There is a story about Napoleon that I have found to be a striking example of our modern mentality about God. According to the story, he asked a famous physicist to produce a model of the universe. When this physicist produced it, Napoleon was impressed, but also perplexed. He asked why God was nowhere to be seen in the model. The physicist replied: “We no longer have need for that hypothesis.”
Is that not such a typical example of how many of us think today? With all the advances of modern science it is easy to think that religion has now been replaced by science or that to be religious is to be unscientific. I remember when I was in junior high, my teacher prefaced his lectures on evolution by saying that Christians don’t need to believe what he was teaching, because of the Bible. So, basically the impression I got was, to be Christian is to ignore science. Now, if he would have said that many modern scientists are even questioning evolution on the basis of scientific evidence, I would have come away with a different message. But instead of that, he said that it contradicts the Bible, therefore it can be ignored.
Studies have shown that the main reason people give up on belief in God, particularly the youth, is precisely this: they think it is unscientific and therefore not credible.
But is this true? No.
Most of the key scientists in history have believed in God. Newton, Galileo, Copernicus and Einstein all believed in God. I would even suggest that it is extremely difficult to have science without belief in God. How else can we explain the laws of science? Why isn’t everything just random? Some historians of science have actually argued that the main reason why science advanced so much in western civilization is precisely because of the Christian belief that God created and designed the various structures and laws of the universe.
What is even cooler, I think, as a Catholic, is just how influential the Catholic church in particular has been in the advance of science. For example, it was a Catholic monk who invented the scientific method. It was the Catholic church who produced so many of the influential scientists — many of them were even priests. For example, did you know that the collaborator with Einstein who first formulated the theory of the Big Bang was a Catholic priest? Did you know that 34 craters on the moon are named after Catholic priests who were astronomers? Just google “Catholic scientists” and you will be amazed — at least I was when I first did this.
But what about Galileo? Didn’t the Catholic Church condemn him because of his scientific discoveries? Even though this is often said, it simply isn’t true. Galileo’s discoveries were welcomed by the church. As a matter of fact, the Pope who censored his work was actually the one who had been funding most of his research. The reason why Galileo was censored is because the heliocentric model was still not proven by his research. There are many aspects of his theory that are actually considered laughable by modern astronomers (i.e. the motion of the tides). Astronomers were already interested in the heliocentric model before Galileo. It is just that nobody had been able to produce enough evidence to prove that it was more satisfactory than the geocentric model of the solar system. And if you doubt me about this, just listen to the famous atheist scientist himself, Stephen Hawking, “Which is true, the geocentric or heliocentric model? It is common for people to say that Copernicus [or Galileo] proved the geocentric model wrong. But that is not true. For our observations of the heavens can be explained by assuming either the earth or the sun being at rest.” (See Hawking, “The Grand Design,” 2010). Galileo’s work was censored because he was overstating his case trying to argue that the geocentric model had been officially disproved by his findings. But it hadn’t been. In other words, the church censored his work, because Galileo, himself, was being unscientific about his findings.
Father Michael Bower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the parish office at 765-362-6121.
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