Hope in the Lord —
The compatibility of faith and science

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Archbishop Kurtz shares this edited version of his homily at the first Gold Mass for the Archdiocese of Louisville.

For the last four years, I have hosted a dialogue group with scientists, theologians, teachers of science and theology, priests who have a background in science and professors who know a heck of a lot more about science than I do. We have gathered to understand the rich compatibility between the work of science and the work of faith, a dialogue that has been going on for centuries.

The Gold Mass we celebrate tonight has been a rather recent gathering in the United States. Its purposes are to promote a healthy compatibility between faith and scientific progress and to hold up the great dignity of the profession, and may I say, the vocation of being a faith-filled scientist.

We use the expression — noble profession — to talk about those who are faith-filled and who are scientists or aspire to be scientists. We need prayer. We need the ability to honor those who are scientists in our community, and so this is a wonderful day for you and me to join in prayer. Whether you are an aspiring scientist, like me, or an expert, I would like to reflect on what I would call the four marks of someone who brings together faith and science.

The first mark emerges strongly from Sacred Scripture tonight. This is the sense of wonder and awe that usually comes about with a stirring of curiosity. It is the gift of being able to fathom God’s great creation, and the more specific we get in that process, the more engaged we become. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom speaks about that gift of God’s creation and the Gospel passage about the Transfiguration of Jesus, the mystical experience that Jesus shared with his apostles.

Remember when Jesus said that if you want to be a person of faith, you should become like a little child? Well maybe if you want to become a great scientist, you should become like a little child. A little child has that enormous capacity of awe. Give a little child a leaf that is changing colors right now, and that will occupy a good two hours. That gift of wonder and awe is the first mark of someone who has a healthy sense of the compatibility of faith and science.

The second mark is a deep desire to search for the truth. This is what spurs scientists on to make great progress, to do great studies, to make great sacrifices in their lives. It also is what inspires good theologians to study about the things of God, the things of faith.

The search for truth has a double element of first, critical thinking, of being able to ask questions and continuing to ask questions when you do not initially understand. It also has the capacity to ask the moral question, which is a question of faith, conscience and ethics. This question is: Because I can do something, should I do it? Because I can make weapons of great mass destruction, should I do that? Because I can do things that will profit me but hurt the environment, should I do that? Because I can tamper with the genetics of a human person and manipulate humans as if I were a god, should I do that? Faith needs science to pursue a search for truth, but science needs faith in order to ask what I should do in my search for truth.

The third mark of a compatible and healthy understanding of faith and science is the search for meaning. Does my life matter? What is the meaning of my being created and of living on earth for a period of time? When I was in seminary and before I began studying psychology, I became a fan of Viktor Frankl, who was a psychotherapist. Frankl survived a concentration camp during World War II and after he was released began asking what made him live and others give up. His book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” and his therapy — logotherapy — focus on seeking meaning in our lives. A scientist can uncover many things, but the ultimate questions are the questions that need to be completed by persons of faith.

The final and fourth mark of a compatibility between faith and science is the gift to be humble. Perhaps one of the oldest definitions in Latin of theology was “fides quaerens intellectum” or “faith seeking understanding.” I believe, but I seek to understand my belief. Doesn’t that sound like a scientific inquiry? It takes some humility to say that my belief needs to be completed. There is a journey for me to understand fully what I have been given in the gift of faith. Scientists also may look at theories they held 30 years ago and say, “Well, I think that was mostly correct, but I have learned something new.” The work of science and faith require humility. We recognize that we do not have all the answers, and science and faith need each other.

Dear friends, whether you came to today’s Mass as a scientist, as a student or as someone who always goes to new events, God wants us to be a part of that gift of making science and faith compatible in our hearts and in our culture. Without our efforts to be an agent of that compatibility, our culture will continue to see faith and science as two different worlds that never speak to one another. We pray that through our efforts, God’s grace will bring faith and science together in our lives and in our culture.

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