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Science and faith before the court of reason

Author: Santiago Collado González. Deputy Director of group of research "Ciencia, razón y fe" (CRYF) of the University of Navarra.
Published in: Introduction to two topics in the volume: Temas de Actualidad Familiar, Movimiento Familiar Cristiano, Toledo 2010, pp. 77-80.
Date of publication: 24 August 2010

The birth of experimental science, which took place during the 16th and 17th centuries, was a real revolution in our way of thinking about nature. Although its successes justified its rapid spread, it was not accepted peacefully at all levels of society. The emergence of empirical science introduced a disturbing element into the already existing discussion on faith and reason.

Although at first the new scientific rationality was greeted with joy and hope because of the financial aid it could lend itself to the rational defence of faith, it was soon, however, used by some to try to show that faith was unnecessary to explain human reality and that of the world. From then on the discussion faith-reason was displaced by the discussion science-faith.

A very simplistic view of this discussion, which developed mainly in the 19th century, presents the two bodies in constant combat. It is true that there have been frictions from the very beginning. Paradoxical was the Galileo case, which, as Professor Artigas has very well shown in his trilogy on Galileo, served the Catholic Church to initiate a process of understanding and deepening the relationship between science and faith, as a particular case of the relationship between faith and reason: a dialogue on which the Church already had centuries of experience. There is no doubt that this case, which still arouses interest, had to do with the Church's measured position in what could be considered the second great confrontation between science and faith, this time involving Darwinism. In the Galileo case, mistakes were made for which John Paul II opened a Research Committee, analysed by Artigas in the book "Galileo and the Vatican", and for which John Paul II apologised when the commission concluded its work.

Darwinism's confrontation with religion has been of greater proportions. But in this case it has been from the Protestant sphere that science has been placed in the dock before the court of faith. The discussion opened in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century between Darwinism and creationism is the expression of this confrontation in which, initially, science was found guilty.

There is a way of understanding faith that stems from the scholastic crisis prior to the renaissance, nominalism, which isolates it from reason and constitutes it as a separate and irrational written request . This phenomenon has been lucidly noted by Benedict XVI, among other places, in his speech in Regensburg. When faith does not seek to understand, as the great medieval masters preached by their example ("fides quaerens intelectum" of St. Anselm), and is conceived as a kind of wall that reason has no right, nor can it cross, then it is easy for that faith, constituted as written request independent of rationality, to become fundamentalism. It is the court of reason that ends up discrediting fundamentalism, as has happened, for example, in the case of discussion Creationism-Evolutionism.

Wanting to understand faith, of course, does not imply having the pretension to exhaust revealed truth, but to open reason to a wider scope than that which naked experience places before the eyes of our understanding.

Fundamentalism is one of the pathologies born of a deficient articulation of science, reason and faith. When science sets itself up as supreme reason, as the judge of truth, then it is the pathology of scientism that befalls us. This is no less of a danger today than the previous one. The basic problem consists in reducing all rationality to what science can tell us about reality. To set science up as a total knowledge , as the whole truth, leads in the end to the installation of man in irrationality and to turning science itself into an enemy of man. History has shown this in the last century. It is then also definitively disconnected from the knowledge that comes from revealed religion and, consequently, science and faith are either enemies, or the enmity is resolved badly, in a very simple way, by saying that they have nothing to do with each other.

Authors such as Mariano Artigas show how reason in its broadest sense, the Philosophy, is a bridge between science and faith. None of the three instances can be reduced to the other two, nor can it develop independently of the others. Science can be the way to God and faith can be revealed. This has recently been witnessed by the likes of Antony Flew and Francis Collins. In both cases the starting point of their respective conversions from atheism or indifference has been precisely current biology. Science, at final, is an exercise of reason.

But reason, in particular Philosophy, deserves its name, it is reasonable, when it maintains its openness towards the true in a disinterested way, not because the true is useful, but because it is true. It must recognise what is true in other instances, in particular the written request of faith, it must respect the mystery proposed by faith when its propositions transcend the reach of reason without desisting in its attempt to understand them better and better. To give up in the purpose attempt to understand ever better the truth of the world, of man and of God would constitute the death of rationality. And its death would leave reason in the hands of the fashionable ideology or of the dominant power, or of a scientistic or fundamentalist thought. It would be the Withdrawal to what most properly belongs to us.