It seems rather old-fashioned to begin a new professional society for members of just one faith community. However, there is now a new one for scientists who are also members of the Catholic Church: The Society of Catholic Scientists. We had our first gathering last weekend in Chicago, and it was a wonderful experience. I already look forward to our meeting next year.
What made this meeting in Chicago so much fun was the coming together of so many highly educated people who were also committed to their faith. Almost all of them were scientists experienced in university teaching and leading research programs. There are three requirements for full membership: a PhD in one of the major scientific disciplines of the natural sciences, research leadership experience, and being a practicing Roman Catholic.
Just so that it does not become sectarian, not all speakers were Catholics. It never makes sense to disconnect from other people of good will. But it is important to support one another and build community among like-minded people. It really helped me to see that there are so many who combined a deeply held Catholic Christian faith with a commitment to excellence in scientific investigation, and who clearly felt that the relationship between the two is mutually supportive.
One forgets all to quickly how important it is to think about one’s faith and make sense of it. Faith is not just traditions and rituals, but an attitude toward life and an affirmation of life and a commitment about where to find meaning in life. Traditions and rituals are important, but it is not about them. It is about understanding life. And science has much to say about understanding life.
Superstition is not faith, and critical questions must be asked to know the difference. Scientists are great at asking critical questions, and this is a challenge for defenders of tradition. But it is a good challenge, as it leads to a deeper understanding. The perception that science and religion are in some kind of conflict comes from thinking that faith cannot withstand skeptical inquiry. However, anything ends up being better understood when subjected to skeptical inquiry. The search for truth knows no end for us in this life. Otherwise, why bother studying theology?
Theologians make such discussions more interesting, but they presuppose the faith that others might want to question, and theologians have their own and highly specialized way of doing things. Theologians are not really good at engaging the skeptical inquirers who has yet to find their way to faith. But when we want to take our faith into the world and make disciples of all nations, we need to engage those who do not share our faith. And those who take up this task must support each other.
While theologians are often (but certainly not always) clergy, and often (but certainly not always) work in clerical institutions, engaging the great many who have yet to find faith is a task that falls mostly upon the laity. Therefore, this is what I really liked the most about this gathering: it was the perfect example of the importance of the lay vocation and lay leadership among the faithful of the Church.
For the Church to continue to prosper, organizations such as this one will be of the utmost importance. Organizations of Catholic faithful who are willing to speak of their faith and give witness to its power to transform lives, who are sources of light in an age of twilight, who are in the world but not of the world. And if you allow me to make a pun on the title of a currently popular book, I will call this “The Francis Option.”
If you are curious about who spoke and what they spoke about, you can see the program here: SCS Conference Schedule