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Science and religion in the internship


Published in

Supplement "La lectura" (El Mundo)

Antonio Pardo

Professor of Bioethics at the University and author of the book "Para pensar en la evolución" (EUNSA).

I have been asked at order to write here my experience, as a believing scientist, about the collisions between science and faith that I have had. Faced with this blank page, I wonder what to write about, since I personally have not found any. I can think of questions raised by third parties or observed over the years, which perhaps serve to exemplify the reasons for the clash that I observe in others. In all cases, they stem from confusions about scientific or religious issues. Or both.

Because of my work in matters of professional ethics, in some cases I have been consulted about the possibility of doing research with stem cells from human embryos. The topic has no difficulty whatsoever: anything that involves destroying human beings (in embryonic state in this case) is ethically incorrect. But behind this enquiry lie, in my opinion, two confusions.

One is to think that this answer is a question of Christian doctrine and not simply of ethics, attainable by anyone. One need only recall the articles of Oriana Fallaci (a non-believer) in this regard[1]. It is forgotten that the observable difference between a Christian and a good man is that the Christian goes to Mass, but that both are subject to the search for the good in their behavior.

And the second confusion derives from the scientific enthusiasm for a technique that has just come onto the market, which promises much, but which has not been demonstrated to actually yield the results that many expect from it. At present, this development future is a hypothesis, and the enthusiasm for it is just that, enthusiasm, not a scientific basis.

The other field in which I have found apparently incompatible approaches between science and faith has been in the teaching of questions of scientific method in the study of biological evolution[2], a phenomenon that really exists, without any discussion. Leaving aside the scientific blunders of the most widespread standard version of neo-Darwinism, in this field doubts appeared from students about the incompatibility of the scientific thesis (well, of what they supposed to be scientific thesis and that there was a lot of nuancing to be done) with the Bible text on origins.

These difficulties, as far as I know, arise especially in non-Catholic circles, which teach the priority of the pure letter of the text of Genesis, without interpretation. They forget that every text is interpreted; even the literalism they advocate is an interpretation. But, given the current lack of humanistic training , this oversimplified way of understanding Scripture has spread very widely in the Catholic sphere. And believing students, confronted with these doubts, ask about the question.

In providing them with an answer, I observe that the believing science teacher is not much better equipped to respond to this doubt than the students themselves. In fact, I see that they personally solve the problem in two ways: either they abandon religion for making claims that seem stupid to them; or they live in two disconnected worlds (the scientific and the Christian life staff), focusing only on a narrow scientific area without asking enriching global questions. The students receive from them as a response the statement that the Bible text is wrong in that respect, but rarely anything more substantial.

Here, the first thing would be to clarify that the Bible is not a scientific text: it does not pretend to be a scientific description of nature, but to provide a message of salvation, and that its essay fits in with the mentality of the time in which it was written. Can you imagine that Genesis began with "In the beginning was the Big Bang"? Which, by the way, we cannot be sure of, although many interpret this physical theory in this way. And in this line is the enormous field of the interpretation of the Sacred Scripture, of which there is a lot of experience in the Catholic sphere since ancient times.

In short, the only frictions I have observed derive either from a not very rigorous science (in some cases I would say something stronger) or from interpretations of religion that are notably debatable.