“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” – So starts Fides et Ratio (On Faith and Reason), the encyclical proclaimed by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1998. ‘Religion’ and ‘Science’ have traditionally been considered at odds regarding evolution, creation, and other scientific theories. Starting in 1950 with Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis (On the Human Person) through Pope Saint John Paul II’s address to The Pontifical Academy of Sciences and then Fides et Ratio, the Catholic Church has seemed to come to a resolution on these tensions. Still, there persists in popular culture the idea that faith and science remain incompatible.
At St. Francis, the Faith and Science Forum meets every other Wednesday to discuss everything from physics to astronomy and astrobiology, trying to get a bigger picture of where we fit in God’s creation. These meetings are held on Zoom and attended by about a dozen people. However, as Ron Monti, one of the group’s leaders, points out, ”At the recent Ministry Fair, we had significant interest, but 1:00 PM Wednesdays is tough; we may be setting up a second session in the evenings.” The participants are not necessarily scientists, but there are some, including several engineers. The attendees have varied backgrounds, not all necessarily Catholic, and from as far away as Boone, NC, and Canada. ‘Word of mouth’ has been the best advertisement for the forum to the larger community, and the meetings are open to all.
The meetings take a book discussion group format, but discussions also cover current events or new topics in science from literature or the scientific press. The group also does outreach to a variety of organizations. Ron has presented frequently at the Raleigh Astronomy Club, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at NC State. While these presentations focus on science, Ron says, “You don’t need to make a faith statement; just show the beauty of creation and ask how this could happen by chance.” He says he feels awe when contemplating creation, “You can almost hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, and it inspires you to learn more about God’s creation.” He adds that it is almost a question that comes up without prompting, “How can creation not point to the idea of a creator?”
Significant sources of discussion topics for the Faith and Science Forum include the Society of Catholic Scientists, the Vatican Observatory, and Bishop Robert Barron’s ‘Word on Fire’ ministry. Also included in this group is a Franciscan sister named Ilia Delio. In her formation, Sister Delio attended Fordham University and earned a master’s degree in theology and a doctorate in Historical Theology. After graduation from Fordham, she taught Science and Religion at Trinity College in Connecticut. Following that, she taught Franciscan Theology and Spirituality, Science and Religion, and the History of Christianity at Washington Theological Union for 12 years as Professor and Chair of Spirituality Studies. Her background and teachings in science and faith argue and describe how ‘science’ doesn’t conflict with ‘faith.’ Ron agrees and says, “‘How’ questions are asked by science, whereas ‘why’ questions are philosophical and theological; they don’t disagree. Creation doesn’t prove the existence of God, but does point to it, and faith makes the leap from science to the belief in God.” This belief is very much in line with Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’, another inspiration for the Forum. From that encyclical, the Pope says, “I am well aware that in the areas of politics and philosophy, there are those who firmly reject the idea of a Creator, or consider it irrelevant, and consequently dismiss as irrational the rich contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full development of humanity…nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.”
We are fortunate Sister Delio is coming to St. Francis Parish on October 28th to give the keynote address at the 3rd annual Franciscan Spirit and Life Convocation, “The Heart of Matter: Encountering Christ in all Creation.” Her talk is on how Saint Francis of Assisi was an ardent follower of Christ and believed in the holiness of creation because of the incarnation. The Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, someone admired by and an inspiration to Sister Delio, also spoke of the ‘holiness of matter’ because “God is at the heart of all life.” Ron Monti and presenter John Orth will also give a talk at the Convocation on “‘The Shroud of Turin: Truth or Myth.’ Is the Shroud of Turin the burial cloth of Jesus? In this talk, they’ll discuss some of the latest research and compelling scientific evidence.”
Author: Mike Watson