Returning to the question of technology: During the Middle Ages, there was a great debate among Islamic theologians about Allah’s relation to the created order. The opinion that won the day was that the universe is sustained at every instant by his will, without which everything would be reduced to nothingness. And if he willed that the sun should rise in the West tomorrow, then that is what would happen. With everything determined, at every moment, by Allah ’s all-powerful, inscrutable will, how could the scientific method, which presumes a certain regularity in the material world, be applied? There would be no fixed laws of nature, because everything could change at any moment.
In Hinduism (or even Western paganism) the patterns of the forces of nature may be even more difficult to discern, because everything – trees, rivers, rocks, mountains – has its own particular divinity attached to it. In Buddhism, nearly everything that we experience is an illusion. In the religious and philosophical traditions of China and elsewhere, the past was worshiped, so there was little incentive to discover and make new things.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, the universe was seen as having been given a limited autonomy by its Creator – sustained by Him, yes, but with a certain stability and order. In addition, history was going somewhere, to the Messianic age and beyond, to the culmination of all things in God. For humanity, this means that there is always more to learn, always more ways to shape the world God has entrusted to us.
This vision inspired scientists down through the centuries, from St. Albert the Great (d. 1280), Roger Bacon (d. 1292), Copernicus (d. 1543), Galileo (d. 1642), Newton (d. 1727), Mendel (d. 1884, a Catholic friar known for his work on heredity), Georges Lemaître (d. 1966, a Catholic priest and physicist who proposed the “Big Bang” theory of the origins of the Universe), and many others formed by the Judeo-Christian worldview.
Some readers of this column may see the word “Galileo” (and perhaps “Copernicus”) and claim that the Catholic Church opposed his work and treated him ruthlessly, for which the Church finally apologized in 1992. The historical record is rather more complex – Galileo was not subjected to torture, for example, and his work was originally supported by the Pope, who was a personal friend and mentor until Galileo publicly mocked him. The major point of the affair, however, is that the Galileo case was a scientific debate among Catholics, who were seeking the truth about both God and nature. (For more on this case and other instances of anti-Catholic propaganda, see such books as Rodney Stark’s Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History; Stark, it should be said, is a Protestant!)
From the Catholic perspective, the “war between science and religion” is a myth, promoted by those who want to remove God – and His moral law – from public debate. As we have seen, however, science developed in a Christian context, in an understanding of the world shaped by theology. Science is extremely effective at discovering how things work – but it is not able to tell us why things are. Some claim that scientific truth is the only truth – but what scientific experiment can prove this claim? When we sincerely seek the truth of things, we discover that faith and reason are both necessary – for all truth comes from God, and truth cannot contradict truth. We simply need to think harder, and more clearly.
What was the role of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?
As the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from the 2nd Vatican Council states, “When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that He might continually sanctify the Church.” Then, as the same council’s Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church adds, “the Church was openly displayed to the crowds and the spread of the Gospel among the nations, through preaching, was begun” – assisted, of course, by the Spirit’s gift of tongues (cf. paragraph 767 of the Catechism).