Thursday, April 23, 2015

Walking With Others: Science and Ecumenism

By Father John Crossin, OSFS

This past February, I attended a Workshop on Science and Religion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] in downtown Washington. That day we explored the connection of science with Catholicism and ways to communicate knowledge more effectively.

The intersection of science and religion has been of interest to me for well over a decade. I imagine that this interest goes to back to my college days studying for my degree in mathematics.

These days I see a relationship of this workshop to my daily work with others. In our Secretariat we seek ecumenical and interreligious understanding. To use Pope Francis’ image, we walk with our friends in other religious tradition with mutual respect. We seek to understand their points of view and their values more deeply. We also share our thoughts, value and concerns with them.

In our American culture, science is valued and technology influences almost all aspects of life. Science and technology are the basic framework many people have for viewing the world. It can be an alternative faith or philosophy of life. It seems to me that we can adopt the same attitude of mutual respect with the "believers in science" as we do with our religious colleagues. Science can expand our horizons and deepen our understanding.

Whatever the attitudes of some church officials were centuries ago, certainly the Church nowadays has a great respect for the findings of modern science. These findings are taught thoroughly in Catholic schools.

Our attitude, however, is a critical one. We analyze research findings to see if they have been replicated by others. We realize that there are limits to science. Scientific method is a tool that helps us to discover extraordinary things about our world. It enables modern inventions such as the computer used to type this reflection.

We also are critical of efforts to over-extend science.  Some would make genes, for example, the explanation or everything: "My genes made me do it!" We question whether the extension of legitimate science into a total philosophy of life is legitimate.

Such efforts to broaden scientific understanding are fascinating in some ways. They give us things to think about. But they seem to stretch the truth.

We Catholics, as reasonable people, want to know the truth about material things and truths about life. Thus we converse with our scientific colleagues as we walk along.

Father John Crossin is an Oblate of St. Francis De Sales and executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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