however, is sensible and rational; not only can the natural sciences attest to this, but so can the Catholic faith, too. Read, e.g., Pope Benedict XVI's Epiphany '09 homily and his philosophy of mathematics. If there is no absolute truth or one single God governing the universe, then all religions' gods are only figments of their individual adherents' imaginations. That gods are whatever one wants them to be is Luther's Protestant idea that everyone is his own authority or even his own god, i.e., sola fide or "faith only" in any god(s). This is why Pope Pius X condems "broad and liberal Protestantism" in Lamentabili Sane.

In summary, only with an increase of virtue and morals in today's civilization, resulting from a return to the Catholic Church, can true science progress.

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