4/10/2007

Science and Catholicism

Catholic Science Fiction? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?

Rob and I have been asked this several times before, during and since putting together Infinite Space, Infinite God, an anthology of science fiction with a Catholic twist. And, of course, our answer is a resounding, "no."

The Catholic faith does embrace science. After all, God created us as reasoning, thinking beings and to deny that side of ourselves would be to reject part of God's creative work. The Catholic faith embraces the fact of the natural world as made by God. Thus, faith and science should not contradict, but compliment. If one seems to negate the other, there is a misunderstanding somewhere. It's one of the things Rob and I love about being Catholic. One of our favorite songs has the line, "The profoundest act of worship is to try to understand."

Much of the perceived contradiction probably stems from the bad reputation the Catholic Church got for its treatment of Galileo. However, the Galileo case is much more complex than simply the Church denying heliocentric theory because it "didn't agree with Scripture." I've read several accounts and interpretations, each different according to the historian's point of view: The Church was too attached to Aristotelian theory; Galileo went too far by directly challenging the authority of the Pope in writing; Galileo insisted he could interpret Scripture better than the Pope; the Church was afraid of anything that contradicted its authority, even in the area of science... The point is that it was not just--if ever--a case of science contradicting Scripture. Copernicus, who proposed the heliocentric theory well before Galileo, was a monk and was not punished for his views.

One thing that is fact, though, is that Galileo was not able to prove heliocentric theory with his evidence. His theories were later proven in the 1800s with stronger telescopes.

The Catholic Church has always taught that reason (logic) and faith need to stand together. Much of the Church's intellectual history is wrapped into scientific thought today, although many scientists and laymen don't realize it. St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas pioneered the scientific method. Mendel, a monk, conducted one of the first systematic studies of genetics. The Vatican has its own observatory, and it supports scientific research across the globe--and across faith lines--via the Pontifical Academy. Even today there are scientist religious. In fact, Brother Guy Consolmagno, a famous astronomer and science fiction aficionado, is going to write a back-cover blurb for our book. So science, and science fiction, is definitely something that the Church can accept and even support.

Rob and I believe the Church not only has a presence in science, but will have a presence in space once Mankind leaves the Earth for the other planets and the stars. After all, wherever humans go, they will want and need faith leadership. An online search of the Vatican archives produced 2300 documents about space science, 737 about "space exploration" and one specifically on space colonization. Several Popes have spoken at international conventions on the topic, and the Pontifical Academy holds conferences about it. The late Pope John Paul II summed it up in his address to the delegates of the Interagency Consultant Group in 1996:

…we live in a very special moment. Using the talents given by God, people of science have been able to develop unprecedented means of obtaining knowledge. Extraordinary means of transportation and communication have been developed. Computers have reached capacities and speeds previously unimaginable. Serious plans can now be made for space stations, space colonies, and for manned missions to planets as far away as Mars. Scientists and technologists are developing the possibilities of making the whole planetary system a home for the human family. But all of these developments will lead to truly significant results only if they are employed within the frame-work of a new humanism, where spiritual, moral, philosophical, aesthetic, and scientific values are developed in harmony, and where there is a profound respect for the freedom and rights of the human person.

Infinite Space, Infinite God is not about the conflict between science and religion, because Rob and I don't think there is a conflict. The real challenge is not in resolving science to faith, but, as the late Pope John Paul said, in allowing faith to guide our curiosity and the fruits of our discoveries--or to deal with the aftermath of irresponsibility. That, in fact, is where many stories found their conflicts.

So we would have to say that there's no contradiction so much as the perception of a contradiction, encouraged by a society trying to segregate faith and fact. (Or to force facts to squeeze into their narrow definition of faith.) However, as faith-filled scientists and works like Infinite Space, Infinite God and others by LGG members confront this contradiction, we will again come to understand that faith and science are indeed important for a bright future.

Infinite Space, Infinite God, edited by Karina and Robert Fabian, is out in e-book right now. It comes out in print August 15. For more, go to http://isigsf.tripod.com. To order, go to www.twilighttimesbooks.com.

1 comment:

Caitlin said...

Nice essay. I found it while searching the web for Catholicism in Science Fiction links. We are putting together an annotated bibliography of authors at
http://www.thecatholicwiki.com/wiki/Catholicism_in_Science_Fiction