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Particles of Faith fills a gap in typical Catholic high school curriculums

Stacy A. Trasancos brings a mature and confident approach to a controversial area of study while presenting the proper integration of faith and science to high school students.

(Image: Greg Rakozy |

I can distinctly remember the day I realized that my belief in Scripture and my belief in science might be in conflict. I was eleven or twelve, and one day it occurred to me—with something of a shock—that I believed in both the Genesis account of Adam and Eve’s creation, and in the modern scientific account of the formation of the universe. Somehow I had held both accounts in my mind for years without wondering if they could be true at the same time.

Fortunately, this revelation did not cause a crisis of faith. But several more years would pass before I received any formal guidance on questions of faith and science. In college, I was blessed to have several professors who loved both the beauty of science and the tradition of the Church, and who helped me navigate these debates. Nevertheless, I wish I had had a course in high school that taught the position of the Church on topics such as the Big Bang theory, evolution, and the origin of the human soul, among other issues.

Particles of Faith is one author’s attempt to bring the proper integration of faith and science to high school students. Stacy A. Trasancos is a trained research chemist who converted to Catholicism as an adult. In her introduction, she explains how her first steps towards God actually came through science: her research on photosynthesis led her to wonder who could have designed plants to be more energy-efficient than any artificial solar panel. For Trasancos, science did not allow her to dismiss God from her understanding of reality. Quite the opposite: she came to realize that without a sound theology and philosophy, the pursuit of the physical sciences was an exercise in futility. After her conversion, Trasancos went on to pursue a master’s degree in theology. She wrote her thesis on the work of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, a physicist and theologian who insisted that Christianity and science are not at war, but are naturally complementary—because truth cannot contradict truth. Trasancos writes Particles of Faith in order to bring Fr. Jaki’s integrated vision to a new generation of students.

Trasancos divides her book into three main units. In the first unit, she addresses the false dichotomy of faith and science. Believers sometimes view the discoveries of modern science as a threat to Church teaching about the existence of God and the dignity of humanity. Likewise, non-believers often try to use science to “disprove” the truth of Christianity. But as Trasancos explains, this apparent conflict isn’t real. In truth, science and faith are different ways of knowing that illuminate different levels of reality.

Trasancos is careful to emphasize that Catholics always need to evaluate new scientific discoveries in the light of Church teaching. Certain fundamental dogmas cannot change, while other theological teachings have developed over time as we have learned more about our physical universe. Trasancos urges students to become familiar with the teachings of the Magisterium and to rely only on legitimate sources when studying Church doctrine.

With this anchor of faith firmly established, Trasancos then explains how students should navigate scientific questions. As a research scientist herself, she fully appreciates the painstaking work it takes to discover the physical universe. She encourages her readers to “respect the real scientists and scientific sources. …[I]f you have not conducted experiments, wrestled with the instrumentation, agonized over the data, discerned the analysis, and been ready to place your reputation behind the reporting of conclusions, it is hard to understand what it takes to add new knowledge to scientific disciplines.” It is refreshing to encounter an author who insists so strongly on respect for Church teaching and legitimate science alike.

In the first unit, Trasancos also describes the “system of wills”—the integration of God’s law, the physical laws of nature, and the free will of living creatures. Here, relying on the arguments of Thomas Aquinas, she addresses questions such as how rational beings can act freely in a world that is governed by strict physical laws, and how miracles can occur. Her argument is a wonderful integration of Thomistic philosophy with contemporary science. However, her writing may be difficult to follow for students who are not already familiar with classical Aristotelian terms such as “rationality,” “intellect,” and “mover.” Depending on the classroom in which this book is being used, this section might have to be supplemented by a more detailed explanation of the philosophy.

For the remainder of the book, Trasancos shows how the integrated approach to faith and science can be applied to particular questions about physical reality. In Unit Two, she focuses on inanimate matter—the origin of the universe, the structure of atoms, and quantum mechanics—while in Unit Three, she addresses biological questions—the theory of evolution, the existence an individual Adam and Eve, and the beginning of human life in the womb. Although the number of questions she considers is fairly limited, she manages to touch on all the major faith-and-science debates. Also, her method of argument provides a good example for students who may want to explore other scientific questions.

However, these two sections also showcase the weaknesses of the book. When writing about specific scientific disciplines, Trasancos sometimes goes into more detail than is necessary or helpful. For example, in her review of atomic structure, she gives an extensive list of the subatomic particles that scientists have discovered in recent decades. Although I was excited to read this section—particle physics intrigues me, though I’ve never studied it formally—I found myself lost as she sped through explanations of fermions, bosons, hadrons, and quarks. Although the text includes sidebars with definitions of the new terms, most of these definitions use scientific language that only a physicist would understand, so they do little to clarify the section. Trasancos does not expect students to memorize the details here—she only wants to showcase the wondrous complexity of creation—but her writing will likely confuse anyone who is not already familiar with subatomic physics. In a classroom setting, this part of the book would have to be supplemented with a thorough review of atomic structure, in order to appreciate the beauty that the author is trying to show.

On the other hand, Trasancos does a commendable job of approaching faith-and-science questions that do not yet have a firm answer. For instance, she takes up the ongoing debate of how the doctrine of Original Sin fits with our current scientific understanding of the origin of the human race. To summarize the debate: the Church’s traditional understanding of Original Sin seems to require the historical existence of an individual Adam and Eve who were the source of the entire human race. Yet the most advanced research on evolution and biological populations seems to indicate that there has never been a species that has arisen from only two individuals. Rather than dismissing either the Church teaching or the scientific evidence, Trasancos encourages students to remain committed to discerning the truth in both disciplines. She urges her readers to remain faithful to the Church, to continue gathering scientific data, and to keep looking for ways to harmonize faith and science, even if those ways are not immediately obvious. This mature, balanced response to an ongoing question is a refreshing alternative to both the theologically unsound arguments of secular science and the scientifically incoherent explanations of Christian creationists.

Particles of Faith fills a gap in the typical Catholic high school curriculum: a straightforward explanation of how science and faith are not at odds, but are in fact beautifully integrated. The author, a trained scientist and a devout Catholic, presents her arguments with a compelling personal conviction. The only weakness of the book is that some sections do not provide enough information on complex topics, while other chapters give more detail than is helpful. This book is best suited for students who already have a basic knowledge of atomic structure, chemistry, biology, and some familiarity with Thomistic philosophy and theology.

What I most appreciated about Stacy Trasancos’ book was her mature and confident approach to a controversial area of study. As one of my science professors in college told me once, Catholics need not be afraid of any scientific truth—because God made the whole universe, after all. I believe Trasancos would agree. Catholic students of science can be fearless in their research, knowing that it cannot contradict the ultimate truths of the faith. The physical universe can only give glory to God.

Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science (Student Edition)
by Stacy A. Trasancos
Ave Maria Press, 2019
Paperback, 256 pages

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About Mary Woods 1 Article
Mary Woods is a graduate of Wyoming Catholic College, an editor, and a science enthusiast. She lives in Indiana.


  1. We need more good books like this. Another good resource that I recently found is a website called It uses philosophy and science to make the case for God.

  2. We read: “To summarize the debate: the Church’s traditional understanding [and Humani Generis,!? 1950] of Original Sin seems to require the historical existence of an individual Adam and Eve who were the source of the entire human race. Yet the most advanced research on evolution and biological populations seems to indicate that there has never been a species that has arisen from only two individuals.”

    REALLY?—Here are some random scientific ingredients and a possible synthesis with theology suggesting a “species that has arisen from only two individuals.” I’m drawing from a pattern of citations in my earlier book entitled “Beyond Secularism and Jihad,” 2012. (The book digression keys off of the Islam’s denial of Original Sin and its ambivalence toward fatalism/autonomous science.) The below PROPOSAL suggests a narrowing of evolution toward a physical BOTTLENECK or PLATFORM compatible with just two proto-parents who then (or first?) are informed by/receive a non-physical “ONTOLOGICAL LEAP” into the unity (body and soul) of integral personhood.

    From a non-specialist, a sketchy thesis in seven points (my apologies for the unavoidable length):

    First, genome research suggests that “Homo sapiens “came into existence and REPLACED a more primitive ancestor, often called ‘archaic Homo sapiens’, which appeared perhaps half a million years ago as the descendant of Homo erectus” (Rensberger, Washington Post, May 26, 1995, summarizing Dorit, Gilbert and Hiroshi, in the journal Science, same date).

    Second, this replacement picture reinforces the genetic DNA-based [DNA: deoxyribonucleic acid: the complex key to heredity and physical life] finding nearly ten years earlier that “strengthened the claim that all humans alive today are descended from a SINGLE African woman” [!] who lived perhaps 140,000 years ago (Thomas Maugh II, Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1989, summarizing molecular biologist Allan Wilson).

    Third, consistent with this (scientific) picture would be the arrival of a WINNOWED genetic family of human beings, each member then capable of being uniquely touched from without by a new humanity as “persons” (see final two points, fifth and sixth).

    This uniquely new humanity of the person is different in kind as well as degree, as all other lineages possibly drop from sight. The short-lived alternative theory of polygenesis, multiple human origins (favored even by some avant-garde theologians in the mid twentieth century), is specifically REJECTED by a consensus of qualified scientists using a breadth of recent evidence. DNA and ethnic research points to racial categories as “a social, cultural and political concept based largely on superficial appearances,” and not fundamental genetic variations (Boyd, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Oct. 9, 1996, citing Yale biologist Jonathon Marks, University of California ethnicist Michael Omi, Stanford geneticist Luigi Cavalli-Sforza and Yale geneticist Kenneth Kidd, University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Solomon Katz, and University of Michigan anthropologist Loring Brace).

    Fourth, natural PRUNING of diverse species toward an abruptly narrow platform or bottleneck of anatomical hominids, would not be incompatible with a general scientific hypothesis of evolution and “mechanisms” of natural selection. Anthropologists hold that “at every other phase of evolutionary history there have always been multiple species at any one time,” both for humans and for other species (Todd Disotell, New York University Center for the Study of Human Origins, cited in Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2010). Again, do all survive?

    Fifth, the precise MOMENT of emergence as an integral human person (at the bottleneck?) is termed the “ontological leap (into) the uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom, and creativity” (International Theological Commission, Communion and Stewardship, c. 2004). The term “ontological leap,” or “MOMENT of transition to the spiritual” [is an added discontinuity with otherwise] “physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry” (John Paul II, “Message on Evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences,” October 23, 1996, n. 6).

    Sixth, of the scientific method itself, John Paul II writes further:

    “The moment of transition to the spiritual [within a biological family after all?] CANNOT be the object of this [scientific] kind of observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection, while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator’s plans” (n. 6).

    (And interestingly, research by archeologist Christopher Henshilwood, east of Cape Town, South Africa, may have uncovered one such very valuable and early sign, namely, “paint kits” dating back one hundred thousand years. This find “implies that people at the time [already] had complex cognition . . . [and that they could] . . . multitask and think in abstract terms . . . they probably understood basic chemistry,” reported by Brian Vastag, Washington Times, October 14, 2011).

  3. There is not, nor has there ever been a dichotomy between authentic science and faith. But there has been a removal of God as Creator from the argument, and His replacement with the deification of ‘the scientist’, accompanied by the deliberate perversion of science. Thus ‘deism’ has been replaced by ‘scientism’.
    In a recent interview with Rick deLano (the Philo-Sophia Initiative),physicist and philosopher Wolfgang Smith had this to say; (I hope they will excuse me for reproducing this!):
    …many of us now realize the that our civilization is reaching a dead end. We can’t go on like this; something is askew. We recognize the impasse we are reaching in a variety of domains, but the basis of it is unquestionably science, and unquestionably physics, since is the fundamental science. So, physics has thrust upon us a worldview that is officially based on physics, but really it is not. It is a philosophical worldview which pretends to be based on the actual discoveries of physics, but which it is not. The problem with this worldview is that it is absolutely erroneous; it is exceedingly harmful to society at large and every human being. It is a worldview that is a very destructive thing, a very dangerous thing, and in the worldview of those who are theologically minded, it is actually satanic. It is something that needs to be counteracted”

    Here in Australia we are in the grip of a crippling drought, coupled with rampant bushfires of enormous magnitude. Viewed with the eyes of faith and the wisdom that comes from faith, we can understand that this is in no small measure a result of an even more crippling drought, and that this is our spiritual drought. We can discover this truth set out before us in 2 Chronicles Ch.6. But heaven help those would would attempt to publicly proclaim this message.

  4. Some time ago I was amused to read a comment by a science writer in a scientific magazine generally hostile to religion. Apparently trying to de-bunk the implications of the “big bang” theory, he wrote that the event was more like a great flash of light. Unknown to that writer, the book of Genesis got there long before him. How ironic!
    Very often when such writers comment on science and religion, they deal with caricatures such as creationism and so on. Rarely do they deal with serious mainstream views, especially those held by Catholic thinkers. The book by Trasancos is written by a scientist who knows and lives out her religion and who has specialised in the monumental work and writings of the late Fr Stanley Jaki who must surely be recognised as one of the greatest pioneers in the history of the relations between science and religion.
    That alone is enough of a recommendation for me to read this book, in spite of the possible defects mentioned by the reviewer.

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