There is a widespread impression that science and faith don’t go together. Recent studies, in fact, have shown that this is the most common reason given by young people who abandon their faith.
The idea, however, flies in the face of history. It is not widely realized that virtually all of the great figures of the Scientific Revolution were men of deep faith, such as Kepler, Boyle, Pascal, and Newton — and, yes, Galileo himself, who did not see his own troubles with the Church as a reason to lose faith.
An even better-kept secret is that entire branches of science were founded by Catholic priests. While many know that the science of genetics was founded by the Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel, how many realize that the Big Bang theory of cosmology was the brainchild of theoretical physicist and priest Georges Lemaître? Or that the founder of geology was Bl. Nicolaus Steno, a convert from Lutheranism who eventually became a Catholic bishop? Or that one of the founders of astrophysics was the Jesuit priest Angelo Secchi?
For centuries, scientists did not see their discoveries as leading away from God, but as leading to Him. Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, prayed, “I thank you, Lord God our Creator, that you have allowed me to see the beauty in your work of Creation.”
This spirit is still alive. In the summer of 2016, an organization was founded called The Society of Catholic Scientists, whose motto is “knowledge with devotion, research with wonder” (“speculatio cum devotione, investigatio cum admiratione”). Already the Society has grown to over 1,000 members in six continents. Many are leaders in their fields. The Vice President of SCS is Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University, who is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Another member of SCS and recipient of its 2018 St. Albert Award is Juan Martín Maldacena of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, who is considered the foremost theoretical physicist of his generation. SCS Board member Karin Öberg is a rising star in astrophysics at Harvard University. (Like Jonathan Lunine, she is a recent convert to the Faith.)
To be a member of SCS one must have a doctorate in a natural science, mathematics or computer science, or be a student in these fields. The Society of Catholic scientists sees itself as an answer to the call of Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote that “members of the Church who are active scientists” can be of service to those who are attempting to “integrate the worlds of science and religion in their own intellectual and spiritual lives.”
On June 7-9, the Society is holding its third annual conference at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The theme of the conference is “What does it mean to be human?” It will feature a dozen talks on topics from Neanderthals to genetic engineering. Many today deny that there is any bright line between humans and lower animals, or humans and machines, or humans and their hominid forebears, or at the beginning of an individua human life. Some even hope to transcend the boundaries of the human through “transhumanism.” These are the kinds of issues that will be discussed at the Society’s upcoming conference.
At the conference, the Society will give its 2019 St. Albert Award to Prof. Maureen L. Condic, a neuroscientist and embryologist of the University of Utah, who is well-known for her courageous scientific and philosophical defense of the humanity of human embryos.
Aside from its conferences, the SCS has started the tradition of “Gold Masses” for scientists, and science educators and students. (In analogy with the annual “Red Masses” for those in the legal profession, which date back to the Middle Ages.) Almost twenty Gold Masses have been held in recent months, and the hope is that the idea will spread and lead to greater fellowship at the local level among Catholics in science. The Society is hoping, through its website, seminar-style courses for students, and other activities, to help dispel the poisonous myth of science-faith conflict that has led so many astray.
As its motto implies, both science and faith are born in wonder and in devotion to truth.
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