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Popular beliefs and unpopular evidence

Too often, the disparagement of religious believers as narrow-minded by media and cultural guides causes Catholics to think they must cede science, history, reason, and the arts to secular champions.

(Image: Martin Sattler/Unsplash.com)

I recently read a meditation by a 9th-10th-century saint. Doing so, it came to me how different this saint’s thoughts and perspectives were from today’s popular notion of the “dark ages” from the fall of Rome to The Enlightenment—about a millennium that most believe were exclusively defined by ignorance, brutality, superstition, and misery.

This saint wasn’t unique, as I’ve read many other letters, meditations, and reflections from every century during those “dark ages”, men and women expressing lucid, profound, hopeful thoughts, expressed in theological, rational, poetic, mystical, or fraternal language.

For Catholics, the deposit of faith is front and center, but the Church also has a rich tradition in the sciences, arts, philosophy, and all areas of intellectual inquiry. Too often, the disparagement of religious believers as narrow-minded by media and cultural guides causes Catholics to think they must cede science, history, reason, and the arts to secular champions.But this thinking has it exactly backwards.

That’s easy enough to say, but where’s the evidence?

Consider that today’s cultural guides commonly ascribe America’s social ills to the bigotry of privileged classes. While Catholics acknowledge that bigotry is real (and often sinful), they are willing to entertain other explanations for social ills that modern culture neglects or rejects: spiritual (including sin), cultural (dismissal of the importance of the family), and ideological (moral relativism) explanations. The popular culture’s narrowness also extends to the arts, where Catholic poetry, visual art, music, and literature is often broader in scope, depth, and richness than the secular culture, where “serious” art increasingly must conform to approved ideologies.

Since the beginning, and proceeding from its Founder’s and Father’s example and commands, the Church has proclaimed the equality before God of men and women, of every race, rich and poor, high and low, even as it recognized the recalcitrance of men.

So why, when modern genetics confirms that practically none of us are of a single race/ethnicity, is the secular culture so obsessed with racial identity?

Though we continue to be fixated on creating man-made utopias, the historical evidence tells a vastly different story. Whether theocracies, or states grounded in atheism, or cultures steeped in relativism, none has delivered what was promised, and most have descended to brutality. Catholics understand that man is incapable of establishing earthly utopias, even as Catholics strive to make societies as virtuous as humanly possible.

New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, by Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, is a demanding read, chiefly because of the deep-dive astrophysics. But Fr. Spitzer and others who contributed to this book are willing to look boldly at the Big Bang and at statistical improbabilities in this universe. I love space science, and the message I took away from Fr. Spitzer’s book is that never in history have we had so much scientific evidence suggesting a Creator.

In fact, the evidence is so compelling that many scientists have accepted that empirical physics—meaning physical phenomena we can actually measure—is not adequate to explain this universe. Thus, they have pursued what’s called mathematical physics; that is, explanations for the Big Bang and the statistical improbability of an anthropic universe (one that will allow the emergence of any life form) that are mathematically possible (or mathematically consistent) but cannot be measured today—the multiverse and other speculative pre-Big Bang physical “states” preceding this universe—nor are they likely to be able to be measured in the future.  

Closer to home, the climate change elephant in the room and the media drumbeat that our environment is deteriorating obscures the balanced scorecard (the preponderance of the evidence) proving America’s water, air, and habitats are cleaner than in well over 100 years: wastewater treated to higher standards than ever before, very few fatalities or serious illnesses from drinking water, increasingly robust wildlife in most habitats, no more coal soot from furnaces, cleaner cars, countless stormwater retention ponds to reduce impacts on lakes and rivers, far less smog in vulnerable cities like Los Angeles, far fewer large-storm sewage overflows, the vast majority of Superfund sites cleaned up, industrial wastes pretreated before being conveyed to sewage plants.

Why then, in a culture that professes to esteem science (“Science is real”), isn’t such a balanced scorecard widely recognized? Certainly, we can do better, but we should start with the evidence.

The Church not only possesses the deposit of faith but has also leavened cultures worldwide from top to bottom, from art to science to philosophy and beyond. That saint I recently read wasn’t unique, and if this world’s culture is to be redeemed it will be Christ and his Church that redeems it.


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About Thomas M. Doran 67 Articles
Thomas M. Doran is the author of the Tolkien-inspired Toward the Gleam (Ignatius Press, 2011), and its 2018 sequel, The Lucifer Ego. He has worked on hundreds of environmental projects for four decades. He’s a Fellow of The Engineering Society of Detroit and was an adjunct professor of civil/environmental engineering at Lawrence Technological University.

6 Comments

  1. All well and good, but even in the United States are we eating tomorrow’s seed corn in order to achieve today’s scorecard as presented here?

    Consider the astronomical numbers—the corrective price tag—for our upbeat situation. Like the Big Bang in physics, we accelerate our national debt of now some $27 Trillion and counting (nearly $100,000 per capita). To what extent are we simply converting one debacle into another, kicking the can of total-costing (the comprehensive “balanced scorecard”) down the road into future generations?

    When the bill comes due, the central place of “the family” in our technocratic/ consumptive “culture” might well evaporate along with whatever dollar wealth we are deluded into thinking we still have. (Already we have compulsory two-income families, or footloose and childless co-habiters, and compulsory redefinition of marriage and the family.) Credit card debts replace family savings accounts. Can a disenchanted and finite Nature ever satisfy our utilitarian and infinite bidding fed by plastic and paper money? Or, a collapse into currency devaluation and collective Socialism? Presidential elections hang on such deferred questions.

    The first rule of Natural Ecology and our distinctly different but very entwined Human Ecology: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Perhaps I oversimplify, but I’m just sayin’…

  2. Great article! I will re-post on Twitter and my Facebook page.
    I appreciate a reasoned article devoid of emotionalism. I like your defense of the Church as truth-seeking and supportive of all the sciences. So few give the Church any credit for rational thought. We are in the midst of an ideological warfare where religion is belittled and political ideology is praised as the highest thought.

    Thanks for bringing us back to earth.

  3. Evidence doesn’t matter to the Evil our country is awash in today.C’mon Man! It’s the seriousness of the charge that counts! Has been for the last 60 years. An example of this was most recently displayed in the 2020 election last year and the 4 years before it by the secular MSM.

  4. The only society that we are required to make virtuous is the society of the church itself. Our mission to the rest of the world is to get people out of it, and into the church.

  5. Why is the history of the birth and development of modern science not well known?
    The late Fr Stanley Jaki spent his life researching this. He examined the cultures of all ancient societies in Europe and America and showed how modern science was born in the middle ages. The glory that was Greece almost succeeded in the task but they failed.
    It was the priests and monks of the middle ages who, believing that the universe was governed by laws which the intellect of man could discover, began scientific experimentation and suggested theories which anticipated the laws of motion and gravity which underpin modern science. Modern research is increasingly recognising this.
    The Copernican Revolution which began modern science arose out of that earlier work. Copernicus was a Catholic priest. Galileo also depended on those beginnings.
    And the big bang theory of modern times – it was first proposed by a Catholic priest, Fr George Lemaitre, to Einstein who rejected it initially and then soon after saw the light. In the last year or two, the scientific community has officially recognised this.
    We Catholics should not be afraid of science. Its findings are nothing more than our discovery of the laws by which God created and upholds the universe. There cannot be a conflict between those discoveries and the religious truths which have been revealed to us, because they all come from the one Divine Author. But the history of the role of Catholic thinking in promoting the beginning and development of the science of today should be better known.

  6. The problem of modern science needs to be addressed by the Church. As your readers evidence, too many of us give a pass to modern science, simply accepting what scientists say without question. The result has been to allow modern science to become a kind of secular gnosticism. Medieval science is the origin of modern science certainly, but vast differences exist. Let me explain a little. Any science needs to express itself in language. A silent science would not be a human science. Medievals respected that fact, and consequently were trained in logic and language arts. Now I put to you two simple illustrations of how far modern science has departed from this view. First consider the widely held scientific “fact” that the universe is some thirteen billion years old. Moderns accept the statement without question. A medieval would ask what is the definition of a year. Ans: the time it takes for the year to make one revolution around the sun. The any logical thinker would (and so also the medieval scientist)say the statement about the universe’s age implies that the earth has revolved around the sun some thirteen billion times marking the beginning of the physical universe. Such a statement is an absurdity and would be met by the medieval scientist with ridicule. Much more might be said to illustrate the fundamental problem of language in modern science. For a second instance, try opening a book on Physics, and look for a definition of the science. If you can’t define what you’re talking about, then you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

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