Science and Religion


by Apolonio Latar


Science has made progress during the last couple centuries. This troubled many people especially the religious. Some of what they have been taught might not be true because "science proves otherwise." One example is evolution. Christians and Jews have been taught that God created the world in six days and made man from dirt. Then evolution popped up onto the scene. It seems like it contradicts what they have been taught from the beginning.


Should a person reject evolution because it "contradicts" his faith? Should a person reject the Bible because science has "proven" it to be wrong? Is religion compatible with science? The answer of course, is that religion is compatible with science. One can accept and be faithful to both. Even atheist philosopher Michael Ruse agrees:


"I see no reason why one should not be a scientist in my sense and also believe in the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the belief that the water and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ during the Catholic mass." (Darwinism: Science or Philosophy, Chapter 2)


How can one accept evolution and still believe in God? The answer is that they answer different questions. Evolution tells us what happens and God tells us how and why it happened. God could have created man through evolution. One does not have to take an extreme literal interpretation of Genesis as St. Augustine suggested (On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis). Only when we confuse philosophy and science do we find a contradiction.


For example, when we look at something, we should ask four things:


(1) What is it or made to be?

(2) What is it made of?

(3) What is it made by?

(4) What is it made for or what is its purpose?


Let's say I see a house. How would we answer the questions above? We might answer as "The house is (1) a summer cottage, (2) made of wood, (3) by a carpenter, (4) to live in during the summer." (A Refutation of Moral Relativism by Peter Kreeft, pages 125-126).


These four things are called the four causes of Aristotle. The first is called the formal cause, the second the material cause, the third efficient cause, and fourth, the final cause. Science usually looks at the material cause and sometimes the efficient cause. A scientist can say, "Evolution happened." However, he cannot say, "It happened without an Intelligent Designer" without putting on a philosophical cap. Why is this? Again, because an Intelligent Designer would fall into a different question, a different science.


There are three different kinds of "sciences." The difference between them is the degree of abstraction that is involved. The mind might just focus on the physical by experimental observation. This science is called physics or natural science (this is what the modern mind knows as "science"). He can also move toward a higher degree of abstraction dealing with quantity and number which can be distinguished apart from the material things. This is called mathematics. The highest abstraction is when the mind deals with being or reality itself as being. This is called metaphysics.


What the modern mind needs to remember is this: all three sciences are different and one method of science cannot be the method of another. This has been the error of both the modern and the ancients. As Dr. Kreeft said, "the ancients used a philosophical method to do science and the moderns use a scientific method to do philosophy." One cannot say that since relativity is true in physics, morality and truth are relative. Physics is also mathematical. Does this mean we need a mathematical morality? If relativity is true in physics, does this mean that mathematics ought to be relative?


A new science does not necessitate a new religion or a new philosophy. To mix them is committing what the scholastics call the fallacy of uniform method of science. As Fulton Sheen said,


"Here we call it the 'Fallacy of the Uniform Method of Science' -- the fallacy of taking one science as the norm, and making it the measure, the guide, the interpreter, and the inspiration of every other science." (Philosophy of Religion, 185)


Physics should be treated as physics, mathematics as mathematics, and especially, metaphysics as metaphysics. One should not use a scientific or mathematical method to do metaphysics and vice versa. As Etienne Gilson said,


"Theology, logic, physics, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, are fully competent to solve their own problems by their own methods…no particular science is competent to either solve metaphysical problems, or to judge their metaphysical solutions." (The Unity of Philosophical Experience, page 249)


This should answer the question of should we should allow evolution and/or creationism in a science class. The answer is evolution should be taught as long as it does not imply philosophical naturalism/materialism and creationism should not be taught since it mentions God and the problem of God which is a metaphysical problem.


At the same time, we should not limit all knowledge to science. First, because it cannot be scientifically proven that everything should be scientifically proven or limited to science. It is self-contradictory. Second, because there are many things which are true but cannot be proven scientifically such as mathematics, love, aesthetics, morality, and the laws of logic.


To be faithful in science does not mean one ought to be an empiricist. A religious person ought not to look down upon science and a scientist ought not to look down upon a religion. Both persons need to look up and thank God for making a beautiful universe; so beautiful that it makes them wonder about that universe, especially their place and purpose in it.


JMJ, Apolonio Latar