Faith and science work side by side

  • May 4, 2019

Catholic schools have long been recognized for their strong programs in social science, language and arts, and, at many schools, physical education. But often the success of these programs has come at the expense of the science curriculum, according to some.

A false sense seems to have grown over the years that there’s a divide between science and faith. But Canada’s bishops insist nothing could be further from the truth.

The bishops recently issued a document titled “Science and Catholic Faith” that, drawing on multiple sources, supports and encourages faith and science working side by side, interchangeably, in Catholic schools. This document relies heavily on two essays by Pope St. John Paul II, “On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason” and “The Splendour of Truth.” These documents should be discussed in every Catholic school and become essential reading for teachers.

The bishops conclude that, while religion and science are distinct, “they are ultimately beneficial for each other.” They also remind the Catholic community — in particular Catholic educators — to always be on guard against the philosophy of “scientism,” the belief that the only valid forms of knowledge are rooted in science and science is the only true form of knowledge required to understand the world.

The bishops, quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, remind us, “though faith is above reason there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny Himself nor can truth ever contradict truth.”

What makes the bishops’ document inspiring for educators — and hopefully for students — is that it draws on past and current scientists who have intertwined faith and the pursuit of science not only without any conflict but in ways that recognize these two areas as complementary. The document reminds us that outstanding scientists have been able to reconcile their faith and the pursuit of science. The document also points to many people in other faith traditions beyond Christianity who are actively engaged in various fields of scientific inquiry and who recognize the value of faith in their pursuit.

The challenge for Catholic schools is to take this short but very important document and ensure it reaches the hands of science teachers. A Catholic school system needs to acknowledge the role of faith as something that can assist students in the pursuit of truth, which is the goal of science and all academics. How can we tell if this is taking place in schools?

We can begin by examining textbooks, curricula and review-assessment documents to determine if the uniqueness of faith and science are presented in a complementary fashion. We can look at course outlines and resources to see if they touch upon the historical contribution that Catholics have made in the field of science. We need to understand if our resources speak to the complementary nature of faith and the pursuit of science. If not, then there is work to be done.

In the study by the Canadian bishops we are reminded that the human family “longs to experience what is beautiful, good and true.”

“By allowing faith and reason — which includes science — to co-exist and mutually enrich each other, we resist the fragmentation of meaning that scientism brings and thereby prevent the fragmentation of our very selves.”

Catholic schools are well positioned to bring about this mutual approach of faith seeking truth in science. It simply requires educators working together to develop resources and assignments that will truly indicate the distinctive nature of Catholic schools.

That is why the bishops’ document must find its way very soon into Catholic schools.

(Kostoff is the Executive Director of the Ontario Catholic Supervisory Officers’ Association and co-author of One Home at a Time, a recently published resource for the family.)

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