Sunday, February 3, 2013

Scientism And Catholicism

Who are we? Why are we here? What is life all about? We all have asked these questions, and from the earliest times religion has given us answers. In modern times, science has sometimes attempted to answer the questions from a strictly scientific, materialistic perspective. Those with a religious perspective would see this as scientism: the view that science should be the ultimate authority for understanding all of life, the sole arbiter for determining what is true and what is false. The article on "Scientism and Catholicism" in the Catholic Times examines this perennial debate. 

Pope Benedict in Porta Fidei sums up the Church's position on the subject. "To a greater extent than in the past, faith is now being subjected to a series of questions arising, especially today, from a changed mentality that limits the field of rational certainties to scientific and technological discoveries. Nevertheless, the Church has never been afraid of demonstrating that there cannot be any conflict between faith and genuine science, because both, albeit via different routes, tend toward the truth."

We have all benefited from the discoveries of science and technology, but they do not give us the answers to the meaning of life. The scientific, materialistic answer of no meaning, which comes from misunderstanding the legitimate role of science, has greatly influenced the spread of atheism in recent years, and is deeply troubling to the Church.

The article mentions the scientist Richard Dawkins, and others, the so-called "new atheists," who see God as a wild fantasy and religion as unwittingly evil. Those opposed to the new atheists--like Alister McGrath--see this new breed of atheists as laying the foundation a new religion based on scientific fundamentalism.

"The human being is made by gift and for gift-giving, which expresses and makes present humanity's transcendent dimension. Sometimes, modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society." These words from Charity in Truth point directly to the problem: Did humanity naturally appear on earth or are we from God?

The article mentions in unfavorable terms the collusion of science and capitalism, resulting in humans being treated as commodities to be bought and sold in the marketplace: embryonic cells, blood, body organs, and so forth. It is changing the way we see life and the culture we should be working to achieve.

The article make clear that the Church has not been able to keep up with the development of science that now challenges the Church's worldview and its understanding of creation. The well-meaning but non-scientific responses to the advances of science have given the impression that the Church is opposed to science, a false view which many scientists readily acknowledge. And the Church has itself acknowledged the good that science has done.

That science has changed the way we see the world is now beyond dispute. The thinking of the Church is rather clear about the important role science has played in shaping our present world. But the dangers of using the advances in science and technology intemperately are always present. Instead of using, for instance, the discoveries in  medical science  for the health and welfare of humanity, they can be used for cloning and similar unethical experiments. The same can be said of nuclear energy and chemical weapons. These are the concerns that many have expressed repeatedly over the years. The concerns are best answered not by a science that roams outside its legitimate domain, but by an enlightened, scientific understanding that respects the religious perspective.

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