The Los Angeles Times ran a piece by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum on August 11 about Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, and other New Atheists who "want to change [America's] science community in a lasting way. They'd have scientists and defenders of reason be far more confrontational and blunt: No more coddling the faithful, no tolerating nonscientific beliefs. Scientific institutions, in their view, ought to stop putting out politic PR about science and religion being compatible."
Granted, Biblical literalists deny evolution and, according to the Times article, "About 46% of Americans in polls agree with this stunning statement: 'God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.'"
But that's not to say that religion and science must be adverse. Fr. Bob Barron, a Chicago-area priest, provides, in one of his Word on Fire commentaries, a pretty effective refutation of the New Atheists' insistence that science and religion are incompatible. It comes in a YouTube review of the recent movie Angels and Demons.
Skip past the first three minutes of this eight minute video -- a plot summary -- and the next minute and a half or so, as he points out the Catholic priests and brothers who are still revered, even by ardent secularists, as scientific pioneers -- and you'll get to the nub of his argument:
The sciences emerged and flourished in the context of the great Christian universities of the West. And this is not accidental. When you have a theological system, like Catholicism, that emphasizes the non-divinity of the world and the intelligibility of the world you have the preconditions for science.If something is made, it can be understood. Belief in a specific Maker may not be required for understanding -- but neither is such a belief incompatible with understanding (c. 6:15):
Why? Because if the world is divine, if it is being worshiped as sacred, you're not going to experiment on it, but Christians who hold to creation know the world is not God and therefore can become the object of scientific investigation and experimentation.
Second, if [the world] is created, it is endowed with intelligibility. It's been thought or spoken into being. And therefore scientists can go out confidently to meet the world. They expect to find an intelligible world.
The basic principle is this: All truth comes from God. God is One. And, therefore, there can't be a contradiction, finally, between the truth discoverable through Reason and the truth discoverable through Faith, properly articulated. And so the unity of God -- the unity of Creation -- gives rise to this ultimate compatibility between Faith and Science.Of course, this doesn't satisfy the Creationists or other fundamentalists, Christian and otherwise. I would say to them, however, that dinosaur bones are not put in the ground to test or undermine your faith; they provide an opportunity for your faith to grow beyond what our remote ancestors in the Middle East were capable of understanding.
That does not have to lead us down the path of relativism... but that's a discussion for another day.