Catholic Scientists Look to Bridge Theory, Theology: Hope to Bring Morality into Largely Atheistic Disciplines

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

Catholic Scientists Look to Bridge Theory, Theology: Hope to Bring Morality into Largely Atheistic Disciplines


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


It took 359 years for the Roman Catholic Church to admit it erred in condemning Galileo for finding the Earth revolves around the sun. But the Vatican's delay has not stopped Catholics from trying to prove Catholicism is science friendly.

Catholic scientists are forming associations, staging conventions and generally encouraging dialogue to counter the notion that Roman Catholicism opposes science and to foster the idea that ethics and science are compatible.

"The Galileo incident has made the church a whipping boy" - meaning a perpetual symbol of the church's supposed anti-science stance - said Thomas P. Sheahen, a physicist with the Catholic Association of Scientists and Engineers (CASE). He indicated his group is trying to erase that image. "We are trying to reach out to the scientific community and also strengthen our own people," he said.

The association, formed in 1992, is among the latest groups attempting to reconcile for Catholics and others in the various scientific disciplines the purported contradictions between scientific inquiry, morality and ethics. It also works to keep church leaders abreast of progress in medicine, technology and ecology.

"These Catholic groups are still pioneering," said David Byers, director of the Committee on Science and Human Values for the U.S. Catholic bishops. He points out that his committee is the only one of its kind "in the American hierarchy."

Catholics have, of course, made notable contributions to science over the centuries. But only after the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 declared that science was an autonomous discipline, and after a 1977 American bishops synod said "the world of science cannot be ignored," has the church begun bridge-building with science.

"We got started because Catholic scientists had no other place to go." That is, there were no other strictly Catholic scientific groups where the dilemmas raised by scientific inquiry and religion could be discussed, said the Rev. Robert Brungs, a Jesuit and physics teacher. Father Brungs co-founded in 1968 the Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology.

The institute, based at St. Louis University, stages annual conferences. Its 31st convenes in Chicago Aug. 1 to 5, and its theme is study of "the genome," the genetic code that defines an organism, including humans.

Father Brungs said the institute, whose 400 members are mainly lay Catholics in science, wanted to provide an "early warning system" regarding scientific issues for the church.

"Only in the past decade have the bishops seen science as important to their pastoral work," said Mr. Byers, the bishops' staffer. …

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