The Reason for Human Reason
There is no contradiction between faith and reason, faith and science. Both share the same Author. Without contradiction, faith grasps truths that are beyond the reach of science.
There can be no earthly scientific proof of the Resurrection of Jesus, for example, just as there can be no scientific proof of Transubstantiation—the dogma of the Faith that mere bread and wine become the precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ at every Mass. Yet the Church infallibly teaches these as dogmas of faith. Should we expect scientists—or any group of scientists—to share the same charism of infallibility?
We rightly tend to trust doctors, despite the many uncertainties in the medical profession. Most of us are living longer today because of science. Science can significantly improve the quality of life; but if abused, science can be used to destroy on a massive scale. Furthermore, scientific study—and the use of science—will forever remain prone to error, hitting a home run here and there, striking out on other occasions.
Yet many have more faith in science than in God’s revelation, even when experience suggests caution. In the 1960s, as many will recall, we were told that margarine was far healthier than butter. Now butter is said to be much healthier than margarine. Go figure. Newton’s theories of physics were updated and somewhat replaced by Einstein’s theory of relativity. Now scientists are calling into question some of the details of Einstein’s theories. After all, “E=mc2” can only go so far in explaining reality.
Darwin’s theory of evolution remains for many an enduring infallible dogma of science. Does scientific evidence truly support the theory? Genetic DNA configurations are fragile. Genetic mutations are necessary for significant changes in an organism. But the evidence accumulated by some scientists suggests mutations only result in deformation and death, not cross-species evolution.
Did evolution take place in increments? Are some races more human than others? Nazi Germany claimed to represent the “master race” because the Nazis placed themselves ahead of the curve in the evolutionary process. On the other hand, is there evidence of a widespread evolutionary leap from one species (monkeys, for example) en masse to the human species? If so, what is the scientific evidence?
Our faith teaches us that God created the world and His creation is good. He created the land and the sky and the animals. And my theory is that God created monkeys and many other creatures for our amusement and affection. Animals in so many ways are designed to be metaphors of human behavior and quite charming to behold: think of the comical behavior of monkeys in a zoo and the play of dolphins in the sea. These are subjective, not scientific observations, I realize. But scientific inquiry will never persuade me that the wildly funny beaks of birds have only a functional or evolutionary purpose. That’s my theory, anyway—in search of empirical evidence which I recognize would be impossible to find.
As science authentically studies nature, many more mysteries unfold. The fascinating scientific reports from the Mars Exploration Rover, for instance, raise more questions than they resolve. Ultimately, science is the study of ever-expanding and never-ending mysteries. I think every honest scientist would agree.
There are those who say there is no scientific basis for the dogmas of the Catholic faith beyond the little that is supplied by archaeological digs and historical reporting. From the point of view of the empirical scientific method, this is true. But the fact that the mysteries of our faith are not accessible by science, does not mean faith is false or that it is opposed to science. The smile of a child is wonderful and mysterious, no matter how many brain waves and facial muscles are analyzed by science. The mystery of life with God as its Author will never be entirely grasped by our weak human reason.
But with God’s grace and with the eyes of faith we can delight in God’s revelation and more quickly grasp the meaning of the results of scientific inquiry. The study of science is the study of God’s handiwork.
Through faith in God’s revelation, we move beyond the limitations of the physical world and with faith, we insist that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our life. On the authority of Jesus Himself, the Word is made flesh at every Mass and Christ feeds us with His sacred Body and Blood. Scientific analysis cannot prove the Divinity of the consecrated bread and wine any more than a scientific analysis can prove the existence of our immortal souls. To believe, we need a competent authority to tell us. And God cannot deceive.
But notice what these “facts of faith” do for us.The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1-4). “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” (Saint Athanasius) “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”(Saint Thomas Aquinas) And best of all, “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:58)
Human reason and science are not obliterated or contradicted; human reason and science are elevated by faith and God’s grace. In believing and loving God, we are better able to love others. In union with Christ, we become more human in virtue, as intended by God. This is why we rejoice in Holy Communion and testify to our belief in the Real Presence.
Our faith in Jesus and His Real Presence gives us the reason for human reason.
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