The Catholic Church and Science

The Catholic Church:

The Great Lover of Science!

Catholic church sceinceThe Catholic Church and Science!  If you’ve ever watched movies or read Dan Brown type novels, you probably have been led to believe that the Catholic Church is against science and that the two sides are at war.  Something like the following may come to mind:

You may imagine a powerful organization who has kept the human race in darkness and in superstition for centuries. This organization becomes hostile toward the emergence of a new superpower which threatens to destroy it.  This enemy is Science, and she claims to use proof as her weapon of choice and not merely superstitious faith (which really just means “We have no answers”).  Science threatens to contradict and unravel the Church’s stranglehold of power.  Thus, the battle to emerge victorious ensues.  Outmatched by verifiable facts, the dark monks of the Vatican must employ new tactics and methods to condemn science and keep the people enslaved to their imaginary God and invented set of beliefs.

OK, so I just created a possible Hollywood blockbuster.  And, while this may go over well in the world of fiction – in reality – it’s just not true.  In fact, the complete opposite is true, and I can’t stress that enough.

Contrary to popular belief, the Catholic Church has been the great champion and lover of science.  In fact, the Catholic Church has never been against scientific progress or rational thought in any way.  Yes, you read that correctly.  If you disagree, then perhaps you’ve been reading too much of Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons.”  Kidding aside, the Church has been one of the foremost developers of science throughout history advancing its cause down through the centuries, even against secular powers.  Let’s have a brief look, shall we?

Did you know that the Vatican has one of the oldest and largest scientific observatories in the world?  It’s true!  Did you know that the Catholic Church donated a good amount of money and support toward scientific development, more than any other institution?  one wonders how some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs and advances in history were done by Catholics if the Church was against science?  And, how could some of the greatest scientists in history be both a scientist and Catholic?  Many Catholic priests and laymen have been scientists who possessed the full support of the Church.  Look at Nicholas Copernicus, Albertus Magnus, Louis Pasture, Fr. Roger Bacon, Father Nicholas Steno, Galileo, George Mendel, Blaise Pascal, and George Lamaitre, just to name a few.  It is a matter of fact that the Catholic Church has never opposed the study of science but esteemed it in the highest.

“How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” is a great book which covers the under told truths of Catholic history.  This book accents the point of how scientific the Church and many of her people were;

 “Father Nicholas Steno… is often identified as the father of geology. The father of Egyptology was Father Athanasius Kircher.  The first person to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body was yet another priest, Father Giambattista Riccioli.  Father Roger Boscovich is often credited as the father of modern atomic theory. Jesuits so dominated the study of earthquakes that seismology became known as “the Jesuit science. … And that is far from all.  Even some 35 craters on the moon are named for Jesuit scientists and mathematicians.  The Church’s contributions to astronomy are all but unknown to the average educated American.  Yet as J. L. Heilbron of the University of California at Berkeley points out; ‘The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial aid and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of the ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, then any other, and, probably, all other institutions’” (“How of the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization,” Pg. 5).

So please, let’s bury the myth that the Catholic Church and science are enemies, and that the Church has waged war on anything “that disagrees with her.”  Science and religion are each two distinct areas of study that can complement each other.  They both seek truth but do so in different ways.  Religion seeks to answer spiritual questions, while science seeks to prove natural things empirically using repeated experimentation.  Religion seeks to answer the questions Who [made us] and why.  Science seeks to answer the question how.  How did everything come about?  Was it evolution or wasn’t it?  Was it the Big Bang or something else?  That’s not up to the Church to figure out, but it’s up to science.

The Catholic Church and ScienceThe Catholic Church and ScienceMany people might be surprised to know that the Catholic Church is not against evolution. At least the last 4-5 popes have suggested it’s probably true based on the evidence, and the Church doesn’t have a problem with it, so long as it’s not seen solely as a naturalistic process (i.e. all done without God, by random, blind chance).  Moreover, the Church is perfectly OK with the Big Bang, a multi-verse, or any other proven discovery.  The Church is not threatened by science as some Christian denominations are.  Pope John Paul II said that science can help purge religion of superstition (which is a good thing).

And, here’s the kicker, most people don’t realize that the Big Bang theory was first outlined and put together by a Catholic Priest, Fr. George Lemaitre, in 1927.  Even though Einstein called him crazy, Edwin Hubble would later confirm his discoveries and Lemaitre would receive major recognition from Einstein.  How could he do this if the Church was against science?

“OK Bryan, well what about the Dark Ages?”  “Hmmm?  What about that time of great darkness?” (I will be having a whole post on this soon)

But briefly, even throughout the “Dark Ages,” it was the Catholic Church who still promoted science.  the Church even invented Colleges and Universities to promote learning and growth in the sciences and other liberal arts. In fact, students had to become proficient in science and the liberal arts before studying theology.  The last thing on earth that can be proven is that the Church was against science!

If this is all news to you, you will enjoy reading the books; “The Catholic Church and Science,” by Benjamin Wiker, and “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization,” by Thomas E. Woods.

“WOAH! – Hold the phone Bryan.  You conveniently forgot one bit of information.  What about Galileo?”

Oh yes, the infamous Galileo case where the evil Catholic Church condemned him for practicing science and contradicting their truth.  Worse, they threw him in a rat infested dungeon where he was tortured and eventually forced to recant his scientific discoveries.  Well, not really.  Not even close actually.

This is an important and misunderstood topic, and therefore, I am going to cover it as a topic of its own.  Suffice it to say for now, that even if the Church did persecute Galileo unfairly for scientific reasons, that is only one, single, solitary case in over 2000 years.  How can that one case prove the Church has always been against science?  One possible case doesn’t overturn centuries of information demonstrating the opposite.  However, as we will see, the real story is much different than most people think.  Stay tuned!

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About Bryan Mercier

Bryan Mercier is a thirty-eight year old speaker and retreat leader. He has spoken to adults and teens for the last fifteen years on a wide variety of topics; ranging from catechetics and faith formation, to morality, spirituality, and apologetics. He has spoken at youth and adult retreats, workshops, seminars, Catholic schools, parish missions, local, regional and national conferences. He has spoken in front of crowds ranging from thirty to three-thousand and has been aired on both TV and radio in different states. Bryan also runs the R.O.C.K. (Revival Of Catholic Kids) Ministry Team that puts on all-day retreats for teens. He is going for his Masters in theology and working on writing numerous books and tracts.
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