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Faith or reason?

Do we have to choose or can we have both?

We are all aware of the current debates over creationism and science, particularly with regard to public school curricula dealing with our origins, the big bang theory, and the question of why we exist at all. The debate is as old as it is fresh. Are science and faith compatible with each other? Our church answers, “Yes.” The church has nothing to fear from the truth. The list of Catholic colleges and universities worldwide is huge. Faith, we assert, is an act of reason. It is a reasonable thing to have faith.

In writing his famous Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas appealed to the natural sciences and to human reason to support his theological arguments. He was opposed by the religious conservatives of his day, who insisted that the only reliable truth comes to us from God’s revelation in Scripture and tradition. They nearly succeeded in labeling Aquinas as a heretic, relying on St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: “See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ.” (Col 2:8) Some fundamentalists in our day hold to the same position.

Nicolaus Copernicus declared that Earth was not the center of the solar system and Galileo Galilei, using a telescope, proved him to be true. Their antagonists, however, due to miscomprehensions of the truth, succeeded in bringing the church ridicule during the subsequent Enlightenment, which began in the 1700s.

Do I need to understand before I can believe, or do I believe in order that I might understand? St. Augustine said, “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but to believe that you may understand.” In his encyclical Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II wrote “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

To assert that the only source of reliable truth is found in revelation is as misguided as to assert that the only source of reliable truth is found in science. One without the other leads to a suffocating intellectual totalitarianism. The human spirit needs to breathe the life-giving oxygen flowing into both lungs that allows the human mind to flourish and develop.