This is about religion and science. Not in public schools, but in public, in the NYTimes. Some might not find it interesting.
I wrote a short, mild letter to the Times objecting to prejudice against religion and it was printed.
As if to prove that I was right, I got a scorching letter from a in Ph.D. in New York. Here’s the kindest sentence: “Your own faith [the Catholic Church] has a long history of overriding scientific findings when they do not conform to your theologically deduced preferences based on dubious axiomatic premises.”
It’s hard to answer people whose convictions go far outside fact, as this writer’s did in her convictions about the Church’s “long history.” As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, philosophically, “You have a right to your own opinions but not to your own facts.”
For my own peace of mind (I had to struggle with the letter), I mused about the long, long history of Christians and science.
Think of the invention by the medieval Church: the university. Bologna, Paris, Oxford, on and on. The universities’ language was Latin – which still shapes it: campus, classes, lectures, faculty, students, grades, sophomore, junior, senior, course, laboratory, dormitory, requirement, examination, text, convocation, graduation, commencement, diploma, alumni, administration, chancellor, dean, tuition – even donation. All these are Latin borrowings.
Science as we know it began in the Church. Leave aside Anselm and Thomas Aquinas. Start later: Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum announced the scientific method. Robert Boyle (of Boyle’s Law) spent his money putting Old and New Testament into Irish and promoting missionaries in India. Nicholas Copernicus was a canon lawyer, a cleric, and was supported by the church (even in his opinions). Rene Descartes was educated by Jesuits and did his early writing in Latin, which had been the language of systematic thought for a millennium by his time.
It goes on, this history of Christians launching science. The beginnings of genetics are attributed to the monk Gregor Mendel. And a Belgian monsignor, Georges Lemaitre, proved mathematically even to Einstein that time and space had a beginning (which Enlightened scientists did not want to believe).
And savvy Catholics already know about the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin. His work aimed to show how evolution included the emergence of mind on earth – and how thought organized and organizes matter. That was an issue that nagged at Darwin: if mind is merely produced in matter by a million chance changes in evolution, how can we trust the working of that mind? Darwin didn’t face the issue. When scientists at MIT and Harvard heard Msgr. Lemaitre explain “the cosmic egg” (it became the Big Bang), they did not want to believe it because they have no way at all to explain it.
As de Chardin knew, it’s better to start with gratitude, reverence, and simple awe. His mindset was formed by the Contempation for Love, as we know.
If you can believe that God is always creating, moment by moment, you can wonder what the problems are with the individual creation of the soul, with miracles, with a caring God. Praise Him that we know.
If you got this far, you’re a Hero of the Realm and have no more Purgatory – or at least, a lot less.