A soft rapping at my back door led me to investigate who was calling at such a strange hour. It was a weekday, noonish, and the rural neighborhood where we resided remained quiet from the absence of children and adults, who were presumably at school or work. My eccentric elderly neighbor who lived behind us greeted me with some vegetables she harvested that morning as an offering. I accepted with gratitude.
Our daughter, Sarah, was an infant then, and Ruby asked me how she was doing. I explained that Sarah would undergo a very invasive and risky surgery called a Cranial Vault Reconstruction, which involved cutting open her prematurely fused skull and inserting a device that would operate to mechanically widen her cranium and thus allow room for her brain to grow.
Ruby’s brow furrowed. “You don’t need doctors for anything. Disease is from the devil! My teeth are bad, but I know God will give me new teeth someday soon.”
I sighed. I knew she had been part of a now-defunct barn cult in the area, but I didn’t realize the errant theology that still tainted her worldview. I started slowly, “Ruby, God gave us doctors, as well as faith. They are not mutually exclusive. Sarah needs this surgery, or she will die.”
One of the gifts of our Catholic faith is that we understand that science can inspire and deepen faith, while faith can inform good science. This synergy is found in how the intellect influences the will, how the knowledge we gain – when used for good – moves us to act accordingly. When both the intellect and will are in harmony, we call this integrity.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that
Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth… (159)
After the trial of Galileo, many grew suspicious of how the Church handled science, believing that Catholicism found faith in God – and its theology – to supersede what reason could present as evidence of temporal truth. In reality, the Church has always taught that the connection between faith and reason has been apparent from the beginning of creation, and that God who created both reveals Himself through both.
Henri de Lubac, a French priest, philosopher, theologian, and writer, reflected deeply upon the relationship between faith and reason. His words from his spiritual classic, Paradoxes of Faith, echo and expound upon those found in the CCC:
Our faith is the same today, the foundations are the same, it has been kindled at the same Hearth, the same Spirit continues to infuse it in our hearts – and it is always the same Church; which disappoints us and irritates us, which forever makes us impatient and discouraged, through all those elements in her that are related to our own wretchedness, but which at the same time pursues its irreplaceable mission among us, which does not cease for a single day to give us Jesus Christ… (p. 235)
Perhaps the fallacy circling among Christians arose from the noted corruption and human error riddled in Church history. The point de Lubac makes, however, is that the Holy Spirit operates despite and in spite of the inevitability of sin manifested in Church hierarchy – and in all of us. In this way, we acknowledge that faith is above reason, but only in the sense that God rises above our mistakes and grave errors, our brokenness, limitations, and wounds we inflict upon others. We return to the fact that “nothing is impossible for God” (see Luke 1:37).
My husband, Ben, and I discussed years ago how our knowledge of science actually increased our faith in God, because as we learned the intricacies and symmetries and systems found in mathematics and equations, we knew these could only have been created by a higher, intelligent Being not limited by human thought or bound by time.
The greatest scientists are those who have humbly contributed to scientific advancements because of their acknowledgment that their gifts and knowledge came from God. Likewise, many theologians throughout history were also great scientists: Copernicus, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Galileo, Mendel, Hildegard of Bingen.
Ben and I have been eternally grateful for the men and women who have cared for our daughter, Sarah. The tenderness with which they approach her complex and ever-evolving medical needs is, to us, a reflection of faith and evidence in a God who cares for every detail of our lives. We have seen firsthand the giftedness of many surgeons who, through their intelligence and expertise – but also through their kindness and humility – have given our daughter a chance to thrive in this modern world.
Each of us is given a similar invitation with whatever mission God has entrusted to us: that we utilize what we know, to the best of our ability, to inform what we do – and that we do all things well. We do not have to do great things, even noteworthy things, in our life, but only to be faithful to God who equips us with the knowledge we need to accomplish, with love and by way of faith, the work that only we can do.