I unreservedly recommend Trent Horn’s 20 Answers: Faith & Science booklet from Catholic Answers Press. I can’t think of a better starting point for readers who want to dialogue intelligently with atheists (and other unbelievers) on the relationship between the Catholic faith and science.
Like the initial lecture of a university course—when the professor outlines all of the major questions or topics to be dealt with during the semester—this booklet serves as a sort of “syllabus” which outlines the common lies and objections Catholics will encounter when facing unbelievers who have concluded:
1. The Church is anti-science
2. Science is the only way to discover truth.
3. Science has disproven God’s existence.
4. Nature is “all there is.”
A course syllabus, however, makes for boring (though important) reading. On the other hand, while this booklet is also rich in important content—and it’s both enjoyable and intellectually engaging.
In 20 Answers: Faith & Science, Horn addresses many of the most common objections concerning the Catholic faith and science, and responds with answers that are clear, researched and ready-to-use by apologists of all levels. There’s a tremendous amount of good information packed into this small book.
In his introduction, Horn states his intended purpose:
“to help the truth catch up to the lies about the Catholic Church and to show that there is no contradiction in worshipping the God who created the universe and in using science to explore and understand that creation.”
He begins by addressing several historical objections targeting the Catholic Church’s treatment of scientists and scientific progress through the ages.
Horn immediately looks to the Middle Ages. It has been asserted that the Middle Ages were a time of intellectual sterility due to the Church’s suppression of science and philosophy. Horn addresses several historical accusations directed towards the Church, and shows how they lack factual basis. The Catholic Church is not anti-science. She never has been; though she has shown her discontent with misbehaving scientists or unsound scientific theories.
As Horn demonstrates, the Catholic Church—during the Middle Ages—gave rise to the university system, rich in scientific instruction and study, and can be credited with preserving and copying ancient texts critical for scholarly studies (thanks to the toil of the monks).
He quotes the words of science historian, Michael Shank:
“If the medieval Church had intended to discourage or suppress science, it certainly made a colossal mistake in tolerating—to say nothing of supporting—the university.”
Christians scholars of the Middle Ages were very well-educated, Horn defends, and were just as up-to-date in their accepted scientific conclusions as the learned seculars. Science historians have concluded that there was scarcely a Christian scholar who did not reject the “flat earth” hypothesis in favour of a spherical earth. Nor was the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages against cadaver dissection for the sake of anatomical study; provided the human remains were treated with care and dignity.
Horn continues his historical critique: he points next to the case of Giordano Bruno, the so-called “first martyr for science”. It has been said that Bruno was executed by Church officials because of his promotion of heliocentrism (during a time when geocentrism was the normative theory among scientists). Bruno was executed, yes; but not because of his scientific views. He was executed as a heretic (not because of his cosmological leanings), as is confirmed by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Finally, the famous case of Galileo. Horn confirms, along with historians, that Galileo was not tortured nor treated unjustly. The overconfident Galileo made theologically dangerous assertions about the Bible and the cosmos in public; and thus he was treated accordingly. At the time, representatives of the Church held to the common cosmological theory of the time—geocentrism—and did not see it prudent to publicly and definitively endorse Galileo’s hypothesis. As Horn explains, the Church’s prudence and wisdom proved true: Galileo’s theory, in fact, contained some error.
Nonetheless, St. John Paul II did not hesitate to give credit where credit was due, calling Galileo a “brilliant scientist” and recognizing him publicly for his important contributions to science.
Next Trent addresses the relationship between faith and reason. He clearly shows that faith is not opposed to reason, but rather, builds upon reason. As the great Catholic writer, Frank Sheed, has made clear, an article of faith (mystery) “is not something you can know nothing about; it is something you cannot know everything about”. Quoting the Catechism, as well as papal documents, he makes it clear that the Church does not see a discrepancy between faith and reason.
It is demonstrated in this booklet that scientists, in fact, rely on the metaphysical in their empirical experimentation. Science cannot “prove” that humans should not be treated as lab rats. This is an ethical issue; and ethics cannot be determined under a microscope. “Right and wrongs” are objectively truths—but they are immaterial truths.
Science is “not the only tool we use to understand the world, any more than a hammer is the only tool you use to build a house”, Horn explains. We must rely on certain philosophical assumptions to do science—to know what science is, how it works and to trust it’s method and our interpretation of it. This is why science cannot disprove the immaterial human soul—for science is restricted to the material, the observable, the measurable. Horn lays it out clearly: the view that “science alone” is the only way to acquire truth is a limping hypothesis.
For ages, Christians have looked to science to give evidence for God’s existence. One of the most powerful arguments today, developed by philosophers like Dr. William Lane Craig and used by Horn himself in his own apologetic, is the Kalam cosmological argument. The major premise of this argument asserts that “everything that begins to exist has a cause”; or “something that begins to exists cannot come from nothing”. Therefore, if the universe as an absolute beginning—as modern Big Bang cosmology strongly suggests—there must have been a timeless, spaceless, immaterial, inconceivably powerful, intelligent “Uncaused Cause” behind the sudden birth of the universe. The beginning of the universe becomes a religious question rather than a scientific question if there was a Big Bang.
However, if it can be proven that something can come from nothing, the Kalam argument crumbles because its first principle crumbles. Some critics of Christianity claim this has indeed been proven—but Horns interjects:
“Scientists have observed so-called “virtual particles” emerging, apparently without cause, from an empty vacuum…The problem with this argument is that a quantum vacuum is not “nothing”: It is a very low state of energy…”
At this point, Trent has only warmed up. He addresses questions on evolution, intelligent design, stem cell research, homosexuality, fertility treatments, and more—all in a convincing defence of the Catholic position. You’ll have to read the booklet, however, to find out what he has to say!
This booklet is an invaluable resource for every person interested in meeting our growing culture of unbelief. From the professional apologist to the living room evangelist, all missionary-hearted Catholics should have this book at their fingertips.
What I most appreciate about 20 Questions: Faith & Reason is that Trent throws all unhelpful, distracting rhetoric aside. He is only interested in getting to the truth of the matters, and this is clearly apparent in his writing. He maintains his scholarly integrity and supports his answers with expert citations; a project very well done.
I am impressed, and really looking forward to moving on to the next “20 Answers” booklet!
If you’re interested in this or any of the 20 Answers booklet series, visit the Catholic.com online store.
For more from Trent, visit his blog at trenthorn.com.