Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 17, 2008
Our ability to pursue science is one of God's gifts – Henry
Bishop Fred Henry
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
If one were to ask a scientist "Why is that water boiling?" he or she would answer in terms of molecules and temperatures.
But Calgary Bishop Fred Henry has a second explanation: "The water is boiling because I want to have a cup of tea."
This is a valid description of reality, yet it is ignored or avoided by the scientific account because, as the bishop puts it, "Science merely tries to answer the question 'how does it behave?' It's incapable of answering questions about the nature or purpose of reality."
One reason why some people think there is a battle between religion and science is that "we tend to be intimidated by natural science," Henry said at the Catholic Conference 2008 March 8.
"After all, it is science that has given us computers, modern medicine, space travel. Adventures like Star Wars can seem to present the face of the future world, while religion looks like the face of a vanishing age."
Moreover, "science seems to work better than religion." As Carl Sagan writes, "We can pray over the cholera victim, or we can give her 500 milligrams of tetracycline every 12 hours."
"Our first reaction to the achievements of science should be one of great respect for what has been accomplished, and also one of tribute to God who created the human mind, making it capable of scientific pursuit," the bishop said.
"That being said, we need to be clear that the scientific 'model' or 'picture' of the world is not a picture of the way things are. It is rather a picture of the way things can be made to work for us."
Henry said Catholics who have followed developments both in Church teaching and in science over the past 100 years were not surprised when in 1996 Pope John Paul II recognized that the theory of evolution was more than just a hypothesis.
Both faith and science are concerned with knowing the truth. A scientific truth cannot contradict a truth of faith, he said.
"It is more accurate to say that careful and responsible statements of faith do not contradict careful and responsible statements of science."
Difficulties arise when people in either field fail to be careful and responsible. On the side of faith, problems can arise when people insist on the literal truth of all parts of the Bible, he said.
From the side of science, problems come about when scientists insist on the adequacy of scientific method to answer all our human questions. That view "tends to dismiss the supernatural and religion, among other areas of life," Henry said.
Some Christians, including some Catholics, adopt a literal reading of the opening chapters of Genesis in which the creation of the world is described as having taken place in six days.
"The problem here is a failure to appreciate the kind of literature that is in the first 11 chapters of Genesis," Henry said. The stories found there are similar in form to stories of the world's origin found in many ancient cultures. The purpose of those stories in Genesis is to teach religious truths, not science.
The Genesis stories say God created everything, he said. "To suggest . . . that we must either accept creation by God or evolution is incorrect; the two positions are compatible."
Moreover, some people of faith believe it is wrong to accept the view that God used (and uses) a process of evolution to accomplish his plan.
"Yet if we think about it, we will see that the fact God could create natural forces that would carry out such a noble work as evolution is really a tribute to God's power," Henry said.