Sunday, June 12, 2022

God's Science: Biology, Genetics, and Theology, by Paul Scherz (author, narrator)

Now You Know Media, ISBN 9781632515414, February 2018

Paul Scherz has a Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard University, and a Ph,D, in theology from Notre Dame, and is an associate professor of moral theology at Catholic University of America. He's qualified to talk about the relationship between science and religion, and especially biology and genetics, and religion. He does so, as is probably obvious, from a Catholic perspective.

This set of lectures, just under five hours in total, is a very clear, understandable, and for me enjoyable listen.

Scherz looks at various aspects of the real and perceived conflicts between science and religion--more perceived than real in many cases, though not all. Catholicism has never held to a literal reading of the Bible, with St. Augustine of Hippo, in the late fourth and early fifth century, admonishing Christians not to claim literal truth of passages that, when read literally, describe the real world in clearly ways. The Bible isn't a science textbook, was never meant to be, and on the physical world, expresses the understanding of Bronze Age cultures. That's not relevant. You can grasp the moral messages without believing that bats are birds.

On the other hand, there's the case of Galileo and his conflict with Pope Urban VIII. That was a real conflict, but more complicated than the simplistic version usually presented. Galileo's early version of the heliocentric solar system was quite good, but at that early stage, it wasn't clear that it was better than the Copernican Earth-centric version in predicting the movements of celestial bodies, predicting eclipses, and all the other things these two systems were used for. This isn't because Galileo wasn't right, but because his proposed heliocentric system didn't yet have the centuries of work perfecting it that the Ptolomaic/Copernican system did. It wasn't just a conflict between science and religion, though that was part of it. The Church was quite committed to Aristotelean logic and philosophy. It was also a conflict between two scientific systems, one of which was fully developed, and the other of which was new and not yet fully developed. There was also a lot of politics involved, which Scherz refers to but doesn't have time to fully address in these lectures.

Beyond that, there's a tendency for some scientists and some religious figures to misunderstand each other, and also for serious religious thinkers to not race to completely rewrite their accepted understanding of the physical world immediately with every new scientific development. An example of this is Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species. The public reception of it by religious leaders, while again more complex that the simple popular depictions of it, did include a lot of caution and reservation. Some denounced it, others didn't. The Catholic Church, having learned from the Galileo debacle, didn't. It was very cautious about it, but not actively hostile. That position evolved over time, and in the 1960s, in Catholic parochial school, I was learning about evolution out of diocesan-approved textbooks that had been published in the 1950s.

Along the way, there's discussion of philosophical disagreements, changes over time, and the real scientific contributions made by Catholics, including Catholic priests doing their research often as part of Church-funded or supported institutions. It doesn't mean everything is sweetness and light. There isn't, however, endless and irreconcilable conflict. Certainly I was taught, by priests and nuns, to take the science seriously on the subject of the physical world.


I bought this audiobook.

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