Without Dogma, Science is Lost

bible-with-catechismAt the end of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki, I wrote, “If a reader gains anything from this book, let it be that one may confidently say that Catholic dogma positively and directly influenced the Scientific Revolution.” I proposed that perhaps the argument in the book that “science was born of Christianity” could be presented more ecumenically. The title is intended to be a conversation-starter about why science needs divinely revealed dogma.

The call to find more communicable language begs a bigger question. Why does Fr. Jaki’s research need to be known or communicated at all? The answer is–because it provides guidance for science in the future. I’ve noticed before what “awkward things happen” in science without faith. It is lost. Without guidance, scientists come to such conclusions as the non-existence of the human soul and the possible irreducible consciousness of…mobile phones. Other scientists (and business people) predict that “science can make human life immortal.”

As a Catholic, a parent, and a former scientist I wanted to know how to respond to such claims and predictions, and I found it in Fr. Jaki’s work regarding the theological history of science. To know the theological history of science is to know why Catholics have a legitimate and significant place in the ongoing development of science. Young Catholics can be confident that the pursuit of science as a career should never require them to compromise or deny their faith, but they need to know why this is so because they will need to be able to articulate it.

People also wrongly assume that dogma restricts science too much. On the contrary, divine revelation nurtured and guarded a realistic outlook in Old Testament cultures, in early Christianity, and in the Middle Ages. This Trinitarian and Incarnational worldview was, and still is, different from any pantheism or other monotheism, and it provided the “cultural womb” needed to nurture the “birth” of science. No other religion has held that the universe is created by a rational Creator, that there is an absolute beginning and end in time, and that man was made in the image of God with intellect and will.

To do science well, a working knowledge of Catholic dogma is necessary. To know what directly contradicts the dogmas of revealed religion and to make such distinctions guides the scientist. The accomplishments of the medieval Catholic scholars demonstrate this abundantly. You’ve heard the axiom, “Truth cannot contradict truth.” The Scientific Revolution is evidence of it. (To keep things brief, it’s in the book. I’ll discuss it more later on this website too.)

The clarity given by Fr. Jaki allows a more appreciative approach to scientific questions. Consider evolution, for instance. There is much to be studied and developed in the exact science (defined in Chapter II – “Science”) of it. There are possible cures to be found by studying how genetic mutations affect populations. There are possible benefits to animal populations to be found by understanding how those populations evolve. There are lifetimes of work to be done in studying the exact science of evolution. The contradictions with dogma and evolutionary theory occur when materialistic ideology is grafted onto that science, a behavior both a Catholic and a scientist should avoid.

This knowledge helps to make sense of neuroscience. So much of the findings are taken as evidence for materialism, when in fact they can never be such. That does not mean that the brain is not a significant influence on the mind, and there is no contradiction with Catholic dogma to study the brain so long as the soul is not denied. If it were better understood that neuroscience belongs to the realm of the physical, and psychology belongs to the realm of both body and soul, then perhaps better advances could be made in medicine and treatment that heal the whole person.

These are some of the reasons I find Jaki’s work exciting, not just for Catholics, but everyone. The book is organized to lay out the history as briefly as possible with quotes from original sources. There is information to defend this claim that “science was born of Christianity” but with language that gets beyond that statement itself.

I realize that last sentence sounds contradictory, but think of this need for flexibility as a parent or educator would. An effective teacher must go beyond agreeing with the material; he or she must know it well enough to tailor the presentation to different audiences, to summarize and argue from the surface while pulling from deeper understanding. That’s what I tried to provide, not just a book you can read, but a book you can use to explain the startling claim that science needs to be guided by faith, and that the Catholic Church has a legitimate right and authority to veto scientific conclusions that directly contradict her dogma. This is not about the Church being against science, but about the Church being a guardian of truth. There is no purpose to science if it is not about the truth.

Stacy Trasancos is a mother of seven, joyful convert to Catholicism with a Ph.D. in Chemistry and a M.A. in Dogmatic Theology. She is Editor-in-Chief of Catholic Stand and author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. She writes from her tiny office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge that overlooks a small spring-fed lake. More about her here. Find her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter. Contact her by email