debate - science and faith

Question Religion


Recently, a number of demonstrators against genetically altered foods were carrying signs that said, “Question Science”-not a particular scientific theory or experiment, not the role of science in public policy, not the ethics of certain scientific experiments, but science itself, question the authority of scientific reasoning itself. (This is a variant of the “Question Authority” signs seen in other demonstrations.)
The modern era sought human liberation through science as the purest form of human knowledge, the key to authentic progress. We all know the results of that effort: destruction of the environment, unimaginable violence against entire populations, and enslavement of millions of people by ideologies claiming to be “scientific.” From this point of view, it is a good thing to question science. But is this why these signs are imploring us to question science? And according to what principles is science to be questioned? Science appeals to reason, so its questioning would be a questioning of scientific reasoning itself. And that’s the problem. What can question reason? Can reason question reason? And if it is not reason that questions, what is it? Politics? Morality? Religion? Presumably-one would hope, anyway-politics and morality are reasonable, or else they would be entirely determined by Power. They can’t question reason because they would have to be greater than reason itself. But what about religion or faith?
A “religious” or “faith-based” questioning of science is nothing new, and instances of it are still around today, such as in the debates on the teaching of evolution. Religion, however, cannot escape the test of reason. Indeed, the object of the religious experience lies beyond the powers of reasoning, but is experienced precisely as the origin of all that exists, including our ability to reason. The religious experience can be used to understand the scope and limits of reason, but not to reject its concrete conclusions and theories. That is for other scientists to do in the arena of peer-criticism.
On the other hand, faith is a response to a revelation and not to the religious quest: faith, like the incarnation, is an objective event that is not the fruit of our search, but of God’s freedom and love. Through God’s intervention, I may stand before the human face of the Mystery, and the result is faith, which does not belong to the order of knowing and doing, but of standing and understanding, as Cardinal Ratzinger insists in Introduction to Christianity. It belongs to the order of interpersonal encounters. The Biblical notion of the truth of faith is fidelity, fidelity to an interpersonal relationship based on an encounter. The “knowledge component” of faith is entirely dependent on this encounter.
For us, it is the encounter with Christ that allows us to understand reality. Faith is “standing” before the miracle of this encounter. And it is always a miracle. It is pure grace. All authentic love is grace. Faith is not the result of reason, but it too is reasonable because the encounter with Christ fulfills all the fundamental desires of our heart when they are not distorted or limited.
However, given the disorientation in our heart’s desires (the mystery of “original sin”) and the consequent element of destructive hostility to our destiny within us, religion and faith can become derailed and lead to despair or to devastation and violence. It can also lead to idolatry or to inhuman ideologies (which are but applied idolatry). For this reason, religion and faith, as well as science, must be questioned.
Still, the questioning of religion and faith in the last century was itself a derailment of reason. It was, in fact, pursued with an unreasonable religious prejudice, which served the “religion of man who makes himself God,” as Pope Paul VI called it at the last session of the Second Vatican Council. And as he said, what we offer, instead, is the proclamation of the event of Christ and the “religion of God who makes himself man,” which leads to a passion for the human-including human scientific reasoning-in those who encounter Him. In science, in religion, in politics. in all aspects of human life, Christ is the measure of an authentic humanism. He is all in all. Our mission in all of these areas of human activity is to be faithful to the mystery of Christ.