September 1, 2006
Yale professor A.S. Yahuda once offered Harvard historian George Sarton the opportunity to view Newton’s theological writings. Sarton declined. He chose to deal only with science. However, a well-known scientist did look at the writings and found them very intriguing. He felt like he had been let into Newton’s spiritual workshop. In fact, he even confided to friend, “I want to know how God created the world.” The scientist was Albert Einstein. And his remark shows that there is no inherent animosity between science and faith, between theology and empirical reason (R. Stark,
For the Glory of God, p 196). In fact, there is a deep connection.
The ancient Greeks and Romans along with the Chinese and Indians developed alchemy. They also had their own systems of astrology. But it was the Christians of Europe who turned alchemy into chemistry and astrology into astronomy. Why? Because Christians hold to an ordered universe. Reason applied to God’s world can uncover the why and how the various parts of the world work and, on the basis of experimentation, predict results. This is science. And it can lead to understanding the handiwork of God.
Science plays a prominent role in our Western culture. Science has produced technology. It has vastly improved the quality of life. However, science proves sometimes to help and other times to harm the human person. Nuclear energy can be a fuel to ease life or a weapon to end it. Advances in medicine prolong life and shorten life. A doctor can bring to birth one child with safety greater than in any other generation. A doctor can end the life of another child in the womb without legal scruple.
Empirical reason has so experimented on life and succeeded in uncovering its secrets that it can delude us into thinking that we are the masters of life itself. What can be done, simply because it can be done, is done. The disfiguring effects on the human face of society are not even a consideration. Reason is banished. Science reigns.
Human lives are begun in laboratories. Then selection, elimination, death to the unwanted or consignment of the child at the very beginning of existence to be the product used in experimentation for further medical advances. The mystery is gone. Man’s life is no longer the gift to be received from the generous hands of the Creator. Rather, man is now the product of man. We can make ourselves. We can unmake ourselves. The control that reason places on our actions when it asks the questions “should” or “must” are not always part of the decision to act.
No more evident is this than in the political arena. Today a politician can campaign for health care benefits and abortion, for education of the young and euthanasia of the old. He simply says that he wishes to respect the views of his constituents. Does this mean that more and more of us whom our elected officials represent no longer recognize the human person as an unrepeatable, unique creation of God and worthy of protection? (cf Ratzinger,
Values in a Time of Upheaval, pp 157-158)
No matter how close our cooperation with the Creator in the work of this world, do we still recognize that the world is His handiwork? Do we still wonder in awe with the psalmist asking God, “
What is man…that you care for him?...You have made him a little less than a god”(Ps 8: 4-5)? Once the human person is no longer seen as made in the image and likeness of God, then life itself has no guarantee. The vulnerable, the weak, the enemy lose their right to live if they interfere with our way of life.
Science without a morality reasoned to on the basis on the dignity of the human person is as dangerous as a fanaticism cloaked in religion. Both walk the same path to destruction. Terrorism threatens us from the outside of our culture. Terrorism, with its disregard of human life, challenges the very soul of our culture. Can we hold to the inherent dignity of every individual as made in the image and likeness of God? Are we willing to hold on to this basic truth as guiding principle in dealing with everyone from the innocent child in the womb to the enemy poised to harm us? It is in the light of this truth that we can walk with others along the uncertain road to peace in the civilized world.