The Blog: Christopher's Apologies

Neil deGrasse Tyson: religion and science

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was recently interviewed by Bill Moyers to discuss the possibility of reconciling of religion and science (among many other things).

Perhaps not surprisingly, Neil deGrasse Tyson did not hold out a lot of hope for such a reconciliation.  He said, during the interview, that previous attempts to reconcile the two had produced a “poor track record” adding, “going forward I have essentially zero confidence that there would be fruitful things to emerge from the effort to reconcile them.”

I smiled when I heard the word “essentially” because that means Tyson, as a scientist, must not fully rule out the possibility of a “reconciliation.”  It is similar to the way Richard Dawkins placed the chances of God’s existence at “6.9 out of 7.”  They have to have some “wiggle room” if they are wrong.  After all, science is only objectively true until the next discovery comes along and disproves the earlier theory.

This is one debate – the reconciliation of religion and science – that I don’t feel I have to enter. Strange, right?  Me, not jumping into the fray.

The reason is pretty simple really.  If something is true, then God is the source of that truth, and those things will not contradict with what the Catholic Church has received in Divine Revelation. God is the author of physics; he is the author of biology; he is the author of chemistry.  I don’t have anything to fear from discoveries made in scientific fields.  Father Joseph Pohle, Ph.D., D.D., wrote in his 1916 book, God: The Author of Nature and the Supernatural:

The Word of God, rightly interpreted, cannot clash with the firmly established conclusions of science, because both Sacred Scripture and science have God for their author. Any apparent contradiction between the two must be traceable either to some false and unproved claim on the part of science, or to an incorrect interpretation of Holy Writ (pg 104).

So basically, I disagree with the extreme positions at both ends of the spectrum: science “disproves” God or the Bible needs to be taken literally on things such as creation.

Another quotation representative of the Catholic position of the harmony between religion and science is found in the Ecclesiastical Dictionary under the heading, “Science and Revelation:”

True science cannot be in conflict with revelation, because the same God of truth is manifest in nature as He is in revelation. There is unity, there is harmony, there is order in all God’s works, and no part of His divine plan can conflict with the other. For let man calmly consider what revelation is, and what science is, and he will speedily come to see that any conflict between them is the result of misunderstanding (pg 636).

From the interview with Bill Moyers, and in previous ones as well, Neil deGrasse Tyson seems very concerned about the encroachment of religion into the “classroom.”  Tyson suggests there are some who would put their religious convictions above objective data:

“I’m not telling you what to think, I’m just telling you in the science class, ‘You’re not doing science. This is not science. Keep it out.’”

Neil deGrasse TysonIt’s been a LONG time since I took a science class; however, I can say with a high degree of certainty that I never heard anything about God while taking a science class.  Maybe it is happening in schools today.  Maybe scientists are creating a strawman to knock down. Most likely it is a combination of both.

I did a Google News search for, “religion taught in science class” and the majority of the top hits were redirects to this Bill Moyers interview (strawman creation?).  To be fair though, I did find an article about a school in Texas “illegally teaching creationism.”  Illegally? That’s an ugly word.  We can’t use it to describe people who “illegally” enter our country; surely, we can’t use it to describe people who teach “creationism” in science class.  Can’t we find a better word?   :-?

I do want to introduce the Neil de Grasse Tyson video with an overall positive tone; it is not 25 minutes of him and Moyers bashing religion.  In fact, neither of them “bash” religion at all.  I actually really like one of Tyson’s quotes about God; he says, “At the end of the day, God has to be more to you than where science has yet to tread.”  I think that is very true.  That type of God, one that is completely shrouded in mystery, a mystery unrevealed by science, is a “God of the Gaps,” not the personal God of the Bible.  That God, focuses on relationships, on making himself known to mankind which is the reason for the Incarnation of his son, Jesus.

I encourage you to watch the entire video, but if you don’t have the time, you can fast-forward to roughly 16 minutes in where the discussion is completely focused on religion and science until the end (about 9 minutes).  Previous to that, they discuss dark matter, the concept of a multiverse, and galaxies colliding.  It is all really interesting stuff!


Fr Georges Lemaitre

Fr Georges Lemaitre is discussed briefly in the video

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