While faith and science in popular culture are often portrayed in conflict with one another, a local group of science- and faith-minded people are trying to change that perception.
“Some of my students think they aren’t supposed to talk about or engage with science,” said Dr. Kate Bulinski, an associate professor in Bellarmine University’s department of environmental studies.
She will address that topic during a public lecture called “Faith and Science: Compatible and Complementary” Nov. 3 after the Archdiocese of Louisville’s first Gold Mass. The special Mass is for scientists, science educators and science students, as well as fans of science. The Gold Mass will be celebrated at 6 p.m. Nov. 3 at Holy Family Church, 3938 Poplar Level Road.
The Mass and lecture are a result of the Faith and Science Discussion Group convened by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz for the last four or so years.
Bulinski and other members of the group say it has provided an opportunity for scientists, science educators, religion educators and a handful of clergy to meet regularly for sharing, learning and finding common ground, as well as building trust.
The group began almost by accident after a conversation between Archbishop Kurtz and University of Louisville professor Dr. Gerry Williger.
Williger, who works in the university’s department of physics and astronomy, said he invited a variety of local leaders to a public lecture on astronomy and the only one who responded was Archbishop Kurtz. The two decided to meet, and Willinger brought along two others, including Chris Graney, an astronomer and historian of science with the Vatican Observatory. Graney also writes The Record column Science in the Bluegrass.
“In Scripture, we are told we have dominion over the world and to care for it,” Williger said, referring to the creation story in the Book of Genesis. “But in order to do that, we have to understand it.”
Science together with faith, helps accomplish that, said Archbishop Kurtz.
He said during the meeting that he began the discussion group for two reasons.
“People of deep faith can have a fear that science is the enemy,” he said. At the opposite pole, others believe “that science is a substitute for faith.”
The group began by using the 1998 papal encyclical “Faith and Reason” (Fide et Ratio) as a basis for its discussions, he noted.
St. John Paul II opens the encyclical with a simile:
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth — in a word, to know himself — so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”
The faith and science dialogue, Archbishop Kurtz said, “has to do with how people find meaning in their lives.”
The archbishop noted that both faith and science have the capacity to inspire wonder and awe among humankind.
“When those are taken away, that’s faith and science at its worst,” he said. “When we don’t get it right, there’s a human cost. It affects our worldview, even ourselves.”
The high school teachers in the group, which include representatives of science and theology departments, said they are working on ways to help their students see the compatibility of the two areas of study. Several have taken part in a program offered by the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life called the Science & Religion Initiative.
The archbishop and other members of the group encouraged those who are interested in the topic to attend the Gold Mass and the lecture afterward.