Making Our Mother Proud – Common Sense, Science and the Catholic Faith

                         At family gatherings, one of my aunts often sings the song by Faron Young, ‘Walk tall (walk straight)’ which starts, ‘Walk tall, walk straight, look the world right in the eye, that’s what my mama told me when I was about knee high’.  Sometimes, we need to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the troubles that the world can bring us.  At times, we need to withdraw from the madness of the world. On other occasions, we need to take ‘mama’s’ advice, stand up, ‘look the world right in the eye’, and be as bold as lions in pointing out to the world its vices, lies and nonsense. This duty is particularly incumbent on those who have a keen intellect, see the errors clearly and have the necessary talents and ability to refute these errors.  In previous times, Catholic scientists were great at doing this.  However, in recent times, Catholic scientists seem to be cowering from this duty.                    

                          In our times, many eminent and popular scientists are directing continuous attacks against the Catholic Church and the Catholic Faith. The number of attacks has increased but the fact that the Church is being attacked by atheist scientists is nothing new.  What is new is the fact that few Catholic scientists have come out in strong defence against these attacks.  It seems like scientists who profess to be Catholic have bowed down to or accepted the lies and falsehoods that the world is pushing rather than defend the Faith courageously and vigorously.  For example, the name of ‘science’ is used to discredit Creation and miracles and to push toxic ideologies, such as the promotion of homosexuality and feminism, without Catholic scientists coming out strongly to refute this dangerous nonsense. This type of response from Catholic scientists reminds me of the analogy in Bruce Springsteen’s, ‘Born in the USA’, when he sings about a person who ‘ends up like a dog that’s been beat too much, til you spend half your life just covering up’.  This surrender to the world and its so-called scientific wisdom is in stark contrast to eminent Catholic scientists of yesteryear. 

                          Take for example, the great French scientist, Louis Pasteur, who discovered various bacteria and whose name lives on in the term ‘pasteurising’.  He was a strong Catholic until his last breath as is evident from an account of him on his deathbed, ‘As his soul departed, he held in his hands a small crucifix of brass, and his last words were acts of Faith and Hope.  When one of his pupils asked him how he could be so religious after all his thinking and studying, he replied: ‘Just because I have thought and studied, I have remained religious like a peasant of Brittany, and had I thought and studied still more, I would be as religious as a peasant woman of Brittany.’’ (1).  He realized that the more he genuinely searched for truth, the more he came to realise the truth of the Catholic faith.  He also realized that it was often the poor, who were most connected to the land and common sense, that had the strongest faith.

                            Or take this brief insight into the life of Andre Marie Ampere, whom the ‘amp’ is named after: ‘The celebrated investigator in the field of electricity, after passing through torturing doubts, regained undisturbed possession of his Catholic faith, and was a pious son of the Church at time of his brilliant discoveries. He had frequent intercourse with Frederick Ozanam, and the conversation would always turn to God.  Ampere would cover his hands exclaiming: ‘How great is God, Ozanam! how great is God, and our knowledge is as nothing!’  He knew the Imitation of Christ by heart.’ (2).   These two great humble French men lived in France after the Revolution where the Church and the Catholic Faith were continuously ridiculed and attacked. This did not stop them from loving scientific truth and the Truth Himself. Nor did it stop them from expressing this love clearly and devoutly.

                             In our current times, the atheistic nonsense spouted by those who pass for scientists gets far more respect than it deserves.  This is due to a loss of common sense and an increased credulity amongst many people today.  Modern day philosophers, scientists, psychologists and writers douse people in eloquent phrases. The long list of letters and titles after their names seems to dazzle and confuse people.  People, today, are easily duped by what appears to be science but is actually someone’s pet theory wrapped up in fancy sounding terms and scientific clothing.  Fr Doolan (3) points out, in reference to the state of academia in the early 1900’s, how we are living in an age of credulity compared to the Middle Ages: ‘I find the ‘soul so hard to understand!’ sighed Professor Edgar Brightman of Boston University in 1926.  That accounts, perhaps, for the amount of nonsense that we find in modern writing on the subject of the soul. Men are not slow nowadays to write about what they do not understand. They seem to assume that if the Middle Ages were ages of faith, this modern age is one of credulity. They certainly make demands on the credulity of their readers that no medieval would have dared to make.  The men of the Middle Ages would simply have laughed at them.  They would have been amused at the innocence of Sir Arthur Keith, who denied that the soul was immortal because as ‘a medical man’, he never found it living after death.’  In the Middle Ages, quackery would have been called out quickly and the nonsense that modern atheist scientist speak of would have been laughed out of town.  The Middle Ages are often portrayed as a period of superstition and credulity.  This is far from the case. People of this era had far more common sense than people in our current age.  They lived in a time where the Faith was strong.  It was a time when people were grounded in the natural rhythm of life as most toiled and lived off the land.  They saw and experienced the constant patterns of life and knew that there had to be a Creator. They were then given more insight and knowledge of who God was through Catholic teachings and the Sacraments. The people of the Middle Ages would have thought that it was some sort of joke if they saw the common spectacle today of atheist scientists being given knighthoods, e.g. humanist/atheist mathematician, Sir Richard Penrose, atheist zoologist, Sir Patrick Benson. 

‘Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy, and vain deceit; according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ’ – Colossians 2:8

                                 Harvard Professor of Anatomy, Thomas Dwight (4), writing almost 100 years ago, highlights how quackery can be mistaken for genius, ‘One of our greatest curses has been the atheistic popular lecturer, the purveyor of sham science on one hand and the hater of religion on the other. He spreads abroad the wildest theories as established facts, clamoring that the whole social fabric, religion and all, should be remodeled to suit the new revelation. He does not know whether there is a God or not; but he does know that man came from an ape. There is no certainty that our senses tell us the truth, yet there is no knowledge but from observation.  An idea is nothing but a glorious sensation, idiocy is a reversion, crime a disease, free will a delusion, religion an emotion.  The mischief that such men do is great indeed.  The young man sees the popular lecturer praised and flattered.  He is dazzled by his plausibility and brilliancy.  The plain fact that his hero is but a quack does not occur to him.’ In our times, one can look at the example of the militant atheist Christopher Hitchens, with his brusque, confident style and his refined and eloquent language, which disguises his lack of true understanding and knowledge, as a perfect example of this. 

Why are we so credulous?

                                There are some reasons that are peculiar to our times, which increase the likelihood of people being deceived or duped.  Fr Ripperger (5) highlights how technology has played a role in detaching us from common sense, ‘In the past, common sense, which is the ability to grasp the nature of things, tended to be a guiding light. More, by the physical toil involved in the average person’s life, one learned how reality functioned and so between common sense and experience, people could work their way out of difficult situations.  However, in a technocratic culture which pervades society today, less contact is had with reality as the technology becomes the prism by which a technocratic generation views reality.  The technology stands between the knower and reality and thereby the knower is distanced from reality and loses the opportunity to gain the necessary experience in order to live life according to reason (rather than depending on technology and science always to solve the problem in mechanistic or artificial way).  Moreover, excessive use of technology tends to strip one of common sense because it keeps a person from being in direct contact, either physically or psychologically, with reality and therefore the person loses his capacity to grasp the nature of things and how they are to be treated.’ (p. 86).  The ‘curse’ of the popular atheist lecturer is growing as these lecturers use technology and social media platforms, such as YouTube, to spread wild and dangerous theories.  People are attracted to the alluring bait that these theories offer.  This bait is often in the guise of ‘liberty’, ‘equality’, ‘fraternity’ or ‘truth’.  Some people seem to pay little attention to the sharp hook that is waiting for them that helps reels them into the clutches of the devil and his clever lies.  Frederico Suarez (6) also points out how technology and impatience can lead one to abandon the search for truth – ‘In our day the search for truth is not an objective for most people.  Their scale of values contains things that they consider much more urgent and immediate, and much more important too: success, efficiency, money, popularity (which today we equate with publicity), pleasure, comfort, politics, power. Nor is it easy to find, nowadays, the restful patience that one needs for cultivating the mind, enriching it by investigating bits of truth we find around us. People nowadays are practical, and they look for practical results.  Technology, inventions and the sale of goods: these are really practical things. Besides, people are in a hurry: the longer it takes to obtain a positive result, the more it costs. How, then, would they devote themselves to the search for truth which requires so much effort, time and patience?: it is just not worth the investment.’ (p. 77).  Technology can disconnect us from reality and the world’s focus on time and efficiency rather than truth leads people to either accept answers to the most important questions in life that are in contradiction to common sense or people rashly accept incomplete or erroneous answers as they have or take no time to sit and explore these vital questions.

Standing Up For The Truth

                                 Great Catholic scientists of previous generations had a firm grounding in common sense.  They would not accept any conclusions that went against plain and obvious facts of life or against philosophical principles.  They took time to check the evidence, to reason, to deliberate, to consult, to reflect and to pray, before setting out their arguments and conclusions. In doing so, they showed how the Faith and science are compatible (For further reading on this topic and an excellent outline of the relationship between science and the Church see: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13598b.htm). Catholic scientists made many wonderful discoveries by being patient and by using logic, evidence and reason.  They were not afraid to profess and defend the Faith against atheist and agnostic attacks that were dressed up with the veneer of science.  These words of Prof Dwight, defending the faith against the heresy of monism can equally be applied to the inane and dangerous heresies of our times, e.g. pantheism, communism, modernism, liberalism, ‘It seems to me that many of the apologists for Christianity have made the mistake of fighting too much on the defensive.  They have held their position, they have shown the weakness of their opponents; but, if I mistake not, they for the most part have stopped there, without going on to show that, as far as science has anything to say in the matter, its evidence is in support of religion, and that as a whole the Catholic’s view of nature and of man is grander, more logical, and more satisfying than that of the monist.’ (p. 7-8). If Catholic scientists were to reflect on the history of scientific endeavor and the Faith they would quickly realise that there is no real conflict here.  They would realise that scientific truths and the truths of the Faith are perfectly compatible as truth and error cannot mix.  The absurdity of those who claim that science refutes the Catholic Faith would then be called out.  With a bit more knowledge and a bit more courage, Catholic scientists, and those blessed with strong intellects, could use their talents to defend the Faith.  They would be able to help enlighten minds lost in the darkness of ignorance and release those caught on the hook of seductive error. 

Making Our Mother Proud

                                  In Faron Young’s song, his mother advises him to be ‘a proud man and hold his head up high.’  The Catholic Church teaches people to be humble but this does not mean neglecting or distorting the truth as humility is the truth.  In this regard, Catholics can hold their head up high when it comes to the historical relationship between science and the Catholic Church and reflect on how Catholic scientists played a key role in the development and promotion of science.  Catholics can be as bold and proud as lions in roaring this truth. The young man in Young’s simple and meaningful song ends up in prison for failing to heed the wisdom of those who went before him, i.e. his mother, but he resolves to mend his ways so he can ‘make ma proud to call me son’.  Hopefully, we can heed the advice and example of great Catholic scientists that went before us so that we can avoid the prison that the devil tempts us into. We can heed the advice of Our Blessed Lady as well and follow her wisdom and example.  At times, we, and especially Catholic scientists or those of strong intellect, may be called to ‘look the world right in the eye’ and call out the nonsense and falsehoods for what they are.  In doing so, let us hope and pray that we can make Our Lady proud to call us her sons and daughters.  

References:

  1. Quote taken from: Revue des Questions Scientifiques (1896), p. 385 cited in Laux, J. (1928) ‘Catholic Apologetics: God, Christianity and the Church’. Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books.
  2. Quote taken from: Donat, J., (1914) The Freedom of Science. New York: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., p. 210 – cited in Laux, J. (1928) ‘Catholic Apologetics: God, Christianity and the Church’. Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books.
  3. Doolan, A. (1945) Philosophy for the Layman.  Dublin: Irish Rosary Office.
  4. Dwight, T. (1911) Thoughts of a Catholic Anatomist. New York: Longmans, Green & Co.
  5. Ripperger, C. (2013) Introduction to the Science of Mental Health. Sensus Traditionis Press: Lincoln, USA.
  6. Suarez, F. (1983) The Narrow Gate. Dublin: Four Courts Press.