txt fe y ciencia

Faith and science: no more reasons for conflict

Author: Gabriel Zanotti
Published in: Faith and Freedom Vol.1, N.º 2 (July-December 2018) .
Publication date: 2018

summaryIn this article we review the alleged problems between faith and science (the alleged obscurantism of the Middle Ages, the Galileo case, evolutionism, the big bang and the existence of God, neuroscience and the spiritual, etc.) and conclude that they are all perfectly avoidable misunderstandings. The conclusion states that the problems that may remain are ethical, not theoretical.


One of the achievements of the Enlightenment as a cultural element 1 is to have convinced almost everyone that modern science and its renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries was an achievement "against" the supposed obscurity of Christianity at subject of scientific research. This is, moreover, shared by some Christians, Heideggerians, postmodernists and Frankfurtians in their apocalyptic denunciations of science and their nostalgia for a Middle Ages uncontaminated by an anthropocentric rationalism irredeemably linked to a scientific reason destructive of all humanity.

On the Enlightenment side, science was born with Greek atomism (Leucippus, Democritus, Aristarchus) along with Pythagoreanism, but was "interrupted" by the metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle. 2. These metaphysics, once united with Christianity, created an indifference, tending to hostility, towards the physical world, coupled with the belief that the Holy Scriptures contained revelations about the physical world. Only the rebirth of "the empirical" by the hand of Galileo - a rebirth extending to Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Plank, Hawking - made it possible to break out of the Ptolemaic paradigm, linked to the metaphysics of Aristotle, and thus open the way to new theories and discoveries, which the Church regarded with suspicion or had to accept reluctantly. Galileo was not the only case: with Darwin there was the same problem, and to this day biblical literalists refuse to accept it. Hawking, for that matter, would have proved that the existence of God is just another myth alongside his own theories of the infinite universe in time. And on the neuroscientific side, the existence of a spirit soul would have been disproved once again: it would have been sufficiently proven that so-called consciousness is nothing more than a neuronal epiphenomenon and that free will is nothing more than an illusion.

As we can see, the fundamental metaphysics surrounding Christianity are still thought to have been "disproved" by science. Creationism, by Darwin and Hawking; the existence of God, by the same; the existence of the soul and free will, by the same. We are nothing more than evolved primates, in a life that makes no sense, that has arisen by chance in an evolutionary process, on a small planet in one of the farthest parts of the galaxy. We can "believe" whatever we want to make sense of this emptiness, but science, the only rational and safe knowledge , tells us otherwise.

Science and the West

We, however, have read another Library Services. Authors such as Duhem, (Jaki, 1987), Jaki (1978), Koyré (1966, 1977, 1979, 1994), Kuhn (1971, 1985, 2000, 1996, 1988), Feyerabend (1992, 1991, 1989, 1995, 1982, 2011, 1981, 1981b), Koestler (1963), Artigas (1992, 1999, 2006), Sanguineti (1988, 1991, 1994) have proposed an alternative interpretation that is usually ignored.

Science and neopositivism

First of all, science - that evolution of authors from the atomists, through Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Darwin, Plank, Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, etc. - is not the only rational, let alone "safe", science. 3- is not the only one knowledge rational and even less "safe". But that claim does not come from philosophers who do not do science, but from philosophers of science. Popper has shown that the history of science is made up of metaphysical research programmes (1986) and that there are also metaphysical positions that he himself holds, such as free will, the irreducibility of human intelligence to the material (1974, 1980) and indeterminism (1974, 1986, 1882) that do not derive their validity from empirical testing. Moreover, he has demonstrated with the most elementary mathematical logic that hypotheses can never be absolutely demonstrated (1985a, 1985b, 1983), thus demolishing the sacrosanct "total certainty" of the so-called scientific demonstrations (which are nothing more than humble corroborations, i.e., not empirical negations, of hypotheses that always remain hypotheses). Moreover, Sanguineti (1991), Crespo (1997) and myself (2013, 2018) have shown, with texts and con-texts in hand, that St. Thomas Aquinas had already hinted at this hypothetico-deductive method that has no certainty.

In other words, it is not from philosophers such as Heidegger, Faber or Gilson that metaphysics and the non-certainty of experimental science have been vindicated against neopositivism, but by the hermeneutic and historical turn in the philosophy of science, initiated almost without realising it by Popper and followed with emphasis by Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend, authors whose basic training was in mathematics, physics and the history of experimental science.

Judeo-Christianity and the history of science

Contrary to what the official, positivist-oriented history of science believes, Judeo-Christianity has an essential influence on the history of science. Firstly, because it is, together with Greek philosophy and Roman Law, one of the three indispensable instructions of Western culture, as Marías (1954) and Ratzinger (2001) rightly state. But also because, as Jaki (1978) explains, the Judeo-Christian revelation marked the essential difference between God and the world. The created physical world is no longer confused with the divine nature, as in earlier mythical cultures, and thus the seed is planted for a free enquiry into the physical world without this free enquiry being at odds with the fundamental dogmas about God. This is why Ratzinger has argued that Judeo-Christianity was at one time a healthy "rationalism" in contrast to earlier or parallel mythical cultures that fused the divine, the political and the scientific into one (2001). That is why Judeo-Christianity was the essential cause of the development of science, which is not by chance developed in the West and not in other cultures. The latter always had technical advances, but always indiscernibly linked to their mythical elements, and therefore could not develop either science or classical liberal institutions that would allow freedom of thought (Zanotti, 2018).

Pre-Galileo science and Christianity

In this case we have to distinguish three streams:

First. There would have been a kind of "scholastic foundations of science". Pierre Duhem, according to Jaki (1987) would have shown, in his great work on the history of science, that medieval philosophy developed the idea of inertia and the scientific method, especially in John Philopon (4th century AD), Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste, both Franciscan friars (13th century), Nicolas d'Oresme (14th century), and that this influence would have been the one that reached Copernicus and Galileo. This current maintains that these "scholastic foundations" would have followed an empirical method more similar to the present one, a thesis that I would like to question.

Second. As I said before, we must place as a second current, in this aspect, those of us who affirm that St. Thomas Aquinas has a fundamental role. But not because of content that today we would call scientific, but because of the link that he establishes between creation and the physical world. I myself have insisted (2013 and 2018) that St Thomas, in affirming that God is the author of the nature of physical bodies, and that from this nature derives its own effects, systematises a typically Judeo-Christian element: God is the author of the natural order of physical nature. This order will be known conjecturally, yes, but the order is there and must be sought, because it has not been revealed. Moreover, this makes it possible to overcome, in the scientific topic , fideism (faith without reason) and rationalism (reason without faith). According to fideism, God is the direct author of the movements of the physical world; physical nature is like a puppet in the hands of God's will (voluntarism) and therefore nothing needs to be investigated: everything is as God wills it absolutely. According to faithless rationalism, everything depends on physical nature and any reference to God is unnecessary, illusory, meaningless, etc. As we see, St. Thomas overcomes both extremes. It is fine for the proximate cause of physical effects to be in physical nature itself, which we try to know hypothetically, and it is fine for science to get there and no further. But the ultimate cause of that nature is the divine mind. So, yes, things are as God wills, but relatively: once He has created such a nature, from that nature, and not directly from His will, the physical natural order follows.

Moreover, St. Thomas is the only thinker who, in relating divine providence to the physical world (1951, book IV, 72), affirmed, in the latter, truly random processes, leaving open the possibility of physical indeterminism as we understand it today (Artigas, 1999). This leaves open a dialogue between St. Thomas Aquinas and Popper in this respect (Corcó Juviñá, 1995).

Third. Last but not least, a third current has shown, satisfactorily in our opinion, that the Copernican revolution depended on an essentially Catholic conception called medieval Christian neo-pythagoreanism. According to Koyré(op. cit. ), Koestler (1963), Kuhn(op. cit. ) (not exactly believing authors or apologists for Christianity) and Feyerabend to a lesser extent(op. cit.) Copernicus and Galileo were essentially neo-Platonist thinkers, strongly convinced that the physical world was perfect, exact and mathematical, because it had been created as such by God. It was the mathematical disciples of the great theologian Nicholas of Cusa (Koestler, 1963) who taught Galileo mathematics and transmitted this conception to him. The Copernican revolution, therefore, was not empirical but metaphysical, and a Catholic metaphysics, in which Descartes, a Catholic author according to Leocata (1979), also collaborated. Not therefore correct in his metaphysics, but not for that reason incompatible with faith, as Gilson (1974) and Fabro (1974) affirm 4.

The Galileo case

Authors such as Sciacca (1954), Koestler (1963) and Artigas (2006) have shed new light on the official history of the Galileo case. His problem was essentially with the Aristotelian professors of physics, but not with the pontifical authorities. The latter, especially on the part of Mafeo Barberini (later Urban VIII), and the great Cardinal Bellarmine, were aware of Aristarchus' hypothesis (which placed the Sun at the centre), and had no problem with Copernicus and Galileo, as long as they affirmed it as a hypothesis (which is why Popper highlights this famous dispute so much). Galileo, on the other hand, considered it an absolute certainty. He tells them yes, but then in his great book of 1632 (1994) he affirms his system as a total certainty, and in his last page he ridicules the epistemological position of Urban VIII (who was not a Ptolemaic), who feels betrayed and orders Galileo the famous rectification. That is what happened. It was not a scientific topic . It was a politico-religious problem.

Why? Because Bellarmine and Barberini formed a group of cardinals who were like a scientific perestroika in the Church at the time. They knew the "pious" custom, never stated in councils, that the Scriptures had to be followed in physical order, unless proven otherwise. They disagreed with it, but they wanted the transformation of the hermeneutics of Scripture in that area to be calm and progressive. Why, in turn? Because they had the Luther case (Dessauer, 1965) on their recent report and did not want everything to go off track as with the famous Augustinian friar. That is why they kindly asked, in fact ordered, Galileo to "accompany" them in this position.

Galileo, moreover, in his Letter to the Duchess Christina (see Koestler, 1963), in 1610, stated, in a very bold and defiant manner for the time, his total opposition to the "pious custom" referred to, saying plainly and simply that the Bible is not a scientific book and that its statements about the physical world, except for the actual historical statements for the history of salvation, were symbolic (such as the famous seven days of creation). Although this at the time clashed, not with the ideas, but with the prudence, recommended by Barberini, it is, however, the current hermeneutical criterion of all Catholic theologians (Artigas and Shea, 2006), which is why none of them incurs in the anti-evolutionary biblical literalism of some Protestant sectors.

Evolutionism, the big bang and the supposed eternity of the universe

It is not only since Pius XII's Humani generis(1950) that Catholics can go to agreement with evolutionism as a hypothesis (Popper would be happy), but the work of Mariano Artigas (1992, 1999), based on the aforementioned indeterministic element of St. Thomas, has shown that the self-organisation of the subject, both in terms of the big bang and biological evolution, is a hypothesis fully compatible with a Judeo-Christian God as creator of the world. Artigas' quotation of St. Thomas Aquinas in this respect is still surprising:

Nature is nothing else than the plan of a certain art (namely, the divine art), impressed on things, by which they move towards a certain end: as if the craftsman who makes a ship could give the logs to move by themselves to form the structure of the ship ( Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, book II, ch. 8, lectio 14).

The same considerations apply to Hawking's (1996) argument, followed by Carl Sagan (1982) on why suppose that God is the cause of the universe. Why not take the bold step and say that we do not know what originated the universe or, if it was God, who or what originated Him... Otherwise, the universe could be infinite in time. The original big bang may have been preceded by a big crunch, and the present state of the universe may be leading up to another big crunch and so on and so forth.

Both objections imply that St. Thomas Aquinas has not been sufficiently studied. For Thomas (1951), God is not the first spark of a physical chain of causes. Creation for St. Thomas is a non-finite cause of all the temporal physical chains of the universe. That cause sustains in being permanently the physical causes and is outside of time. Therefore, in St. Thomas, God has nothing to do with an originary big bang (Sanguineti, 1994). And St. Thomas clearly says that, although by faith we know that the universe began, that is, that it is not infinite in time, by reason we could perfectly admit that possibility, since God as a non-finite cause could have willed that the natural physical temporal order, created by Him, be infinite in time. It is all in St. Thomas, it is a matter of reading it. 5. Man does not live by Hawking alone...

The real point of "conflict" is whether evolutionism claims that human consciousness (we will see this in the next point) is also material (neural) and is the "...last step in the evolution of cosmic dust..." (Sagan, 1982). (Sagan, 1982). Positive science can neither affirm nor deny anything with respect to the Judeo-Christian faith about God's special creation of the human being. We say "special" because God creates everything, including brains. But by reason we know that, given the proportion between cause and effect, the strictly neural cannot be the origin of the spiritual. Then, if by reason we know that the human being has powers that do not depend on the corporeal in being (St. Thomas, 1951) then the question remains open: where did they come from, which is nothing more and nothing less than the question Eccles asks Popper in their joint book (1982) towards the end of the book. Popper says "I don't know"; Eccles says "God". For, once we know by reason and faith that God is God the creator, it is entirely reasonable that his act of creating man must have been specific, to bring into being powers not Materials which could not have arisen from the material. Of course, in order to do so, He could have respected an evolutionary order created by Himself in the case of primates. This is why the Genesis account, with the symbol of mud and water, makes sense plenary session of the Executive Council . Reason and faith come together. There is no reason for conflict.

Neuroscience and human spirituality

Descartes wanted to defend the spirituality of the human being with his famous anthropological dualism. Man's consciousness is man himself, the res cogitans, which has nothing corporeal and is totally spiritual. The res extensa is the external physical world, totally material (although created by God), which has nothing spiritual about it. The human body is also res extensa. How consciousness and body are thus related is a question posed and tried to be solved by all later classical rationalism, which is metaphysical (Malebranche, Leibniz, Spinoza). In one way or another, these authors placed God as the mediator between consciousness (mind) and body (brain). When, because of 19th century positivism, God "is finished", that problem is over and the only thing left is the body (brain) of which all our functions such as intelligence, will, report, emotions, etc., are a neuronal epiphenomenon (Bunge, 1988).

Those neuroscientists who deny a human dimension beyond the brain have the upper hand culturally today. On the one hand, their experiments showing the correlation between brain damage and so-called spiritual functions - which Bunge accurately describes - are so far corroborated (which does not mean "proven with full certainty", but it is a corroboration so far without any even imaginary experimental refutation, subject ). For the rest, how can we prove the existence of a Cartesian-style consciousness? It is not possible today, in the present state of our science; they are right. Moreover, many of these scientists will not deny that someone can "believe" in the spiritual, but obviously without any rational basis. That faith on the one hand and reason on the other, incommunicable, Kantian-style, are of course not a good basis for a dialogue between faith and science.

But if we go back to St Thomas, and put him in dialogue with current science (Sanguineti, 2007), things are different. In St Thomas there is no non-corporeal consciousness on the one hand and body on the other. For him, the human body is human because it is organised unitarily by an organising principle of the body that Aristotle called psyche or substantial form. Therefore, being human is essentially human body. Now this is precisely what led Aristotle at the time to doubt the "immortality of the soul" as posited by Plato. But St Thomas overcomes the problem with the proportion between cause and effect. Since human intelligence and will have effects that do not depend on subject in their being (see St. Thomas, 1951) then intelligence and will, as powers, do not depend on subject in their being either, and hence neither does the substantial form from which they emerge. Therefore, the substantial human form organises a body, but, in St. Thomas' terminology, it is subsistent to the body once it is unmade. So consistent is St. Thomas with this that he affirms that the human substantial form, once separated from its body (hence any transmigration "of the soul" is rationally impossible) is incomplete substance and cannot exercise its intellectual functions until by divine action (theological datum) it is contemplating God or has recovered its body (theological datum of the resurrection of bodies).

Therefore, there is, yes, a consciousness, but it is nothing more than the intelligence seeing itself exercising its proper act. And that intelligence has the body as an efficient instrumental cause for exercising its own act, for, given the profound substantial union of soul-body in St Thomas (the "soul" is but the organising principle of the body) then sensibility was a necessary instrument for the intelligence, since the latter has to understand from the sensible image. Therefore, from St. Thomas it is perfectly true and coherent that our intelligence and free will are affected in their proper act if we have three bottles of whisky for breakfast.

Taken in terms of today's science, the entire central nervous system is a necessary instrument for the exercise of intellectual functions. That is why all the experiments of today's neuroscience, which show correlations, on the one hand, or pathologies, on the other hand, that diminish intellectual function due to neuronal damage, are perfectly compatible with the reason-faith synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas. What these experiments cannot deny is the conclusion (which today we would call philosophical) of St. Thomas: none of it denies that the substantial human form is subsistent to the body, leaving it to theology what happens to it in that case.

But as we can see, there is no incompatibility between science and faith in this area either.


In view of all that has been said, the conflicts between current science and faith should be part of history. They can only subsist, either from a fideism, or from a still very valid neo-positivism, which, however, was refuted by philosophers of science who are not exactly believers.

Today's problems, more than theoretical, are ethical, practical, especially bioethical debates and practical problems of neuroscience. But all this is not a problem between "science and faith", but are essentially ethical problems, which place before human beings their moral limits in the face of their technical possibilities. It is interesting to recall that Pythagoras' esotericism was due (Koestler, 1963) to his glimpse of the "enormous power" that was placed in the hands of man when his mathematics was combined with the advanced knowledge of the engineers of his time. Perhaps the exaggerated apocalyptic diagnoses of some postmodernists and Frankfurtians have some truth in this. But then it is useless to continue to criticise science itself. The problem is the human being and his original sin. And in the face of this fact of faith, perhaps everyone, philosophers and scientists, should make some acts of humility and recognise that they are faced with a problem that exceeds them. Not denying it would be the first act of humility.


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(1) Enlightenment, as a post-medieval cultural and philosophical element, has been very well distinguished from Catholic modernity (which is also post-medieval) by Francesco Leocata (1979). I have followed him in Zanotti, 1989 and 2018.

(2) Despite being an anti-positivist, Popper (1998) almost follows this official history of science. But he does so with his always touching optimism, highlighting the miraculous genius of the Greek atomists.

(3) On the authors of quantum physics, see Hawking, 2011.

(4) We do not say that both authors have explicitly said that Descartes is a heretic, but that with their respective theses, one on idealism in Descartes, another saying that Descartes is the origin of Hegel and current atheism, they have contributed to a Thomistic environment where Descartes is irredeemable for Christian philosophy and Catholicism. We have presented a totally different historical version of Descartes, inspired by Leocata (1979), in Zanotti (2018). This, without neglecting to highlight the essential contributions of Gilson and Faber in the field of the metaphysics of St. Thomas, contributions that we have always followed and continued.

(5) See specifically: Saint Thomas, (1951): II, 30, 64-67, III, 72, 74, 75, 76, 77, 94. Summa Theologiae (1963). Maritetti: Rome. I, 44-45-46. The latter, Q. 46, art 2, is famous for its specific clarification that creation is by reason compatible with the eternity in time of the created world.