What is this Science and Faith column all about? It has now passed its fifth anniversary, and we have welcomed new readers, so it is time for a review. 2009 was the Year of Darwin, and we thought we should focus on the meeting point between our faith and the wonderful achievements of science. The relationship between the theory of evolution and our belief in God’s creation was a fitting point to start.
In over 130 columns we have looked at a great number of topics – from pre-human ancestors to psychopathic world leaders, from temptation to righteous anger, from marriage to meditation, from mitochondria transfer to Liverpool Care, from justice to disgust — a broad waterfront. One recurrent theme has been the direct effect the brain has on our choices. Another has been our exploration of DNA, with its thriving, brother — epigenetics.
The interface between faith and science is where the column focuses. Take, as one example, the question of altruism. A scientist will explain just how altruism serves human societies and so can be regarded as an outcome of evolution. But we would want to say that love of neighbour is at the heart of our calling to which we respond through the grace of God. In another example, a scientist may tell us that our decisions are in fact determined by a myriad of antecedent causes: we reply that our freedom of will is a characteristic reflecting the image of God. Science and faith are not opposed, like the body and the soul, they complement.
In a recent television drama a pathologist was asked if she believed in the existence of souls. She said: “Yes. When I am working on a body I know that the person who inhabited that body is no longer there.” Her simple recognition that living human beings are both physical and spiritual reminds us that, although we may separate the two for our mundane explanations, the soul is the form of the body and principle of its living unity. When a person dies, that unity disintegrates. But, we believe, not forever. While the Catechism wisely avoids specifics, it firmly teaches the resurrection of the body within a redeemed universe. The glorified body of Christ, who eats fish with his apostles, is the pledge of our ultimate salvation.
But do we believe it? Do we in fact only think of ourselves as souls trapped, fortunately temporarily, in rather unsatisfactory bodies – looking forward to the day when our liberated spirits swoop up to the Almighty? If so, we approach heresy. We are not here to save our souls but to save ourselves, body and soul. We are not angels. Time does not pass between death and resurrection.
Paul tells us (in Romans) that we and all creation groan in travail together awaiting our resurrection. This expectation should spur us on as we inherit Adam’s vocation to care for the earth which will one day be transformed into our fitting home. When we first try to come to terms with this doctrine it may seem to us to approach fantasy. Getting our imagination around it is not hard; it is impossible. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who love him.” Words failed St Paul, and they fail us.
We all know that, as a result of the Fall, we struggle to bring the human body, with all its passions and infirmities, under the control of right reason. To do that we must try to understand it better in both its psychological and physical elements. Similarly, we need to understand material creation to which we must bring order. The work of science is not mere utility, it is an element of salvation, foreshadowing promised transformation.
When I first undertook the column I realised that I needed to be literate in theology, science and philosophy. But I am no polymath. My long term memory has migrated to jumbo hard disks, my shelves bulge with books and periodicals. And the biggest thief of my time is research. Often the essence of a column comes to me when, in those precious moments before I sleep, ideas from several, hitherto unrelated, disciplines, come together.
Nor must I forget http://www.secondsightblog.net , where the columns appear on line. Thankfully there are many comments, often exceeding three figures. I am frequently, and usefully, taken to task, or my ideas constructively extended. We even have one contributor who undertakes the function of disputing all things Catholic. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he is extremely well read – and keeps us on our toes. No surprise that his nom de blog is Advocatus Diaboli. It is only, said John Stuart Mill, when our propositions have survived every objection that can be raised against them, that we have good title to hold them.