By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published April 27, 2006
Religion teacher William Raddell called upon educators during the National Catholic Educational Association convention to address the relationship between science and religion effectively by presenting the two fields as complementary.
Both reveal the glory of God and the dignity of mankind, he said.
After all, he told those gathered, the world needs more Catholic scientists with a love of God. Scientists share in the creative process through scientific discovery, Raddell said.
“Science points to the grandeur of God’s plan,” he said. “We see God’s hand in creation and this leads us to praise God.”
At the same time, scientific research needs a moral framework.
Raddell, religion department chair and a teacher for 34 years at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School in Cleveland, and an educational writer, spoke at a workshop April 19 during the 103rd NCEA convention.
He said the misconception that religion and science are incompatible contributes to the framing of debates such as “evolution versus creationism,” the latter being a reading of the Book of Genesis as a literal account of Creation.
He also said the “Galileo controversy” has led to centuries of bad press about the church’s attitude toward science.
He asserted that the 17th century Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei was not condemned by the church because of his theory that the Earth revolved around the sun, as others, including Catholic Nicolaus Copernicus, had argued the same theory earlier without controversy.
The problem was that Galileo didn’t “offer scientific proof that met the scientific standards of the day” but still made his beliefs into a theological truth instead of a scientific theory in a time when it was believed that the sun, stars and planets revolved around a motionless Earth and that the Bible confirmed that.
“Had he presented it as a scientific theory rather than a theological perspective we wouldn’t have had the problem. It was for that that the church said, ‘you are wrong,’” Raddell said.
Galileo was placed under “a loose house arrest.”
In 1981 Pope John Paul II called for a pontifical commission to study the matter. It was determined that the problem came because Galileo had not at the time proved irrefutably the double motion of the Earth, a proof that would not come for over 150 years, and that theologians failed to grasp the profound non-literal meaning of the Scriptures in describing the physical structure of the created universe. Galileo was pardoned in 1992.
Raddell explained that the church views the power to reason as a gift from God, while acknowledging that some matters of both faith and science are beyond human understanding. Pope John Paul II said in “Fides et Ratio” that “truth is the point where faith and reason meet.”
“So obviously if it contains truth it is from God. However, reason alone cannot sufficiently explain the ultimate truths of existence,” said Raddell. “We take a sacramental approach to life. Anything that is pure, good, true and beautiful is recognized as coming from God. That’s one of the unique things about Catholicism. We look at these things as signs of God’s presence being close to us.”
So things don’t have to be expressively religious to be from God, he said.
But the danger is when society tries to “deify reason, to make it the final and highest criteria for judging things” while failing to ponder the ethical and philosophical implications of research. He said that after the Russians shocked the United States in the 1950s with the launching of the Sputnik satellites into outer space this country began to invest more in science education at the expense of studies of the humanities and philosophy.
“We look at what’s happening in the world today, and we don’t have that grounding in values.”
He said that the “intelligent design” theory, which some Christian groups are advocating be taught in public schools, is an alternative to the theory of evolution and asserts that Creation is too complex to be a product of random chance. It is a compromise between the theory of evolution and a literal interpretation of Genesis, and is similar to St. Thomas Aquinas’ theory that “reason causes us to reflect on truths that ultimately lead us to reflect on God.”
But while Catholicism doesn’t espouse the theory of evolution, its position is that Catholics are free to believe or reject it as a theory for explaining the evolution of mankind, as it doesn’t negate the omnipotence of the Creator of all life.
“Pope John Paul’s attitude was God is the Creator, and we’ll leave the explanation up to the scientific community to help us understand” the world, he continued. “If God used the evolutionary process then that’s not a problem for us.”
While some denominations teach a literal interpretation of everything in the Bible and that the Bible is without error, he said, “Catholics would agree with that” but only regarding the “issues of faith and morality.”
Catholics are taught to read Scripture looking at what the author intends and how cultural bias may have influenced the text, he continued. Scripture contains “powerful truth but often times teaches it in non-literal ways.”
He said many scientists have grown in faith as they admire God’s handiwork, and listed several leading Catholic scientists throughout history such as Louis Pasteur and Andre Marie Ampere. And he added that science seems to reinforce how God’s plan is for humans to live holy lives, as “human beings are wired to be kind and good as the endorphins that are released tend to reinforce that behavior.”
On the other hand, religion offers a moral framework for science, whether regarding bioethics or ecological justice, to ask, “Just because we can do something, should we?” and “Does our use of science promote the common good?”
Faith also challenges one to address environmental concerns such as pollution and its contributions to global warming, which could cause a humanitarian crisis.
As teachers teach Catholicism, he said, it is important that they have solid grounding in the Bible and Catholic teachings and compatibility with science “to help them to (understand) why what we believe is true.”
Toward the end of the session, attendees discussed their experiences in teaching religion and science.
Melinda Crenwelge, Ph.D., of Reicher Catholic High School in Waco, Texas, stressed her belief that youth must be taught to see the connection between moral and scientific reasoning to make or support ethical, responsible scientific advancement. She teaches physics, anatomy and biology and includes discussion on related current issues such as the recent cloning of a champion quarter horse by a Texas breeder.
“I think it’s important we caution ourselves and our kids not to polarize. We need to look at this together … because we are going to have to deal with issues we haven’t even thought of,” she said. “We’ve got to use all of our knowledge to make these decisions.”
She has never felt any tension in teaching science in light of faith.
“To explain is up to the scientific community, but the origin is from God,” she said. “Being at a Catholic school it’s fun because we get to talk about (the connection) … and put it together. We have got to consider our faith understanding in making good decisions with scientific knowledge.”
Following the talk, Raddell explained that miracles recorded in the Gospels are intended to be taken literally, being direct accounts of Jesus’ life. They can be believed in the same way that miracles happen today beyond scientific understanding.
With the sacrament of the anointing of the sick today many times “people actually are healed,” he said.
“If that is true, then why couldn’t things be true in the time of Jesus? People knew these people and said ‘we have seen and witnessed,’” he said. “These things are real and are what built the faith of the early community. … When I look at my own experiences in my relationship with God and the people who I know who have had miracles in their life, then I know it’s real.”