Faith, Science and Reason

Faith, Science and Reason


“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” (Pope St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, Prologue)

In a recent video series, produced by the Word on Fire Institute, several scientists posted comments:

“It is very beautifully done and scientifically accurate without slamming scientists too much. I am a scientist. I’ve also been a liturgist.”

“When I studied as a PhD Chemist, the greatest truth I found was the complexity and beauty of creation that I could never fully understand.”

“The beauty, order, and construction of the universe repeats itself even to the smallest level. It’s been the joy of my life to follow the fingerprints of the Creator through scientific inquiry.”

The Pew Research Centre in 2009 found that just over:

“Just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power.”

Wikipedia explores the concept of scientism. It is often interpreted as science applied in ‘excess’. “This use of the term scientism has two senses:

  1. The improper use of science or scientific claims.[14] This usage applies equally in contexts where science might not apply,[15] such as when the topic is perceived as beyond the scope of scientific inquiry, and in contexts where there is insufficient empirical evidence to justify a scientific conclusion. It includes an excessive deference to the claims of scientists or an uncritical eagerness to accept any result described as scientific. This can be a counterargument to appeals to scientific authority. It can also address attempts to apply natural science methods and claims of certainty to the social sciences, which Friedrich Hayek described in The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952) as being impossible, because those methods attempt to eliminate the “human factor”, while social sciences (including his own topic of economics) mainly concern the study of human action.
  2. “The belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry”,[16] or that “science, and only science, describes the world as it is in itself, independent of perspective”[11] with a concomitant “elimination of the psychological [and spiritual] dimensions of experience”.[17][18] Tom Sorell provides this definition: “Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture.”[19]

Reason, or wisdom can be a counterbalance to scientism. The Catholic church sees science as a part of our capacity to reason. It has no objection to scientific endeavour, but it views scientism has a flawed approach.

Reason is not merely the ability to think clearly and come to correct answers about certain kinds of problems. Rather, it is the capacity for wisdom. In the words of Fr. James Brent, O.P., “Wisdom is an all-embracing understanding of reality as a whole.”

An act of reason may involve specific problems, but reason understood as wisdom is never limited to this or that intellectual activity or inquiry. Physics, psychology, mathematics, etc., are all examples of reason in action. But wisdom is more than physics, more than psychology, more than mathematics. It is any authentic pursuit of truth and the openness to all things true. Modern science in all its forms counts as an authentic and often difficult application of human reason to the material world, and a true way of wisdom, but by no means the only one.

Faith forms part of the wisdom tradition and it is an essential means of seeking to understand “reality as a whole”. Reason leads us to pose questions we could never use reason alone to answer. For example, why does the universe exist? Faith in alliance with reason can help us to formulate possible answers to such questions.

Faith was defined by Cardinal Ratzinger as “not an act of [reason] alone, not simply an act of the will, not just an act of feeling, but an act in which all the spiritual powers . . . are at work together. It is only because the depth of the soul—the heart—has been touched by God’s Word that the whole structure of spiritual powers is set in motion and unites in the ‘Yes’ of believing.”





McGrath Institute

Word on Fire Institute

The Language of God

Test of Faith

Homilies on Faith and Science