In the last 18 months, science came up daily as we reacted to a global crisis unleashed by a virus. But as people of faith, we want more than just the science during a crisis. There is always more than science can grasp. We want trust science, but what we mean by trust is more than technical accuracy. We want to trust that this use of science will lead us towards a better life. We want to understand why it is good to act in this way. It is not obvious how science fits into a well-lived life. And for the well-lived life, St. Francis is our guide. It is not obvious for us how to make sense of science and give it meaning to that it becomes part of Christ’s power to heal.
Making sense of science falls mostly on scientists, but they will need to understand their faith to do this well. One such organization that is prepared for this task is the Society of Catholic Scientists. It was founded five years ago, and I have been part of it from the start. Most members are scientists working in academia or industry and have a PhD or are studying towards one. They form a professional society of scientists who also happen to be Catholics who practice their faith. They seek harmony between their professional lives and their lives as baptized Catholics.
Having such a society was not an obvious idea, and even just 20 years ago, few would have supported the idea. It would have seemed entirely unnecessary. Faith gives us a special appreciation for life and the human person, but this leaves no scientific question behind. There is no question that Christians are forbidden to ask, and no hypothesis that cannot be considered. God being the creator of everything, Christians cannot fear a conflict between faith and science. If there seems to be one, it is either bad science or bad theology. Our faith merely requires attentiveness to the dignity of creation and creatures during scientific investigation. Rather than impeding scientific studies, it is likely to make them more valuable by letting us trust its results more readily.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, decisions had to be made that changed the way we go about our daily lives. More than a few times, we were asked to follow the science, often in ways we did not like very much. We were asked to trust in science. But of course, following the science and trusting in science is done in the larger context of life. And making sense of your life requires faith in it. Therefore, when you follow the science, your faith will be part of it. Suddenly, faith and science are no longer separate. There is no Catholic science, but there are Catholic scientists, and they need to know each other so that we can work together to make sense of life in a scientific culture.
As a Franciscan, the vision of St. Francis shapes how I make sense of my life and my faith in a scientifically understood world. He praises God, he gives thanks to God for all his creatures, he sees how all creatures proclaim the glory of God. He sees creation’s beauty, in the way God intended it, and he recognizes this beauty in each creature. He becomes a peace maker, seeking reconciliation among people. He knows that death awaits him, but it is not to be feared by those who die doing God’s will, which is reconciling what was broken by sin.
In our age, what was broken by sin now also includes our relationship with natural creatures. Climate change and extinction of species resulted from a scientific-technological culture that paid insufficient attention to the dignity of creatures and creation. Healing this is the Franciscan vision. But this vision cannot be a reason to turn against science and its applications in technology. Nobody wants to return to the preindustrial way of life. Making better technology, technology that fits better into the earth’s ecosystem, is simply the next scientific challenge. I had no doubt that it can and will be done. But it needs scientists and engineers who understand the value of creatures and creation, who see them not just as resources but images and reflections of God.
To evangelize today, in a scientific age, means to study science and one’s faith and bring both together. When we do, we discover God’s presence as creator of the goodness and beauty in creatures and creation. In this context and with this understanding, the results of science will contribute to the praise of the goodness of God.
(Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash)