The Relationship between Faith & Science
Mar 5, 2020
Dr. Roger Loucks
When I was asked to contribute my thoughts on the relationship between faith and science, I was immediately reminded of the prologue in the Gospel of Luke:
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time, to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.”
Unlike the author of Luke, I in no way regard my thoughts as truth or even unique. Many theologians, philosophers, and scientists, far more intelligent than I, have already made unique and valuable contributions of their own. Nevertheless, I am very much interested in the subject and was honored when asked to write a small reflection on faith and science.
As Catholics, we do not regard faith and reason as incompatible. As a matter of fact, we regard the claim that faith and reason are mutually exclusive as an absurd statement. How many of us take Richard Dawkins’ or the late professor Stephen Hawkins’ arguments along these lines seriously? Personally, I consider their arguments rubbish.
I think that the following true anecdote might be instructive. When I was studying physics in graduate school, I told one of my friends, who happened to be an atheist, that just because some result can be explained, it does not logically follow that God does not exist. It only means that the result can be explained. In other words, I was arguing that if event B is caused by event A, it only means that event B can be explained by event A. Nothing else is implied by the statement that B was caused by A. The existence of God is not called into question by this statement. However, my friend responded by saying that since the result could be explained in the first place, it showed that you don’t need God. Simply put, he was arguing that if B is caused by A, there is no reason to posit God. God is immaterial, and hence, irrelevant.
My friend argued, just as atheists do today, that since science explains, or presumably will eventually explain, all observable and measurable phenomena, there is no reason to posit the existence of God or a god. Frequently, when questions such as these are discussed, some oblique reference to Ockham’s razor is mentioned by the atheist, who is often left with a slight grin on his or her face. I strongly suspect that I am not the only one who has experienced a conversation such as this. So, exactly what is missing in this conversation? In my opinion, the answer is simple. We need a theology of science. In other words, why would God create science? Doesn’t science explain it all? I realize that even if we could answer this question, atheists, such as Dawkins, would just ignore or belittle our arguments.
When I use the word science, I mean the process by which wrong explanations for describing a given phenomenon are eliminated. By this, I do not mean that the explanation, assuming that there is only one explanation, which is left is correct. I don’t. All I mean is that the remaining explanation has not been eliminated. Future experiments might eliminate that explanation as well. For example, suppose three scientists propose explanations X, Y, and Z for some phenomenon A. They cannot all be correct. Therefore, some experiment will eventually be proposed. Suppose that this experiment eliminates explanation X. This does not mean that explanations Y and Z are correct - logically only one answer is possible. It only means that explanations Y and Z have not been ruled out by experiment. Further, it does not mean that either Y or Z are the only possibilities. It may very well be that some future explanation Q might correctly describe the experiment.
I would argue that science signifies order in the universe. Let’s reconsider our initial example of A causing B. Suppose for the moment that event A did not cause event B. In fact, event B had no cause at all. How could we understand this? Basically, we could never understand event B: event B just occurred for no reason at all. This would imply a universe where cause and effect did not apply. For us, this universe would appear completely foreign. Reason would not apply in this universe. Fortunately, we do not live in such a universe. Event B has a cause, which we call A. The fact that science exists implies that we live in a universe where cause and effect dictate ordinary events. We live in a universe governed by laws – in this case, the laws of physics, which as Christians we believe are dictated by God.
As Catholics, we believe in both Faith and Reason. As I, and many others, have tried to show, faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. Rather, faith and reason complement one another. The use of reason in science only points to the fact that God created an intelligible world, and for this gift I thank and praise Him.
Dr. Loucks received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1996. The subject of his dissertation was theoretical nuclear physics. He moved back to NY in 2001 with his wife to raise a family; he and his wife have one daughter. He has been teaching physics at Alfred University since 2002, and in January 2016, he entered the deacon formation program at St. Bernard's. He will graduate this spring and God-willing be ordained a deacon for the Diocese of Rochester on May 23rd.