"Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance." ~ T.S. Eliot in "Burnt Norton"

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Scientists and Their Religious Philosophies

The world would be a different place without science and would be equally different without religion; in fact, it can be argued that humanity as we know it would not exist without either. There are many obvious examples of scientists who have either battled with the church or bolstered her ideas, and Galileo is perhaps one of the most famous. Here we explore three more scientists who have revolutionized our thoughts about how our world works and their relation to faith. Some of them are more tightly connected than we often realize!

Sir Isaac Newton’s achievements ranged across the fields of mathematics, physics, astronomy and natural philosophy. Perhaps no other scientist’s work was as important to the development of modern science as was his achievement. Newton, through his observations on gravity, limits and calculus, provided scientist with valuable tools through which to view the world and better understand its phenomena. What he described was an orderly world governed by natural laws that could be defined and understood. His three laws of motion and the universality of gravitation showed that a ball falling on the earth and a planet orbiting a star were subject to the same rules. In his tireless pursuit of an ordered explanation for the universe, Newton recognized the necessity of God’s truth. For him, God was the master craftsman who had created a world of such intricate beauty that his existence was manifest. However, he understood his laws as beginning a process that would lead to understanding all natural phenomena, and show that God was not intervening constantly in the world, but that he had set it up to work according to his laws. Newton believed God to be within the realm of comprehension of Human reason, and rejected the idea of the trinity and other religious memories. His ideas would lead to the Deist movement becoming prominent among the scientific community.

Sir Charles Darwin’s work was more closely caught up with his faith than most people realize. In his early work aboard the HMS Beagle, Darwin was looking for “centers of creation”—that is areas that he believed God had created separate species. He did, however, begin to doubt that the Bible contained literal historical truth, which became a stumbling block in his faith. He was heavily influence in his work by the problem of evil—that is, how a good God can allow evil things to happen? His predecessors like Malthus had sought to solve this problem by showing that the world was governed by immutable natural laws put in place by the creator. Thus even though these laws might cause great suffering—as in famines and starvation due to inadequate food supplies an overpopulation—eventually these laws would tend towards humanities greater good.  Darwin saw the same violence and competition in nature, and sought through evolution to show that the good of adaption was achieved without the direct involvement, and therefore complicity, of the creator. The more he studied, however, the harder he found it to reconcile a benevolent creator with the suffering he observed in nature and human society. He was especially hard hit by the death of his daughter, at which point he ceased attend church.

Albert Einstein is known for solving many of the world's previous scientific problems. He moved around throughout his early years, living in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. Eventually he would become a citizen of the United States, but before that happened, much of his scientific work was already world-renowned. The theory of relativity is particularly well-known, I'm sure most of you can tell me that E=mc^2. He also got involved in quantum mechanics later in life. But Einstein is also known for his views and philosophy on faith. He was born into a Jewish family and left Germany before World War II because he argued with the politics of the country. Although he was Jewish and lived a good life, he did not believe in an immortal soul or free will, both of which are crucial elements of Christianity. He was, however, a pacifist and spent much time speaking out against war and he considered himself to be religious in that "The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavor in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind" ('My Credo' from a speech given in Berlin in 1932, http://www.einsteinandreligion.com/credo.html). He considered this to be the true basis of religion and therefore considered himself to be a religious person. 

All three of these scientists (including Galileo as well) made significant strides in the realms of science, religion, and to a degree philosophy. There are several questions we can ask ourselves and discuss, and we've included a list for you here.

~ Discuss some of the differences that have been made in our world thanks to these scientists' theories. How have they changed the way we live from the way things used to be?

~ Darwin's theories in particular rocked the world and the Church's way of thinking. How have the two reconciled to each other (or are they still disagreeing)?

~ If these scientists were to go out to lunch together, would they end up agreeing on matters of science and religion or growing farther apart?

~ For centuries, the Catholic Church and the Pope ruled the world just as much as the kings of France, Spain, England, etc, but by the time of Einstein, the Church had more or less fallen out of power as a monarchy of sorts and exists today as solely a religious institution. How did the scientific discoveries by these and other scientists act as a catalyst for that change? Was science what caused this or were there other factors that were more influential?

~ Lastly, has the Church grown more or less vigilant and how has that affected scientific discovery throughout the centuries, especially as these particular scientists published their discoveries?

Happy discussing!


- Jade and Sam


  1. I’m choosing to discuss your question regarding Charles Darwin’s past and current relationship with the Church. When Darwin first presented his idea of evolution, the Church was not exactly welcoming his ideas with open arms. At first, his theory on evolution raised issues with the Church because some people were not in favor of the contradiction it presented with the literal biblical account of creation in Genesis. However, the Church never officially condemned Darwin (Galileo was not as fortunate). Over the past fifty years, the Vatican has recognized the compatibility of the theory of evolution with Christianity. In 1950, Pope Pius XII stated that evolution was a valid scientific approach. In 1996, Pope John Paul II said evolution was “more than just a hypothesis”.

    More recently, in 2009, the Vatican held a five-day conference to recognize the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s writing, “The Origin of Species”. Theologians, philosophers, and many others gathered to discuss the theory of evolution, and the questions that are raised by it. “Fr. Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, professor of fundamental theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, said, ‘From the perspective of Christian theology, biological evolution and creation are by no means mutually exclusive.’“ Similar statements to Fr. Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti were made at the conference, and thus it is seen that Charles Darwin’s theory on evolution is not in contradiction with the Church; evolution and the Church have a compatible relationship.



  2. I would like to comment on the discoveries of these men contributing the downfall of the church as a monarchy. All of these men discovered or had theories that went against what the Church believed. While the Church was a monarchy they did their best to keep these findings secret from the masses. The Church feared that if more people started questioning what they were told it would mean the end of Christianity. Many of the Church’s teachings were based on faith and if these men were questioning the Church it meant they no longer needed faith to justify their beliefs.

    While Galileo may not have been the number one reason for the Church pulling away from the monarchy role, he and many other scientists certainly pushed in that direction. The Church did a good job of keeping the lid down on any new discoveries that would disrupt their teachings. However they could not stop all thought. These men were the forerunners of other great men who were not afraid to speak out for what they believed in. After a while there became so many of these men who were thirsty for knowledge that the Church could no longer maintain their iron grip on human thought. This resulted in the Church backing out of the monarchy role and instead of forcing everyone to be Catholic they let people come to it on their own. Subsequently those who are Catholic now are not forced to attend services or believe certain things. This makes the Church even stronger because it has willing participation.

    These men broke the monarchy and ultimately strengthened the Church while standing up for what they believed in. Of course there are other factors that can be explained by looking at the history of the time but these scientists helped split science from the Church and give it a name of its own.

  3. To an extent, I feel that it's not so much that the church has become less vigilant in defending its beliefs against science so much as it has become harder to make an unobjectionable argument. The advent of the internet combined with an upswing in quality education around the world has made the general public, including the religious community, more aware and informed about science. People want to know "why" about everything and they really don't have to be satisfied with God being the only answer anymore. If the church tried to control what kind of discoveries were made public nowadays it would probably be unsuccessful,and the information would be made readily available anyway. Galileo and Newton ect. were combating a culture of believers who were, for the most part not well informed about science. While they didn't have to reject their religion to pursue science, they did have to answer as to how the two could coexist which led to a degree change in religion. In the present day the church's best action is probably to just avoid being overly vigilant towards the scientific community. Well researched discoveries have likely been too well proven to be effectively disputed on the grounds of church tradition anyway. The single scientist can, like his predecessors, find a way to include both traditions in his life, but he won't have to necessarily answer to the church either way.

  4. I would like to comment on your last two questions. I believe that although these questions are asking about two seemingly different things, the answers are extremely intertwined. Both questions center on the ever-evolving relationship between science and religion. However, when people often dive into this debate they fail to acknowledge the role and most importantly power of the masses.

    There is no question that in the pas the church has attempted to silence various scientists and ignore varying scientific discoveries. As you stated, there once was a time where the church was as much of a ruler as the kings around the world. Although that time was long lived, it was bound to come to an end. It is our very nature as living, functioning, and thinking human beings to question things, and these scientists were doing just that. They were seeking to find answers to questions that the church both ignored and denied. By choosing to go to such great lengths to silence these scientific ideologies and discoveries, the church inadvertently gave them exposure and intrigue. People became interested not only in the science itself but in the grave differences between what they had known to be truth and what could be true.

    That is also the same issue currently plaguing the church. People seek to find new knowledge every day regarding endless different issues, ideas, and beliefs. For some, due to the very nature of science and technology, answers to their life questions are a mere Google search away. Although some cultures are stricter and inhibiting, most people are able to find access to millions of different books, essays, videos, and blogs which discuss ideologies much different than those taught by the church.

    At this point, it would be virtually impossible to the church to attempt to combat the many opposing ideas which exist today. The harsh reality is that for many seeking scientific discovery, the church is no longer a significant threat. Therefore, the church has had to accept its current standing and somewhat lessen its vigilance. However, depending on your viewpoint this has also been positive for the church and allows for more growth and knowledge.

  5. I'd like to agree with what Kaitlyn has to say about the Church's vigilance and scientific discovery. I think as the world has progressed through time, and science, technology, education, etc have progressed with it, it has simply become more difficult to disprove scientific discovery. More and more people are educated in today's world, and technology (the means through which many of these discoveries are made) is growing at a tremendous rate. Because of these two factors, we are learning more and more about the world and we are no longer satisfied with what the Church might have said back when Galileo published his findings. We understand that there is more to the world then that.

  6. Like other figures that challenged the Church, Martin Luther was a key figure in the wake of the Protestant revolution. His ideas were displayed through his Ninety-Five Theses, challenging Pope Leo X and the Church that salvation is gained through faith alone, ‘justification by faith.’ Defying the traditional Catholic teachings, Luther believed salvation was received through God’s grace. It was not his intention to divide the Church, but to reform it.

    Although he wasn’t a scientific figure, he did however challenge the Church within the Christian world. With the key role of the invention of the printing press, his work was able to quickly spread. As Kaitlyn and Tatjana have said, mass media plays a key role in modern times in terms of influencing and informing the mass.

    Arguments by these scientists have become harder to refute, for Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II have recognized evolution as more than just challenges. Not only are these scientific ideas are solidified by facts and data, the fall of the Church is due to the growing role of the mass as the ones in power. Countries ruled by monarchies have decreased, for democratic governments are gaining popularity. Now, religion is not implemented as part of our daily life, but it is based on our free will to choose.

    I think in the Christian world, there has been a progress of understanding on both sides of religion and science. However, other societies heavily influenced by religion, like the Middle East, there’s a growing despair within the community. This growing disparity has lead to multiple wars, resulting in an international conflict. The Islamic ‘extremist’ organization, al-Qaeda (Sunni Muslims), has long been an enemy of the U.S. and many other countries, including its own branch of Islam, the Shiite. I think it’s important to note that while there will always be a conflict between religion and science, at least in the Christian world, we are an era of understanding and awareness.

  7. I think that everyone has to agree that Science has definitely disproven some things in the Bible, which in turn has discredited the Catholic Church in at least some way. Darwin’s theory obviously disproves that man was created along with all species as the Bible’s Creation Story depicts.

    In regards to your third question, it would be near impossible to predict for obvious reasons. These men are all very different. Einstein did not have a “Personal God” as he called it, but he unquestionably believed in the historical existence of Jesus Christ. Darwin, on the other hand, had his mind set on denouncing the Christian faith, as we know it. Newton was a Christian, and believed in a monotheistic God. I think that Darwin hated the idea of Christianity, Einstein was more of a neutral character, and Newton supported Christianity.

    I do not think that science had to do with the fall of the Church as a Monarch at all. After theologians began to criticize the legitimacy of crusades, there was no longer any reason for an army. As time passed, with no more crusades occurring, the Church lost its power in the form of an actual army. However, I do believe that the Church still holds massive power in many countries due to voting aspects along with other things.

  8. I agree with Tatjana "it would be virtually impossible to the church to attempt to combat the many opposing ideas which exist today. The harsh reality is that for many seeking scientific discovery, the church is no longer a significant threat." Back in the time of Galileo it was easy for the Church to have "power", so to speak, over its members. Today, the Church has very little say; and when they do, not many people find it very convincing, nor do people take it too seriously or as a threat.

    Regarding the question "If these scientists were to go out to lunch together, would they end up agreeing on matters of science and religion or growing farther apart" I think they would end up agreeing. I do not think they would agree on every aspect or detail, but I do not believe they would grow farther apart. Why would they? Unless the argument was as big as Galileo's, and caused a huge dispute with the Church, or some other religious group, there would be no reason for them to row apart. In general, they would agree on the basic fundamental beliefs as well as the fact that science and religion should be kept separate.

    I also agree with Kaitlyn and Patrick. In today's society, with the advancements we have in science and technology, most people do not argue or refute a new scientific discovery. There may be people who are against the belief or principle, but in general, the human population does not have the scientific equipment to disprove the theory. Most people accept it as true until proven false.

  9. All four scientists mentioned, have revolutionized the scientific world. Their ideas have undermined the Church’s views, and challenged it. I think this point made by Jade and Sam is valid:

    “All three of these scientists (including Galileo as well) made significant strides in the realms of science, religion, and to a degree philosophy.”

    I think the widespread information allows people to question and reassess their beliefs on many of the issues both sides dispute on. Science is about progress, and I think this ‘progress,’ fulfills the natural curiosity of human beings. We have the natural desire to seek and gain knowledge of the unknown. With the progress of human culture, we now value science on a different level than religion. Religion is based on a belief system, valuing moral virtues, traditions, rituals, and scriptures. While the ‘mysterious’ and ‘unknown,’ factors of religion still attract us to it, compared to science, it is a constant. We all interpret religion in a different light, but science, is about advancements. This progress is due to globalization, technological advances, and social changes.

    I agree with John Paul II’s view on the fragmentation between religion and science, for we need a “dynamic interchange,” amongst the two. Applying Barbour’s taxonomy, we need a dialogue that maintains both their "diversity and integrity."

  10. I believe that over the years the Church has been able to reconcile Darwinian evolution with her teachings. As we have discussed in class, the style of Genesis is mythology and as such not everything in it needs to be taken at face value. While Genesis teaches us that God created the universe and all in it, it is not an instructional guide of what happened step by step. There is nothing to say that God did not create the world and allow evolution to happen, perhaps guiding it along the way. This seems to be the view approved by modern church authorities. However, there are some aspects of Darwinian evolution that are still at odds with the Church. The idea that we evolved from primitive single-celled organisms doesn't really help support the dignity of man as special creatures made in God's image.

  11. Patrick Carroll,

    I should have phrased it differently. It was a comment based on their fourth question. I meant to say that the fall of monarchies were partly due to distrust of the mass in a diarchy and hierarchy. I’m comparing the similarities between the political governance of a monarchy to the Church (Vatican City), where the king/queen and the pope processes the most power. I think the Church has lost its power with the numerous revolutions, but it does still maintain massive power and support.

    P.S. Sorry for going on all these tangents y’all!!!!

  12. I very much agree with Carrie’s earlier post and I will quote her in the writing of my post. The questions I am choosing to address are “how did the scientific discoveries by these and other scientists act as a catalyst for that change?” Also, “was science what caused this or were there other factors that were more influential?”

    Carrie made excellent points when she stated that “after a while there became so many of these men who were thirsty for knowledge that the Church could no longer maintain their iron grip on human thought,” which acted as a driving factor for change in the church. Also, it is very insightful on her end to realize that “these men (scientists) broke the monarchy and ultimately strengthened the Church while standing up for what they believed in.”

    It was inevitable for the findings of scientists to make their way to the masses, and what followed is just the natural course of the human mind. Humans can be very gullible and blind when referring to group followings. When the findings of scientists such as Einstein and Galileo were made public, people began to question what else they have been mislead on. Many directly questioned the Church, causing the Church to rebel against these discoveries, but still lose followers in the process. However, science may not be the main cause of people leaving the Church in search of something greater. In my other religion class, ‘The Religious Quest,’ we research the “universal forms of religious experience and expression as found in the world” (Syllabus). This class delves deeply into the human mind and experience that is desired out of religion. It is possible that other religions could have enticed conversion, maybe people felt ostracized from their church over disagreement of other values/traditions. The human mind is so complex that the act of leaving a church is connected to many reasons. Science did aid in the act of people leaving, but other progressive ideas also contributed to these acts.

  13. well I think that in regards to the question of the scientists going to lucnh. I think that they might agree that some people believe that the gap between science and religion is growing larger, but some may say otherwise. I think that in life we need science and religion because science lets us understand what we can see and study with our hands. Religion lets us try to understand what we can't see. I know we can't see an atom but we know that they exist. We can't see God but we believe that He does exist. I think without religion and science human life would be very different than it is now.

  14. Well for starters, I can say that Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Galileo are possibly the most crucial names in science; really because of their theories we understand how the universe around us works via theories of gravity, relativity, and evolution. Due to their work, we can say we now at least have an idea of where humanity and all else technically originated from. I find it interesting how it is usually thought that science and faith are usually void of each other when considering how religious or at least spiritual Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Galileo were. I remember a few years back, when I visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia, I stopped by a small museum on the grounds that was run by some American philosophical society. Inside there was a whole section devoted to both Darwin and one of his contemporaries, not only showcasing Darwin's theory of evolution but an idea apparently that the two of them were trying to cultivate regarding how they believed a Creator to have a hand in influencing the evolutionary process. I find it funny how people against this very concept sometimes try to use evolution to champion opposing beliefs of a higher power today, considering it the original intent was supposed to support it.
    In terms of the Church and science, I think they have gotten a lot better over the years. I think many have logically come to realize that it is hard to deny the truth of the world in a sense that it is hard to deny one's eyes are open when they are closed, however due to the nature of religion, I think that is scientists and religious peoples sat down, they would always find something to disagree on (as everyone is trying to preserve their personal beliefs) but they would agree on a lot more than they would have say 300+ years ago.

  15. In relation with many of these posts, I want to agree that the Church has come down hard on revolutionary scientific theories or discoveries in the past, and to some degree continue to do so with other phenomena. Not to turn this into a biased discussion on homosexuality or bisexuality, but there are still issues trying to understand why man can love man in an intimate way. It's not a well understood concept. Yes there are theories, and yes there are new scientific indicators as to why someone might be gay, but there is nothing to definitively indicate why. This being said, the Church still maintains it's stance that man cannot be married to man, and I think it's because of a lack of understanding. Not on strictly their part, but on the part of all man.

    That being said, I'm trying to illustrate that the Church's position in history with many scientific phenomena, in my view, has been to question it thoroughly before actually agreeing or acknowledging it.

    To then tie this in to the Church's relation with people, as Carrie, and E Gollup did, I'm going to agree with Carrie, that yeah the Scientific community broke down that idea of a monarchic Church, but I believe they did so in their very activity, and not by some sort of vendetta against the Church. The de-monarchization (Is that word even real? LOL) of the Church was a by product of the political climate of the time that was brought on by the Enlightenment. Today the Church is much more quick to respond to scientific theories, and discoveries for fear of losing some of it's flock, which in my view, want to see a close relationship between the Church and Science. This is also my view.

    Time to head to class, sorry I couldn't develop my ideas more thoroughly.

  16. I think the discoveries of Darwin are extremely intriguing because they marked a huge pivot in the relationship between church and science. I think during his time, it was extremely bold and impressive that he came out with an idea that was considered to be outrageously controversial with the churches teachings. I think it is extremely important to challenge things that may not be factually true even if it upsets people.

    I also think that as we evolve in our scientific understandings, so too should the church's understandings. I don't think anyone should believe something just because another person tells them they are wrong. However, I think that there is an idleness in The Church that I find frustrating. This idleness causes The Church to hold onto ideas that are no longer up to date with modernity, and I think on some issues it causes a separation and false moral hierarchy. I think quite often people confuse a "different way of thinking" with a "better way of thinking." I realize that I am sort of sounding hypocritical in the sense that I am saying the Church needs to evolve its thinking, but I just think it is essential that the Church becomes more willing to be open to other interpretations without just immediately getting defensive or angry. I think the lack of openness often pushes people away instead of gravitating toward an open discussion of faith and its interaction with science and even cultural evolution.

  17. Through Einstein’s theory of relativity the scientific community including but not limited to Stephen Hawking have revealed to us the existence of black holes. Of course, by definition, a theory is no longer a theory if it can be proven, however, the concepts and notions set forth by the scientific community have, no doubt, advanced and enlightened the way the everyday man thinks about his surroundings, ultimately changing the public’s conception of the impact of said theories on their own lives. Admittedly, this is a vast generalization of the entire public opinion, as there will be people who will not accept the opinions of those imposed by the scientific community.

    Theories such as evolution have long been a measure for some to calibrate the individual ‘integrity’ of their belief. Then again many of these people will hold onto the notion that their opinion is the right one and as the entitled persons that they are, only they can say otherwise—meaning that it will be up to them to accept the opinions and theories of the scientific community. That being said, it is difficult to encompass the entire church’s opinion (and by church I refer to the Catholic church). I have met nuns at the Catholic University who accept and acknowledge such theories, namely evolution, and are comfortable discussing it. At the same time, I have also met literalists that believe every word in the bible is true and that anyone who disagrees is not truly a Christian/Catholic. One could say that such theories have simply spawned new opinions, some agreeing and some opposing.

    If the named scientists were to go out to lunch together, I could not say what they would agree/disagree on as I am not either Newton, Einstein or Darwin. I’m sure they’d get into a heated discussion about the existence of God and most likely get bored of arguing then discuss something else like sharing their personal scientific discoveries; they’re scientists.

    I doubt the rule of the church collapsed due to scientific discoveries than a country’s need for an organized government: the Vatican is still powerful enough to maintain it’s own city within Rome without having any jurisdiction on governmental affairs.

    I really don’t know if the church has become more or less vigilant, as I am not part of the church.