Dr. Stacy Trasancos is the author of "Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science", published by Ave Maria Press. (Images: stacytrasancos.com)
many people do you know who
give you a technical description of photosynthesis and
of Catholic Dogma?
Dr. Stacy Trasancos (stacytrasancos.com) is
one such person, accomplished in both science and theology.
A native of Texas, Trasancos’s love of nature and insatiable
curiosity led her to eventually
a Ph.D. in chemistry from Penn State University and
then to work for
DuPont Chemical. Trasancos was led
to the Catholic Church
by what she calls an “empirical” method: observation of the order
of the world around her and of the effect that a budding faith had
her life. She eventually
her research position to become a stay-at-home mom, and her
burgeoning interest in the
Catholic Faith led
her to earn a Master’s
degree in systematic theology from Holy Apostles College &
Seminary. She now teaches science courses for Kolbe Academy Online
Homeschool Program, teaches
a course on “Science in the Light of Faith” at Holy Apostles, and
about science and faith for
various Catholic publications.
of her education and her personal journey to and into the Church, Dr.
Trasancos is in a unique position to address questions about
Such questions have been present in Western civilization
ever since Thales suggested thunderbolts may have an origin apart
from the hand of Zeus, but in our technologically advanced age the
second objection to the existence of God raised in St. Thomas
appears with increasing frequency: that the universe can be explained
without Godand many believers find themselves ill-equipped to deal
with such questions. Dr. Transancos’s new book Particles
of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science
Maria Press, 2016) is
intended to serve as a guide for Catholics who desire to engage these
issues. Writing as a scientist, a theologian, and a mother, she
brings all three perspectives together to “show how a Catholic
person works through these questions of faith and science.”
motivated you to write this book?
Stacy Trasancos: I
wanted to tell other Catholics that science only makes sense in the
light of faith. It seems like people are stuck in the defense-mode,
trying to refute atheists. If voices in pop culture claim the Church
is anti-science, Catholics react, get upset, and argue back. They
point to Catholic scientists or Catholic universities in history to
prove that the Church is not against science, which is true. But it
is time to get out in front and confidently take the lead. Our faith
can and should illuminate the entire discussion about what scientific
of your readers will come to scientific questions from a background
formed by faith, but you experienced the reverse: coming to questions
of faith from a background informed by science. What was that like?
pointed me to faith. Scientists are supposed to ask questions and
find answers. The biggest question of all in science is, “Where did
all of this order and beauty come from?” The answer is outside the
purview of science, but it is a truth a scientist’s heart longs to
behold. Trust me: every scientist either works with his or her back
to that great chasm of truth beyond science, or faces it. No one sees
the handiwork of God at the level of detail understood by a
biologist, chemist, or physicist.
of the role that being a wife and mother played in your conversion,
“I may have walked away from a career, but I found a vocation.”
What effect did that aspect of your life have on your embracing a
life of faith?
felt like I spent my life running to finish a race, only to get to
DuPont as a senior research chemist and realize I had missed what
is all about.
The first time I opened a Catechism,
I read the part about children being gifts. Around that time (a lot
of other stuff happened too) my husband asked me how I define
success. My answer was that the highly complex inorganic-organic
composite systems who called me “Mommy” needed more than a
chemist. So I left my job at DuPont with a sense of finality. I
started reading and studying theology to learn about my new faith
(while bearing, nursing, and rocking babies). Now I homeschool our
kids and work full-time from home teaching online and writing about
faith and science. Ironically, secular culture told me I had to pick
between motherhood and a career; the Catholic Church challenged me to
find out who I am. My life has never been so exciting as it is now.
religious people, you write, seem to have a hidden fear that science
may at some point disprove the existence of God. What would you tell
these people to assuage their fears?
expecting science to fix your doubt. Root out your heart and mind;
acknowledge your fears. Pray about them. Unless you have practiced
such prudence, you are not ready to understand science in the light
of faith. It is kind of like the woman who has deep down, unadmitted
doubts about her husband. Instead of addressing them honestly, she
analyzes his every act for affirmation to fill the void of
uncertainty. Even if much of the time she is convinced he loves her,
her peace is threatened. Science is a love affair with Creation, and
therefore a love affair with Christ. Love Christ with your whole
self. Then you might find that something like bond angles in a water
molecule will evoke tears of joy. Few people can imagine how
emotional a walk in the woods is for me.
and faith should not be enemies, you write, but partners. “In my
opinion, the dialogue is about more than reconciliation; it is about
elevation,” you say, quoting Pope St. John Paul II’s
faith and reason are the “two wings” which allow the soul to
ascend. Why are these two so often seen as opposed to one another?
I accepted the gift of faith and began to understand history,
philosophy, and theology, it was like riding in an airplane for the
first time as a kid. Remember how you spotted your house, and saw the
place you had always lived become a speck in a bigger world as the
plane rose? Granting assent to the truths of faith was thrilling. I
suddenly saw the science I so loved in a much greater landscape of
reality. It is breathtaking still to realize that science is the
study of the handiwork of God. Science and faith are perceived as
opposed to each other because people do not know enough about either
(or both) subject(s). You have to be able to appreciate the details
in science and, simultaneously, to see a total system of reality in
faith, everything interlocked to God.
cite a number of Catholic priests and religious who were influential
scientists, from the father of the Big Bang, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, to
Abbot Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics. What can the example of
these men teach us about the relationship between faith and science?
be thorough materialists! That’s what. Those great men accomplished
insights into the workings of nature because their passion drove them
to discovery. I hear a lot of people point out that the Father of the
Big Bang was a Catholic priestand that is goodbut I rarely hear
people acknowledge that Fr. Lemaitre tried very hard to avoid the
scientific conclusion that there was a beginning in time. He wanted
the science to demand its own conclusion, on its own merits and with
its own methods. He believed that the universe has a beginning in
as St. Thomas held, just as the early Church Fathers held, just as
the Old Testament people heldbut he simultaneously did not need
physics to prove a beginning in time for him. He knew physics is an
ongoing process, that theories are amended as new generations add new
data. That is the right approach. Nolite
Gregor Mendel? Well, suffice it to say that had he feared evolution
he would not have studied pea plants. Whatever happens in nature,
happens. Go figure it out. God made our home for us, and it is filled
with treasures at the atomic scale.
inductive and deductive proofs will not convince a person,” you
a person is willing to accept the conclusion.” Many people do not
realize that doubt is not in the intellect, but in the will. Do you
see a lot of sheer unwillingness on the part of those who accept
scientism to consider arguments for theism or Christianity? If so,
what can be done to open them to new horizons?
I know is that I closed my mind because I was ashamed of my sins and
afraid of what the truth might demand of me. I do not know why other
people reject faith, but the most powerful form of “empirical
evidence” (evidence I could experience) for me was seeing how
Catholics lived, specifically Catholics, the Sacraments, the prayer,
the moral grounding, the faith, hope, and love. Good arguments only
get so far. People need to “see” how we live a life of faith. I
remember wanting what the Catholics had, that confidence, vision,
that united past, present, and future. When I watched people live the
faith, I started to think that perhaps I would be okay if I tried it
too. I tend to think a smile and an encouraging word do far more to
evangelize an atheist than gallons of ink spilt in logical argument.
Trust me, a scientist is up to her eyeballs in logic. We thirst for
important is the work of Fr. Stanley Jaki to you and your approach to
this: I am 33. I love chemistry. But I have left a career to raise
children. I have become Catholic and open to life. Then boom, I give
birth to four baby girls in five years. Then I lose two babies in
miscarriage. Then I become pregnant again, and this baby survives. I
channel my grief and intellectual boredom into a theology degree
online, some sort of personal show of strength to prove I can go on,
to find answers about life and death. The very first book I am
assigned to read is Fr. Jaki’s Savior
I remember the night I finished it. I was sitting in bed nursing that
last newborn (his name is JJ). It was difficult reading because I was
ignorant of history and philosophy; Fr. Jaki is not easy to read even
if you possess an acumen in those areas. Still, I was determined.
When I grasped Fr. Jaki’s thesis that “science was born of
Christianity and stillborn in other cultures,” I sat there in bed
that night sobbing (probably heightened by hormonal imbalances).
Everything changed. Science?
You mean it is tied to Christianity like a mother is tied to her
child? No wonder I loved science. I was searching for Christ.
want to tell others about Fr. Jaki’s work now. He is known for
his meticulous scholarship, but his work was a labor of love and his
overall message is simple. I use the phrase “science in the light
of faith” because, to me, that sums up his message. It is a message
about Christian confidence in Creation.
implore your readers to learn about science, and in several places
you give brief but detailed accounts of physical processes and
concepts from photosynthesis to quantum theory. How would you respond
to readers who might say they don’t have the time or aptitude to
dig in to these topics? Why is it important?
this day and age, scientific literacy is necessary for
evangelization. We live in a moment in history when science is
advancing at a faster rate than ever before, faster than ethicists
can keep up. We have to get out ahead. We have to peer down the road
and predict what is coming so we are ready. For example, scientists
are way past questioning whether evolution happens or not; it does,
and they are searching for other factors that explain and cause
evolution. As a result, they are trying to guide human evolution
based on a false idea that there is no soul. When Christians seem
stuck at discrediting evolution because they fear it disproves
Creation, they are actually being anti-science.
I know adults do not like hearing that they need to learn about
science if they never liked something like chemistry or physics. But
would we accept the same excuse if an adult said he did not like
grammar? Or history? Or math? Maybe. God made us to learn. I did not
have a classical education, but as my children study, I enjoy
learning the things I should have learned in high school. It makes
life exciting. God gave us intellects so we can exercise them our
dinner party story at the beginning of Chapter 9 illustrates well how
sometimes people of religious and scientific backgrounds can be
inhabiting two different mental worlds. For the person of faith
trying to learn more about scientific theories, or the empiricist
trying to learn more about faith, the temptation could be to
compartmentalize: this speaks of one aspect of reality, this of
another, and never the two shall meet. How can we better bring those
is simple. Try to enjoy Creation together. Just as we pray before
meals, we thank God for the universe. An atheist does not. Imagine
the way we sit down to eat dinner together. There is a formality to
it, a respect for the fellow person. Show respect for the
nonbelievers in a similar manner, and if they do not show respect for
you, do not hang out with them until they find some decorum. If they
try to do you harm, do not let them. Neither, chase them down begging
for more abuse. Life is too short. Be a Christian longing for
salvation. Others will notice.
role of chance in certain scientific theoriesquantum indeterminacy
or random genetic mutationswould seem to be incompatible with an
ordered universe created and held in existence by a Creator. How
could these two ideas be reconciled?
reconcile those ideas all the time. Did you ever see a tree stump and
think it was not moving? It is moving a lot at the molecular level as
it decomposes. Yet we cannot predict exactly when it will completely
decompose. Do we conclude that the tree stump is not created by God?
Or take a rain shower. Even if you could draw out a square meter and
analyze how drops of rain fall on it for 20 years, you would never be
able to walk out in a rain shower and predict exactly where the next
raindrop will hit in that small space. The movements of the
individual raindrops are totally random to us, indeterminate. Do we
still believe water follows created laws of physics? Even down to the
atoms? Of course we do. As for evolution, we see a single step of
evolution every time we see a baby. We believe God creates children
even though we do not know all that goes on at the molecular level as
a person grows. So what? We do not know what happens at the molecular
level for every detail of evolution either.
indeterminacy is happening right now in our every breath and
heartbeat, in our entire environment. However quantum physicists
interpret the quantum realm and whatever biologists discover about
evolution, we simply never stop believing God holds everything in
existence. As Fr. Jaki often said, in a universe where every last
particle and force is governed by created laws of physics, there is
no absolute randomness or chance. It is just that we do not
understand it all.
then ask, “How can wave our hand in the air whenever we want?” It
is because we have free will, granted by God. Our power to move
matter is limited though. We cannot flap our arms and fly or ungrow
children, but we can change the course of a great many atoms with
every choice. Physical laws accommodate our free will. Free will does
not flow from physics; that is backwards. I explain more about what I
term the “System of Wills” in the book. It has helped me sort out
every faith and science question.
warn against people of faith trying to use “God of the gaps”
arguments from science to show evidence for God’s existence,
arguing that creation as a whole, in its order and its contingency,
is the better evidence“There is order and symmetry in the
universe, enough to inspire a person to kneel down and weep for joy”.
Is this the weak link in the argument of proponents of “intelligent
call it the blind spot rather than the weak link. I do not know why
Intelligent Design theorists focus on certain aspects of nature,
deemed by them as intelligently designed, to the exclusion of the
whole of nature. Goodness, the periodic table is intelligently
designed! It is the language of matter and energy. Before I
converted, I had not heard of Intelligent Design theory. Imagine my
consternation upon scaling the intellectual mountain of Catholicism,
only to arrive there and hear fellow Christians trying to convince
atheists to believe in God by picking and choosing what they think
God designed intelligently. I wish they would join me in trying to
show people how to see all
in the light of faith.