Science and Religion

 

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Photo by Mark Kaletka

In July 2016, a new tourist attraction called the Ark Encounter opened in Williamstown, Kentucky.  It includes “a full-size Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible,” and visitors can walk through this structure to see life-size replicas of all of the animals that Noah brought on board to save them from the Flood.

Those animals include dinosaurs in cages.

Seriously.

The Ark Encounter’s creator, Ken Ham, believes that Earth is only about 6,000 years old, so Noah would, of course, have rounded up and loaded some of the dinosaurs that were roaming around along with the bears, giraffes, elephants, and other creatures of the land and sky.

Science, however, has shown that Earth is 4.543 billion years old.  Dinosaurs inhabited Earth 245 to 66 million years ago.  The human species, according to fossil evidence, is about 200,000 years old.  Therefore, dinosaurs and humans never co-existed. (Yes, The Flintstones cartoon series, too, was wrong).

For those who read the Bible literally, the account of creation in the Book of Genesis cannot be reconciled with scientific discoveries, particularly the Big Bang theory, evolution, and the Earth’s age.  Many fundamentalists and creationists deal with this conflict by simply rejecting scientific discoveries altogether.  At least the twisted history and theology of the Ark Encounter is an attempt to explain how undeniable facts (such as dinosaur fossils) fit with the Bible’s story of God’s creation.

Even now, in the 21st century, authors are still attempting to explain how science can be reconciled with religion.  One of the latest is Revelation through Science by Jim Martin, former governor of North Carolina.  His main argument is that scientific discoveries reveal a complexity and orderliness in nature that indicate proof of God’s influence or intervention.

That’s a compelling argument, but the Catholic perspective makes the most sense to me. Quite simply, Genesis provides an account of what God did; it doesn’t explain how He did it — that’s the role of science.  Therefore, as Pope Francis has affirmed, science and religion are not enemies; on the contrary, they’re entirely complementary.  For two excellent explanations of this idea, I recommend “How to Read the First Chapter of Genesis” and “The Church Opposes Science: The Myth of Catholic Irrationality.”

People are often surprised hear that Catholics find no contradiction between faith and science. Yes, we all remember from our history classes that the Catholic Church opposed a heliocentric description of the Universe and, in the 1600s, forced Galileo to renounce that (correct) explanation of our solar system.   For the last four hundred years, though, the Church has become significantly more supportive of science.   By 1950, Pope Pius XII suggested that the theory of evolution may not contradict the Bible.  Since then, other popes have advanced various science-friendly viewpoints.  Today, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is dedicated to “fostering interaction between faith and reason and encouraging dialogue between science and spiritual, cultural, philosophical and religious values.”  There’s also a Society of Catholic Scientists, an organization that professes “the harmony between the vocation of scientist and the life of faith.”

The Catholic Church promotes the most sensible position for our modern world. Christopher Kaczor put it this way: “Rather than choosing between faith and reason, the Church invites us to harmonize our faith and our reason because both are vitally important to human well-being.”

Christ’s Peace,

Ann Marie

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