The Church and the Heavens: The Connection Between Faith and Science

Mt. Davidson cross and the eclipse by The Scott courtesy of Flickr

Mark your calendars! August 21st is the first total eclipse that has been visible to the US in … years!

This might make you ask, “But wait – why is my parish telling me to check out a solar eclipse?”

We are told in Genesis that God created day and night, the moon and the stars, the heavens and the earth. We hear in the Gospels of the Magi, the Kings, following the Star of Bethlehem to where the infant Jesus lay. “And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star” (Matthew 2:9-10).

The science of astronomy backs up the Star of Bethlehem. Science and history have also long evaluated the possibility of an earthquake and eclipse that occurred on Good Friday as described in the Gospels, “From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” Matthew 27:45 and “But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to

bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened,” and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised” Matthew 27:50-52

Society often tells us that science and faith cannot co-exist. In Catholic belief and practice, though we can see some challenges in the Church’s 2000-year history, we can also see a clear history of faith and science complementing one another. There are places where science has pushed the Church forward and places where the Church has tempered science, drawing us back to the dignity of the human person and God’s ultimate provision.

Here are just a few areas:

  • The sun-centric nature of our solar system – Augustinian Priest Nicholas Copernicus

  • Descartes is credited with analytic geometry and the laws of refraction.

  • The existence of the cell – discovered by a monastic and named for his living space within the monastery – Gregory Mendel

  • Louis Pasteur, founder of microbiology and developer of first vaccine

  • The scientist credited with proposing in the 1930s what came to be known as the “Big Bang theory” of the origin of the universe was Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian physicist and Roman Catholic priest. 

  • Inventor of penicillin, Alexander Fleming, was Catholic.

The Catholic Church as an institution has funded scientific endeavors since the 17th century. Even today the church sponsors and supports scientific research in the Pontifical Academy of Science and in the departments of science found in every Catholic university across the world, including those run by and governed by Catholic bishops such as the Catholic University of America. 

    As Nobel Laureate Joseph Murray notes, “Is the Church inimical to science? Growing up as a Catholic and a scientist — I don’t see it. One truth is revealed truth, the other is scientific truth. If you really believe that creation is good, there can be no harm in studying science. The more we learn about creation — the way it emerged — it just adds to the glory of God.  Personally, I’ve never seen a conflict.”

Bonus: Go check out the heat sensitive eclipse stamp being made available by the United States Post Office. #eclipsestamps